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and children in the country—nearly half the game's worldwide total. And
even that number underestimates the game's popularity in Korea, since
many Asian players play in net cafés and don't own the game themselves.
At the height of its popularity there, two television channels were dedi-
cated to broadcasting professional StarCraft games, and top professional
players became minor celebrities.
Nobody predicted it, and nobody could have. The game's narrative is
about redneck-styled space-faring humans warring against the fleshy Zerg
and the psionic Protoss alien races. This very American fiction doesn't
seem like something that would do well in Korean culture. The developers
didn't do anything to target the Korean market at all—the game didn't
even have Korean language support until seven years after release.
StarCraft 's Korean miracle came about because of several peculiar
conditions that combined to form a popularity snowball. The first was
the PC bang phenomenon. Bang means “room” in Korean; a PC bang is a
high-tech gaming net café. The South Korean government pushed hard to
modernize its Internet infrastructure in the mid-to-late 1990s, and prog-
ress was quick due to the country's small size and high density. At the
same time, many of the old government social and pension programs were
being phased out, leaving large numbers of older citizens without jobs and
without quite enough income to retire on. Thousands of these 50-some-
thing retirees took the best opportunity they could find and opened PC
bangs. This worked well for them, since PC bangs require relatively little
effort or technical ability to run once they are set up, and they are reliable
sources of income.
The PC bang business was much more appealing in Korea than in the
West because of physical and cultural differences between the countries.
Korea is densely populated and most people's homes are small, so young
Koreans spend much more time outside the home than Westerners. Now,
for less than a dollar an hour, these young people could have instant access
to the games they wanted without paying for, maintaining, or finding
space for a home PC setup.
This confluence of factors created the conditions for a popularity
snowball to begin. More PC bangs opening meant more players at PC
bangs, which made PC bang gaming more socially accepted. The fact that
PC bang playing is public and social meant that the game could spread
through physical, face-to-face contact and have a public presence in a way
that isn't possible in the West, where everyone plays along in their own
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