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How Disney has underachieved with Star Wars video games

Has Disney done more harm than good to Star Wars when it comes to gaming?

Disney purchased Lucasfilm and all it encompasses on October 30th, 2012. This week, to mark the ten-year anniversary of this momentous acquisition, AIPT will be reflecting on Disney’s impact on what is one of the most popular and influential media franchises to ever exist – Star Wars.

From its inception as a multimedia franchise, Star Wars has been pumping out video games. Every generation of Star Wars fan has their favorites, mine personally being Republic Commando and the Knights of the Old Republic games from the early aughts. But since Disney acquired all things Star Wars, the video game output has been mixed, to say the least. Let’s dive into why that’s the case.

Did you ever hear the tragedy of Star Wars 1313?

In the years preceding Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars, the development teams at LucasArts were hard at work on Star Wars 1313. Set in the seedy underbelly of Coruscant, Star Wars 1313 would have put players in the role of a bounty hunter in an Uncharted-like adventure. From the initial E3 demo, the Nathan Drake comparisons were immediate, and fans were receptive — they couldn’t wait for this game.

This wasn’t public knowledge at the time, but that E3 demo was actually misrepresenting the game – George Lucas himself had made the decision prior to E3 that 1313 was going to star fan-favorite-for-no-other-reason-than-a-dope-ass-costume Boba Fett. The team was hard at work rejiggering their game to accommodate an entirely new protagonist while the public was in awe of a game that would merely resemble the final product… if that final product would ever see the light of day.

See, one of the first things Disney did on the games side of Star Wars was cancel 1313. The House of Mouse thought console gaming was going the way of the dodo and that mobile gaming was the future. With ten years of hindsight, we can comfortably scoff at this assertion — the PlayStation 4, released in 2013, became one of the top-selling consoles of all time, showing console gaming wasn’t dying — but at the time Disney was confident in its prediction and shifted its focus towards mobile platforms with all its game endeavors, not just with Star Wars. It gutted LucasArts and kept it around as a caretaker of the license. And license Star Wars they did.

I don’t like EA. It’s coarse and rough and irritating.

Not even a year after its acquisition, and still over two years away from its first Star Wars film, Disney was busy making moves in the game industry. It shuttered the game-making aspect of LucasArts and quickly aligned itself with the evil empire of video games: EA.

On May 6, 2013 (they couldn’t have broken the news on May the Fourth?) Disney and EA jointly announced a “multi-title exclusive licensing agreement” wherein EA’s top studios would produce Star Wars games for consoles, PC, and mobile platforms. EA’s first foray into the world of Star Wars was a reboot of one of the most popular Star Wars game series – Battlefront.

How Disney has underachieved with Star Wars video games

Star Wars Battlefront from Dice

Star Wars Battlefront released just in time for the holidays in 2015. I played more of it than I should have back in college, but what was I supposed to do – study? It was pretty entertaining, though it lacked content (and offered a Season Pass to add insult to injury). The 2015 Battlefront included no campaign, no content outside of the original trilogy (save for a Jakku map), and only a handful of game modes. It was fine – a decent start to EA’s Star Wars output and just enough to gets fans excited for what would come next.

And then came Battlefront II. It was received much worse than the first Battlefront, even though its gameplay was still solid and it featured more content to fill out the game (like a campaign, which was about as “meh” as FPS campaigns come). However, the iceberg that sunk Battlefront II was the game’s incorporation of microtransactions and loot boxes.

When Battlefront II launched it was a grindfest along the lines of an NBA 2K release with players estimating unlocking a single hero would require 40 hours of grinding. For one Jedi or Sith. Wanted the whole roster worth of characters? I hope you enjoyed the gameplay, because you’d be playing it a ton to get Luke, Rey, Boba Fett, Kylo Ren, and everyone else. Microtransactions and Battlefront II’s monetization scam – er, scheme – were received so poorly before the game was even released that EA made the move to disable microtransactions prior to the game’s launch as it attempted to undo the damage it had wrought upon itself and its game.

How Disney has underachieved with Star Wars video games

Dice’s statement on disabling Battlefront II’s microtransactions before the game was even out.

