On Wednesday, January 13th 2021, Disney announced that Electronic Arts will no longer have exclusive rights to the production and distribution of Star Wars video games. To many people online, this is a huge sigh of relief. But why? What happened over the last couple of years to Star Wars video games? And why is this such a big deal? More importantly, weren’t there some pretty good games released in recent years under the Star Wars banner? Let’s discuss.
THIS DEAL IS GETTING WORSE BY THE MINUTE
On October 30th, 2012, the titan of entertainment known as Disney, announced their acquisition of Lucasfilm, the studio behind iconic intellectual property such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones. The $4 Billion deal housed all of the assets under the Lucasfilm umbrella, including all of their video game franchises. This included the famous LucasArts branch.
Up until this point, almost all Star Wars games were made under LucasArts. The Old Republic, Battlefront, The Force Unleashed, Jedi Academy and many, many more. A full list of their games can be found right here. If you were a Star Wars fan, and a video game enthusiast, the chances are you have played one of these games and have very fond memories of them. If not, some of them are extremely high quality and are worth checking out.
During the Disney acquisition, LucasArts were working on a brand new, big-budget video game called Star Wars 1313, a single-player, narrative-driven game that focused on one of the most infamous characters, Boba Fett. This project was incredibly ambitious and was being directed by Amy Hennig, creator of Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed Uncharted series. There was even a trailer shown off at E3 2013. Disney, however, had other plans. On April 3rd, 2013, LucasArts shut their doors for good, ceasing all current projects, including Star Wars 1313, laying off 150 employees. Disney released this statement:
“After evaluating our position in the games market, we’ve decided to shift LucasArts from an internal development to a licensing model, minimizing the company’s risk while achieving a broader portfolio of quality Star Wars games. As a result of this change, we’ve had layoffs across the organization. We are incredibly appreciative and proud of the talented teams who have been developing our new titles.”
Soon after, in May of 2013, Disney signed a deal of exclusivity with Electronic Arts.
A REPUTATION WORTH A REBELLION
Recent years have garnered EA quite a bumpy reputation, but back in 2013 the company’s deal actually built some nice excitement. Each of EA’s projects were selling millions of units. They publish some of the most well known and profitable video game titles, including the Battlefield series, the football juggernaut FIFA, the Sims and even smaller mobile games such as Plants vs Zombies. The publisher made games that were guaranteed to sell. While it was a clear disappointment that LucasArts had been shut, and some anticipated projects were cancelled, there was still some hope that the potential was there to make amazing video games. Shortly after the exclusivity deal was announced, it was confirmed that a brand new Battlefront game was on the way, something that had been long-awaited since 2005. DICE, the subsidiary development team for EA, were going to bring this experience to life using their Frostbite engine. It sounded too good to be true! And for most people… maybe it was.
In 2015 Star Wars Battlefront was released in the lead up to Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens. While generally, the feedback was positive, the experience was quite lacking. The game was purely online with much missing in the way of content. Consumers and fans of the franchise were disappointed, to say the least. There was an air about the game, almost as if it was rushed in order to build hype for the movie. But using a video game as a piece of marketing didn’t seem to make much sense.
Soon after, production began on Star Wars Battlefront 2, a game that promised to make up for the lack of content in the first game with free downloadable maps and a full, offline story mode. This sounded like a much-improved experience! I see absolutely no way that this could turn out poorly.
THE FINAL NAIL
The release of Battlefront 2 was, in simple terms, a disaster. While EA did stick to their word of a full offline story, as well as free downloadable content, the online design of the game was egregious. A mechanic within the game forced players to pay real money in order to unlock characters or to even stand a chance at winning some games. The term “Pay to Win” was smeared all over this title.
