In the eyes of the Empire, a wrong mistake might get a poor sod Forced-choked, electrocuted, dismembered, or worse… decapitated.
Such is the case of Electronic Arts, the current licensee for the Star Wars video games. Because of the recent loot box debacle with Star Wars: Battlefront II (leading to less than stellar sales and a minor PR disaster for the House of Mouse’s biggest franchise), Disney is rumoured to be looking for a new developer/publisher for more Star Wars games.
While both companies signed a contract, word in the market is that Disney has the option to renegotiate if EA didn’t deliver, and boy did they not. And it’s not unheard of when two companies decide to break up. Just look at Saban, the folks behind the Power Rangers franchise, ditching Bandai and hooking up with Hasbro after 15 long years of glorious morphin’ time.
But with the Star Wars license firmly established as one of the crown jewels within Disney’s empire, there is no room for error when it comes to maintaining its sheen.
Disney flirted dangerously close to mediocrity with public sentiment for Star Wars: The Last Jedi back in December, and it didn’t help that the bulk of the controversy with Battlefront II also focused on public sentiment on how EA handled microtransactions within the game. We wrote about the whole issue extensively, and it seems that the negativity surrounding that saga was sufficient for Disney to start shopping for better video game partners, if reports are indeed accurate.
Meet the contenders
But in what could be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire, the heavily rumoured contenders – Activision and Ubisoft – don’t exactly fill us with any new hope. Activision is still reeling from the failure of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, and who can forget Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Unity and that terrible movie that is best forgotten.
Of the two, only Activision has actually published Star Wars titles in the past before – including Republic Commando, a fan favourite.
It can be argued that LucasArts, not Activision, did most of the heavy lifting back in the day, but the beloved company is no more.
While one can credit Activision for its successful rollout of loot boxes in Overwatch, the game is actually more of Blizzard’s baby, with Activision serving only as a publisher.
Ubisoft, on the other hand, has a checkered past with their poor implementation of DRM (which continues to plague them till today). Remember ANNO 2070? This was a single player game that you’re unable to play if you have no Internet or if Ubisoft’s authentication servers go down. #NeverForget
However, with the recent Assassin’s Creed Origins, the continued success of Far Cry, and scoring a coup with Mario + Rabbids, Ubisoft has firmly established itself as a top tier developer. Not only are the games critically acclaimed, they sold like hotcakes too.
Working with licenses is certainly not a problem for Ubisoft, considering that they’ve been able to placate the folks at Nintendo. They are also one of the biggest third party developers for the Nintendo Switch. While that might be attributed to the Switch’s audience base and affinity towards the Rabbids, Ubisoft has also been able to achieve similar critical success with the South Park games.
Between Activision and Ubisoft, the distinction is clear. Ubisoft brings in the acclaim while Activision bring in the bucks. But there might be others out there who can achieve that sweet middle ground. Sadly, only a handful of big players remain, and while they might not be as physically massive as Activision or Ubisoft, the Force seems stronger with them.
There Is Another… two
Bethesda Softworks is a prime candidate that Disney should consider as part of the short list, as pretty much everything pushed out by the company has been of high quality. (Yes, we know, they take a while to get their games ready)
While the games that they have released might not number in the sheer quantity of the bigger players in the industry, look at the reception of the new DOOM and Wolfenstein games. Given the praise gamers lavish upon them, it’s hard to dispute that Bethesda has the chops to carry the Star Wars franchise forward.
If Disney is particularly gutsy, there is also a certain company which has married both quality and financial success: Take-Two Interactive.
Take-Two’s wholly owned subsidiary Rockstar Games has been patiently milking Grand Theft Auto V like there’s no tomorrow. With each new DLC, it seems that Take-Two has been able to continually breathe life to a title that was originally released in 2013, and still see financial returns.
Now imagine what it can do with Star Wars games.
Even with the likes of World of Warcraft seeing major content patches and expansion packs once every two years, Grand Theft Auto V still rakes in the bucks while keeping the core audience base satisfied.
With a good amount of games these days made for streaming-viability, the folks at Rockstar Games would definitely know what buttons to press to incite the video game community. If Star Wars was to ever land in the hands of Take-Two, that would certainly be the right move for both fans entertainment wise and creating a viable financial product.
Star Wars Games Awakened
The truth is that good Star Wars games have been released in the last decade or so. The Old Republic, Knights of the Old Republic, The Force Unleashed... heck, even Star Wars: Battlefront II had its moments with a solid single player mode. But Star Wars fans are also a vocal lot, and combining them with gamers means you have a fervent fan base who can be extremely unforgiving.
Based on our assessment of the current gaming landscape, it’s not so much the micro-transactions that is a peeve. Businesses need to be profitable to bring their product to the marketplace. The biggest gripe for the latest game is how the core game and all the fun, shiny parts have been systematically walled off despite being a full-priced game.
Imagine buying a ticket to a movie, only to find out that some parts of the movie will be muted, unless you pay more.
It hurts us even more to realize that such content might even already be on the disc, but hidden away if players don’t pony up the cash. Considering that it had already happened with Dragon Age back in 2009, Electronic Arts seems to be blinded by the pure pursuit of profits as they repeated this same mistake with Star Wars Battlefront II in 2017.
The fact remains that there are good games that offer players the base experience if they cannot afford the constant upgrades and DLCs, so there’s no mystery about quality and value for money there. But EA chose to anchor its focus on profit, because it thought fanboys were going to be suckers for a galaxy far, far away.
While some might argue that EA might not have a choice, given the expected high costs in acquiring the license, players should not be held hostage if the EA felt that it was feasible to pay a high price for rights and royalties. Sometimes, it’s better to walk away. While the mobile gaming side of things appears to be lucrative enough to warrant an endless churn of Star Wars titles, this is not how traditional PC and console gamers see things. Trying to repeatedly implement such nickel-diming tactics is as sad as it is insulting.
Is it too hard to see a Star Wars game that is both well loved critically, yet be a financial success for fans and publishers? The closure of LucasArts after releasing several Star Wars games seems to indicate that even they couldn’t get it right all the way. There is certainly a balance to the Force but given that many publishers outside of EA seem to have found their own groove, it is not a pipe dream to see a critically-acclaimed Star Wars game make an appearance in this day and age.
But we can certainly agree that EA had their chance, twice, and failed.