By now you’ve probably heard of EA’s “sense of pride and accomplishment” response to the grindfest criticism. There are many reasons EA’s been considered one of the worst companies in America, and a tone deaf response like this is one of them. Gamers were furious that EA’s greed was infecting their new Star Wars game. The monetization scheme was directly impacting one’s enjoyment with the game and was ruining what could have been a pretty solid FPS.

The ire toward Battlefront II grew so strong that in spring of 2018, about five months after the game’s launch, the progression system was completely overhauled and all heroes and hero ships were permanently unlocked for all players (pour one out for those poor souls who actually did grind for 40 hours to unlock Vader). For some, this was too little too late. For others, it allowed them to return to a game they could now actually have fun with.

And I imagine for many, like myself, Battlefront II lost us before it even launched due to its money-hungry practices. I think it’s telling that five years later there’s been no announcement of a Battlefront III even though FPS franchises continue to be some of the best-selling games on the market.

How Disney has underachieved with Star Wars video games

Star Wars Squadrons from Motive Studio

We have to give credit where credit’s due, however. More recently, EA has actually produced a couple of well-received titles. While EA and Dice were dealing with the fallout of the microtransaction-laden Battlefront II, Respawn was quietly making Jedi: Fallen Order, a toned-down souslike with a Star Wars coat of paint. It stuck a middle lightsaber to parent company EA and showed that gamers enjoy single player games, too — especially ones in the world of Star Wars.

2020’s Star Wars: Squadrons was a success as well, showing that, hey, EA actually was capable of a hot streak once in a while. It took what I thought was the best part of the Battlefront games – dogfights with spaceships – and created an entire game around it.

However, EA took so long finding its groove that once gamers started to enjoy some EA-crafted Star Wars games, the exclusivity agreement neared an end, which will allow Disney to license Star Wars to any publisher it wants.

May the games be with you

From where we are today in 2022, Star Wars fans have a lot to look forward to in terms of Star Wars games. Sure, there were some notable (to say the least) bumps on the hyperspace lane here, like the cancellation of Star Wars 1313 and the failures of Battlefront II, but now there’s more than enough Star Wars games on the horizon to please any gamer.

Ubisoft was the first non-EA company to be announced as working on a Star Wars game. I know what you’re thinking – Disney went from EA to Ubisoft? Yes, they did, but I could see the move working out – the ol’ Assassin’s Creed formula might work well when combined with the sandbox that is Star Wars. Who wouldn’t want  an open-world Star Wars RPG?

But Ubisoft isn’t alone in developing Star Wars games. Quantic Dream, known for narrative-focused Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human, will be bringing its choice-based gameplay to a galaxy far, far away. Then there’s Zynga, who will introduce Star Wars into the free-to-play arena shooter genre with Star Wars: Hunters. Amy Henning’s Skydance New Media will finally mesh Star Wars with Uncharted-like gameplay as its second project after its recently revealed Marvel game. And then there’s Aspyr’s Knights of the Old Republic remake that will surely appease millions of nostalgic fans like myself.

How Disney has underachieved with Star Wars video games

Star Wars Eclipse from Quantic Dream

Even EA will receive some shots at redemption as the publisher has studios working on three separate Star Wars games. New studio Bit Reactor has a strategy game in development and Respawn has two Star Wars games on the docket – a new FPS and a sequel to Fallen Order, Jedi: Survivor, launching next year (fingers crossed).

Free from the fist of the evil empire, Star Wars finally – ten years after it was acquired by Disney – gets to add more weapons to its arsenal of video games. I’m excited for the announced projects, and I’m curious what Star Wars games are in development that the public doesn’t even know about. Hell, maybe if we’re lucky Star Wars 1313 could get revived. Stranger things have happened in the media landscape we currently reside in.

Ultimately, I’m not sure if Disney did more harm or good to Star Wars video games. EA’s handling of the Battlefront series definitely left a sour taste in plenty of fans’ mouths, but Fallen Order and Squadrons are two of the best Star Wars games we’ve had. If anything, I think this first ten years of Disney’s stewardship of Star Wars has led to missed opportunities with Star Wars in gaming due to EA’s exclusivity, and I’m looking forward to the course correction of the next ten years.

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