The game was full of loot boxes. If you are not familiar with a loot box system, the idea is that after certain gameplay milestones, loot boxes are unlocked as a reward. The player doesn’t know what they will receive until they open it, reminiscent of a slot machine. However, there is always a way to skip the hard work and simply pay for as many loot boxes as you like. Now, children were paying real money in order to grab an advantage in their gameplay, without any guarantee of what was in the loot boxes they were buying. Sounds dodgy, right?
This caught the attention of many international legal organisations. Parents were shocked to discover that a gambling mechanic was involved in a Star Wars game. There are millions of children, worldwide, that love Star Wars and would play these games for weeks on end. So obviously, parents did not want their children exposed to these gambling mechanics. An infamous AMA with a PR rep from EA led to the most down-voted comment in Reddit history. In a response to a Reddit user’s question regarding the micro-transactions, the PR rep gave an awful, shallow answer that justified nothing. The comment can be found right here.
A little closer to home, Belgium took this very seriously. Banning loot boxes outright, the mechanic was not allowed in games designed for children, a decision that set a precedent for all future video game releases. Ireland has seen some discussion regarding the legalities, but legislation seems quite the distance away. While this mechanic has since been removed from the game, it is still present in many EA published games.
It is still a very obvious main feature in FIFA.
THE LIGHT SIDE
“Darkness rises, and the light to meet it” – Supreme Leader Snoke
Thankfully, since EA is one of the largest video-game publishers in the world, they do have some solid development studios behind them. One of EA’s development teams is Respawn entertainment. There are nothing but positive things to say about this dev team. They created such innovative and fun games such as Titanfall 1 and 2, a rendition of Medal of Honour and Apex Legends, a battle royale game that gets repeated nominations for an ongoing video game.
Respawn were given the opportunity to make a single player Star Wars video game, and they delivered. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was one of the best Star Wars games in a long time, starring Gotham’s Cameron Monaghan and utilizing a Metroid-Vania style gameplay. Both the story and gameplay were equally high quality. This may have filled the hole created by the cancellation of 1313.
Soon after, in 2020, held the release of Star Wars Squadrons, an affordably priced, online multiplayer experience that focused entirely on spaceship dogfights. The game received high praise amongst fans, with a 79% player score on Metacritic and a steady player base returning week after week.
No microtransactions or loot boxes were included in either of these titles.
And Battlefront 2? What happened to the game that began the huge legal dispute? Well, it has since been very much improved. While the game is not perfect, it certainly has many improvements, with no microtransactions to incentivise gambling in children. To reiterate, this mechanic is still present in FIFA, a game that has an annual release and is sold to millions of children each year.
THE FUTURE OF A LONG TIME AGO
Compared to the LucasArts of years before, where a new innovative Star Wars game would release every year or two, EA released 4 titles within a 10-year contract, half of which were sub-par upon release.
It’s no surprise then that this week’s news is nothing but optimistic. Disney has confirmed that the exclusive deal with EA will not be renewed. And the good news keeps coming! Disney has created the new video game branch, with a very innovative name, Lucasfilm Games. Not only that, but their first project has already been announced! A triple-A, open-world Star Wars game is now in development by Assassins Creed, Watchdogs and Far Cry publisher Ubisoft.
While Ubisoft has had some hits and some misses, the most important part of this expiration means that there is no exclusivity, allowing any studio to make a Lucasfilm property-based video game, with Disney’s permission. This also leaves the window open for Respawn to give us a sequel to Jedi: Fallen Order as well as new games from any number of development teams and publishers. Now all Star Wars fans can imagine what ideas may come of this. What would a Star Wars game look like under the creative pen of Naughty Dog, Suckerpunch, or maybe even Insomniac? The possibilities are endless. The future of Star Wars video games is not too far far away.
And if Star Wars doesn’t scratch that itch for you, fear not. Lucasfilm has just announced a brand new Indiana Jones video game by Massive games, developers of Wolfenstein, and published by Bethesda Studios, publishers of Skyrim, Fallout and many other fan favourites.
For now, there seems to be a new hope for Lucasfilm Games.
Pray that Disney does not alter the deal any further…