Eighteen months ago, I wrote a piece for this website that talked about how Electronic Arts wasn’t living up to the potential of the Star Wars franchise. In the conclusion of that article, I wrote –
“Star Wars is a treasured license to so many people that it deserves to be treated right. I don’t want a splurge of bland licensed games that we would have expected from someone like Activision, but I do expect them to actually make use of the license. The Star Wars universe is huge and sprawling, there are so many things that they could do within the franchise. Please EA, give us more Star Wars and more experiences in our favourite galaxy, far, far away.”
I still stand by what I said, but I think it’s time to go further. In my opinion, Disney should remove EA’s exclusivity deal and issue the Star Wars license on a case by case basis. Allow me to explain.
EA have fallen short of their obligations
Electronic Arts are prolific when it comes to their sports games. Every single year they are able to release a new FIFA, Madden, NHL, and (usually) an NBA title. They even had a period where they were knocking out a new Need for Speed game each year. We are now more than halfway through their 10-year exclusivity deal to make Star Wars titles, and all we have to show for it are two disappointing games. The first game was Star Wars: Battlefront. This was a game that was clearly rushed out, so it was playable when Episode VII: The Force Awakens was in the cinema. It lacked a singleplayer campaign and the multiplayer had a very limited number of maps and options. The second was, of course, Star Wars: Battlefront II. This was a more complete package but annoyed nearly everyone with its pay-to-win, predatory loot boxes. It also has to be said that while we liked the fact the game had a singleplayer campaign, it was awfully brief and predictable.
One of the most exciting Star Wars games that EA was working on was the Amy Hennig Project at Visceral Games. The idea of a game in the galaxy far, far away from the director of the first three Uncharted games had many fans salivating at the thought of it. We even got to see a glimpse of the game at last year’s E3. However, we learned earlier this year that the game had been brought back to the drawing board and would be retooled as a multiplayer focused game rather than the singleplayer story that was the game’s focus. So, with that game cancelled/restarted what can we expect to see soon? Well, the only Star Wars title that we know still to be in production is the game from Respawn Entertainment. Very little is known about the title other than that it will be called Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and will launch sometime next year.
If EA is going to have the Star Wars license, then they should use it and create some games with it. I’m not suggesting that they should saturate the market with them, but there should be more than one game and its sequel over a five-year period. The Star Wars universe is so vast and diverse that it supports all manner of games. Just take a quick look at previous Star Wars titles. We have had shooters, racing games, RPGs, flying games, puzzlers, and strategy games. All that EA have managed are two shooters. This simply isn’t good enough and is not what the numerous Star Wars fans out there deserve.
Disney could do better
Of course, it is Disney that is now the gatekeeper for all things Star Wars. Having bought Lucasfilm and LucasArts, they control what happens to the franchise. They were rumoured to be questioning their decision when the loot box scandal surrounded Star Wars Battlefront II. A company with such a family-friendly image as Disney can’t afford to be seen to promote gambling. When a Hawaii State representative described the game as a “Star Wars-themed online casino” and said that it was “predatory” and “a trap,” Disney must have wondered what was going on. It was pretty soon after this that EA announced that they would be removing loot boxes from the game. As far as Disney are concerned, EA has released two games in 5 years using their license and one was seen as a rushed-out tie-in and the second was mired in scandal. Now, as much as they make money on the deal regardless of what EA does with it, they have to be wondering whether they could do better with someone else.
Synergy is a big thing in advertising. If there are quality Star Wars video games being made that are creating a buzz in the community, that provides benefits to everything else associated with the franchise. The movies, toys, books, comics, games, bumper stickers all help to advertise each other and support one another. It is because of this that Disney could really do with a partner that is pulling their weight and helping out the other areas of the franchise by seizing the public consciousness. Obviously, it can be a delicate balance. Too many games would not only lead to an inevitable lack of quality but would also saturate the market. However, not enough products lead to unfamiliarity and possibly even a vacuum that might be filled by a competitor. Disney needs EA to either step up their game or find a way to move the license on to someone who would use it. Companies like Activision would no doubt bite off Disney’s arm to be able to publish Star Wars titles. Alternatively, they could license it out on a case-by-case basis. Maybe Microsoft could make a new Republic Commando title. Ask CD Projekt Red to create a title like the cancelled Star Wars: 1313 (a man can dream). If this still doesn’t create enough titles, they could approach developers to suggest some sort of collaboration. There aren’t many studios out there that wouldn’t seriously consider making a Star Wars game.
I can’t tell you how much I want to play really good Star Wars games. When it was announced that Electronic Arts had acquired the license, I felt confident that it would happen. It has been a disaster though. I really think that Disney should try and find some way out of the deal and issue the license on a case-by-case basis. I believe that could lead to some truly fantastic experiences. If there is no way out of the deal for the next five years, then they should exert as much pressure as they can on EA to up their game.