Micro-transactions. Often described as the plague of modern gaming. But for much of esports, they’re the very foundation that keeps them from collapsing under its own weight.
Very few know this better than the StarCraft community does. The ability to support the scene through micro-transactions has been one of the most requested features by players for years. These requests were finally answered in Patch 3.7. The introduction of the Collection Tab brought with it unit skins and new in-game advisers or Announcers. Since then, Blizzard has continued to support the Collection tab with a steady supply of new Announcers. Alongside a healthy rate of Co-Op Commanders releases, players have had many opportunities recently to keep the scene funded.
However, one area that has been notably lacking are unit skins. The launch of the Collection tab brought three new skins for purchase in StarCraft II. A month later at Blizzcon, The War Chest, StarCraft’s answer to DotA’s Compendium, was announced. Promising unit variations were among the list of rewards. Since then, information has been scarce.
Now Patch 3.11 brings bundle packages for unit skins as well as other purchases. This is, of course, a good thing. But the fact is, it’s been over four months since 3.7, yet those three skins have been the only releases. And now rather than releasing a new line, Blizzard is bundle packaging the only three skins that are available.
While not bad, it’s very easy to see why more than a few red flags have been raised.
The War Chest
As said before, The War Chest is StarCraft’s answer to DotA’s compendium. They’re a single purchase, seasonal item that unlocks rewards over the course of a season just through playing the game. Most notably, faction specific skin lines. Like the compendium, a percentage of the proceeds from The War Chest will go towards the World Championship total prize pool. The latest update on this upcoming feature came in late January. On Janurary 25th, it was announced that the current ETA on the first War Chest is Q3 of this year.
Now just to be clear, this isn’t a bad thing. Of course, it isn’t a good thing either, it’s just a thing. New features take time to develop. This is just to be expected. As a general rule of thumb, the more you attempt to rush out a product, the probability of that product releasing as a busted piece of crap rises exponentially. That’s just science.
There’s no reason to rush development on this. Contrary to what many seem to believe, Blizzard isn’t out to spite StarCraft. They’ve done a damn lot to support StarCraft in recent years. This is a project that’s potentially profitable for them. It will release when it’s ready. So all there is to say with regards to War Chests is patience is a virtue.
So what else is there? Well, nothing. That’s literally all we know at the moment. This is actually where the concern starts.
Everyone’s Got a Theory
From the initial announcement, it sounded as if themed skin lines would be specific to War Chests. Or, at the very least, faction themed lines. But there has been absolutely no information about non-War Chest affiliated skins. This has naturally raised speculation as to whether there just aren’t any plans to release any. A few of those themed skins were previewed at the announcement, and the initial line does look somewhat uninspired in comparison (in my opinion of course). So I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a bad thing. But the lack of transparency is odd, to say the least.
Naturally, in the wake of information, speculation has risen to fill the gap.
Perhaps the most thought-out rationale was raised by TheSkunk_2 who speculated the original engine limitations may still be a mitigating factor. While unit skins have been a heavily requested feature for years, Blizzard’s stance on the matter for a long time was that they were unable to without raising the system requirements. It’s speculated that while a handful of cosmetics have surfaced now, the engine still needs work before they can start featuring unit skins en masse.
Many others proposed the initial line just didn’t sell enough to warrant a revisit, while some suggested the art team is just occupied with other projects.
Whichever you fancy, they all rose from the same source. A lack of information to work with.
All we really know on the matter is that there is a lot we don’t know. What’s more concerning is that we don’t know, why we don’t know, what we don’t know. And that’s never a fun place to be in.
A good starting point is actually being transparent about why there is no real conversation taking place. Then perhaps taking a few of the questions that there’s been absolutely no information about. An example being Structure skins, which has not been discussed in any way, despite being a long requested feature. While we do know there are certainly beautiful structure variations within the game, we have no idea if there’s any intention to bring them into multiplayer.
StarCraft has actually come a long way in terms of community engagement. The balance team actively tries to keep the community in the loop regarding what changes they’re considering and why they’re considering it.
But in other aspects of the game, we’re still very much kept in the dark. And it is reason for concern because at the end of the day, when it comes to cosmetics and micro-transactions, we’re the ones that are going to be buying these things. So we should have at least some input into what’s on the menu.
Follow me on Twitter: @Stefan_SC2