Starcraft II hits. Productivity halts.

Starcraft2_blog July 27 is “Starcraft II” day. And while that might not mean a lot to some people, for others it’s reason for celebration.

Twelve years after the original “Starcraft” hit PCs and became a cultural phenomenon, Blizzard Entertainment is trying to bottle lightning for a second time. And no one is betting against them.

Video game industry analysts expect the real-time strategy game will sell up to 4.5 million copies by the end of August – and 6.5 million before the end of the year. That’s not quite the numbers posted by a “Call of Duty” title – but it will be enough to make the game one of the year’s top sellers, which is particularly impressive given that it’s exclusive to the PC.

The original game has sold over 11 million units and is one of the best selling PC games of all time. It has spawned a trio of novels, a line of action figures and one nation of fanatics. “Starcraft” is so popular in South Korea that the country has two television networks dedicated to tournaments of the game. In 2006, one professional player signed a three-year deal worth $690,000 – plus endorsements.

The PC game industry is one that many people have written off, but Blizzard (the crown jewel development studio of Activision-Blizzard) has never wavered in its loyalty to the platform. The company doesn’t make console games (titles for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and especially the Nintendo Wii), but it’s still one of the most profitable studios in the industry. “World of Warcraft,” its hit massively multiplayer game, has 11.5 million subscribers paying a monthly fee to play.

“Starcraft II” is a game that has such momentum that Blizzard chose not to bother offering advance access to it to critics. The gaming press didn’t get to play the game before the general public. While that’s often a bad sign in Hollywood, in the gaming world it’s the ultimate vote of confidence.

If “Starcraft II” lives up to expectations and does sell 4.5 million copies in the next five weeks, it will be the industry’s best selling game, year to date, regardless of platform. “Red Dead Redemption,” which leads console sales so far in 2010, has sold less than 2.5 million copies through the end of June., according to data from The NPD Group.

The release of the game marks the beginning of a string of big PC titles from Activision-Blizzard. Later this year, “World of Warcraft: Cataclysm” will hit shelves – the latest expansion to the juggernaut franchise. And next year, presumably, Blizzard will release “Diablo 3,” the latest installment in yet another fan favorite franchise – that could be an even bigger breadwinner.

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