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Michael Bitton: The EA-Disney Deal

Column By Michael Bitton on May 08, 2013

Disney hasn’t been wasting much time since acquiring the Star Wars IP late last year. In the intervening months, we’ve learned details here and there about the future of the Star Wars films, including the announcement of J.J. Abrams as the director of Star Wars VII, the first film of a new trilogy set to begin filming in early 2014.

But what about the games?

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Aside from the depressing shutdown of LucasArts, things have been fairly quiet on that front. That shutdown meant the end (at least for now) for titles such as Star Wars 1313 and, apparently, an under-wraps Call of Duty-style Star Wars FPS dubbed Star Wars: First Assault. With that sobering news behind us, the future of Star Wars games still remains unclear. All we’ve known is that Disney wasn’t interested in developing the games themselves, made abundantly clear with the shutdown of LucasArts, as well as public comments pointing to a desire to license out the development of future games.

Instead of licensing individual titles to different developers, much as LucasArts did in the past, we recently learned that Disney has opted to work an exclusive multi-year deal with Electronic Arts to develop Star Wars titles for “core audiences” across a variety of platforms. As one might imagine, this wasn’t received well by the vast gaming populace. After all, EA has the prestigious honor of ‘winning’ Consumerist’s “Worst Company in America” two years running now. I could spend a couple of paragraphs discussing EA’s myriad bungles from recent history or even the less-fun “just ship it” days, but why bother? You all know the story already.

The fact of the matter is this: there is nothing this deal can do to Star Wars games that hasn’t been done to Star Wars games already. I said the same thing when people freaked out about Disney acquiring Star Wars from George Lucas. The IP has been both underused and misused by both its creators and licensees for decades now. Count the Star Wars games in existence. How many are actually good? Take that list and count how many are considered classics? The ratio doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

The ideal solution would be for Disney to have found solid developers suited for each particular title, but with the way things have been going over the last few years, most developers with any real talent are being acquired by a shortlist of mega publishers consisting of Activision, Ubisoft, EA, and Warner Bros. All of the aforementioned companies rotate their time in the spotlight as the object of gamers’ hatred, for one reason or another, but the fact is, if it weren’t EA, it would be any one of these companies and gamers would still be pissed. Financially, no smaller studio or publisher was going to have what it likely took to acquire this deal.

There are valid reasons to level criticism at all of the above companies, but believe it or not, of them all EA actually makes a whole lot of sense for those of you who are genuinely interested in seeing some potentially solid Star Wars titles appear over the next few years. If you want a directly relevant reason to be upset about EA picking up this deal, then be upset that Activision didn’t get it, as they own Raven Software, which was behind the beloved Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy titles. In any case, it’s been over 10 years since LucasArts has been relevant; it’s time to give a chance to someone else.  Let’s take a look at some examples of how the EA deal could actually be beneficial. And yes, I fully expect all of these examples to be flanked by the same sort of milked crap we’ve seen for 20+ years now, but again, that’s just par for the course at this point. I’m just being realistic here.

Star Wars 1313

While 1313 may be dead for the time being, there is a chance it could see a revival as part of the EA-Disney deal. I was disappointed to hear that the game had shifted from a story following an original character to one focused on Boba Fett, but it looked like a promising title nonetheless. Visceral Games (formerly EA Redwood Shores), the folks behind the Dead Space series, would probably be a good fit in picking up wherever LucasArts left off. Visceral Games is actually one of EA’s more talented studios and I can see them easily tackling a game like this and doing a good job of it.

 

Star Wars: First Assault and Battlefront III

While the new Medal of Honor games haven’t done a great job of convincing me that Danger Close (formerly EA Los Angeles) is up to the task of competing directly with Call of Duty, DICE has continued to do a pretty awesome job with the Battlefield series under EA.  This leaves the revival of First Assault and Battlefront III with some very good odds of happening. Can you imagine a Frostbite powered First Assault or Battlefront III? I’m not a real fan of the Call of Duty style FPS, but the notion of Battlefront III finding a home at DICE has me really excited.

 

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic III

Aside from the potential for Battlefront III, this is the most exciting possibility of all. Not counting SW:TOR, the KotOR RPG series has been in a pretty weird place since Obsidian tackled KotOR II back in 2004. With BioWare now part of the EA family and this Star Wars deal now done, I’d say there’s a pretty good chance that we see another BioWare RPG in the KotOR universe.

 

A New Star Wars MMO

This is going to happen; you can bet on it. And depending on how long this license is for, there’s a good chance it will be EA at the helm of whatever that project is. There’s really very little chance we don’t see a new Star Wars MMO based on the upcoming trilogy begin development sometime over the next few years.

We can agree to disagree here, but I’m obviously the wrong person to talk to if you find this possibility disheartening. Aside from some mistakes clearly borne of hubris, I stand by my opinion that BioWare did a pretty good job with Star Wars: The Old Republic overall. With those lessons hopefully in mind, I feel a new Star Wars MMO coming out of EA BioWare really wouldn’t be that bad. And judging by EA’s freshly released financial figures, it looks like things are beginning to turn around for everyone’s favorite MMO punching bag.

Wrapping Up

Looking at the other publishers that could have realistically nabbed up this deal, I’m just not seeing the same sort of clear examples for potentially awesome Star Wars titles that I can see coming out of EA. Sure, Activision could put Raven on a new Jedi Knight game and maybe that would turn out well (Raven hasn’t done much of note lately) and perhaps Blizzard could have been behind the next Star Wars MMO. But aside from that, I’m not really seeing much there other than a better chance for First Assault to end up being a good game coming out of Infinity Ward rather than at Danger Close. But let’s be honest, I think the vast majority of us would rather see Battlefront III get the right treatment.

 

In the end, they’ve all got a bevy of unfortunate business decisions and practices under their belt, and this means you’d be likely to see the cash-grab crap titles come out of any one of them, but if I had to “pick my poison”, the EA deal looks like the best option to me.


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