Introduction: (TLDR follows)
If you’re a gamer that was born in the 70s and 80s you’ve most likely played your fair share of Star Wars games. If not, then more power to you. I myself started with TIE Fighter, X-Wing, X-Wing vs TIE Fighter and would play those for hours and hours and hours so you can imagine my excitement with Star Wars Squadrons. I also played through Shadows of the Empire on N64 at least a dozen times as Rash Rendar and the Outrider and taking down Prince Xizor’s Black Sun. Then came KOTOR, Republic Commando, Jedi Knight Academy, the classic Battlefront games, and many more.
From the late 80’s through 2013 we had the Golden Age of Star Wars Gaming with the above listed gems but we also had some terrible games as well. Just log on to Steam and check the Star Wars category. There are also the rocks that we left behind such as the 2001 Obiwan game the Kinect Star Wars Dance game, Wii Lightsaber Duels (I was really disappointed here), and Republic Heroes to name a few.
From a publisher view point this isn’t the best look. Yes, there are some GREAT games, some that are absolutely fantastic and are remembered as classics that shaped the future of gaming. But having such poor gaming IPs brings down the brand in minds of suits (instead of just letting them be forgotten to history and google searches). In 2013 Disney and EA entered a 10 year contract to ensure that the quality of Star Wars games always reflected highly on the brand, oh and that it was always profitable. With slightly over 93 total games since the 80s and less than 10 in the last 7 years we might think collectively that Star Wars gaming is in a terrible spot right now, and it just might be. Is EA the wrong choice, or is it doing exactly what Disney wants, protecting the brand and making money?
Star Wars is a hallmark brand in the gaming world that had a golden age of gaming in the late 90s and early 2000s that has been under the control of EA for 7 years and that has been both good and bad for the gaming community. I would like to see Lucas Arts stood back up to govern the Star Wars IP and allow multiple publishers and developers to work together to bring more games to the community and explore more of the Star Wars Universe.
There are a few ways to protect a gaming brand: limit who can make the games, ensure quality control, and make sure it looks, plays, and feels correct to the brand universe. Disney has tried all of those with Star Wars to varying degrees of success. This has often put Gamers at odds with EA who are arguably our favorite punching bag. I believe that EA is a terrible company and are getting their just rewards in court from loot boxes from several countries but the lesser talked about villain has been Darth Mickey.
Darth Mickey has brought order and peace to the galaxy, through his rule all has been brought to order and the chaos has been eliminated. His fleet of lawyers roam the galaxy ensuring peace and order are maintained across cyber space, digital media, and merchandise. Now the confusing and often contradicting stories from the Expanded Universe are dismissed as folk lore and there is a single narrative with ‘high’ standards.
The direct translation for Gaming has been few but well-polished games that have been profitable for both companies. These few games are arguably out numbered by the cancelled, delayed, or reworked games including the most notable cancelled 1313 bounty hunter game. EA at one point even said that single player narrative based games were a dead genre that no one wanted to play, and later released Jedi Fallen Order after they saw the fallacy of that statement. What is most striking is that EA released Star Wars Battlefront (2015) and Battlefront II (2017) to play off the emotions of the two class games. Neither had the feel or the approach of the classic Battlefront games and the loot box scandal and pay to win gacha mechanics from 2017 are still creating huge waves within the industry as court battles rage on about their legality. But if these games aren’t successful for gamers what is the point? Battlefront II is arguably successful, and the developers were allowed to control the rebuild to an extent until support for the game was suddenly pulled in mid 2020. The game was just getting into a superior state with many of the bugs removed and a wonderful amount of additional characters, levels, and skins added to the game for free. But the game wasn’t the most profitable game released for EA since 2015.
Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes, the mobile game based on team building and synergy, has been hugely profitable for EA and Disney raking in over $200 million from 2016-2018, $194+ million in 2019, and probably well over $100 million for 2020 as well. Why is this important? EA made a staggering 1.43 billion in 2017 based on the sale of loot boxes in PC, Console, and mobile digital sales. Battlefront II could not sell pay to win mechanics like Galaxy of Heroes, FIFA, or Madden Ultimate Teams.
Jedi: Fallen Order
What makes Jedi Fallen Order different? First, it’s a single player narrative based game with well-developed characters including villains. It is well paced, looks gorgeous and explains a section of missing information in the Star Wars universe: What happened to some of the jedi who escaped order 66. Through March of 2020 sales of Jedi Fallen Order exceeded EA’s expectations by roughly 20-30%, selling more than 10 million units against an expectation of 6-8 million. But there is no continuing revenue stream for JFO, there is no way for EA and Respawn to continue to make money after the initial point of sale. That makes JFO only half a success for EA and Disney.
Star Wars: Battlefront II:
As stated, before Star Wars BFII was a hot mess prior to and after launch. The pay to win mechanics would have allowed individuals with less time or more money to purchase their way to the most powerful characters and abilities in the game. This was quickly realized and the system was first disabled and then removed. It was replaced by purchasable skins that could also be SLOWLY earned through gameplay. The game continued to have decent sales but the lack of depth within the game, and a tired story that had been done before (see Star Wars: Commander) for the single player campaign meant that many in the player base either didn’t buy it in boycott or purchased it but stopped playing quickly thus not spending any money in the cosmetics. After 3 years, more than 33 million copies sold, and several amazing updates the support for BFII was suddenly pulled as the game got to a mostly finished state.
Star Wars: Squadrons:
The most recent release for Star Wars has been Star Wars Squadrons which has been released to much acclaim. A Phoenix resurrected from the ashes of TIE Fighter and X-Wing the game is designed around space flight and sim combat in the void of space. It is beautiful, supports Virtual Reality, and allows players to fly on both New Republic/Rebellion and the Imperial navies. The game skips a lot of realism to give good gameplay and balance and has a continuing revenue stream in cosmetics. Nothing in the game is pay to win, so maybe EA and Disney learned from the previous mistakes.
He’s worth a lot to me.
This seems pretty good now, why are players complaining about EA? To be honest, the above few games have been a few desert oases where Star Wars Gamers can go to sate our thirst but not necessarily thrive. Before we had Jedi Knight Academy to sate our melee and force thirst, Republic Commando, Shadows of the Empire, and classic Battlefronts for shooters, Force Commander and Rebellion for Strategy, Angry Birds and Lego for casuals, Episode I: Racer (pod racer), Knights of the Old Republic, Force Unleashed for RPGs, and X-Wing and TIE fighter series, Rogue Squadron, and many others for sims. Nearly 90 individual games across all platforms reduced to 12 games, 6 of which were not produced by EA) in 7 years barely scratching the itch of all of the genres.
The problems EA and Disney face is that they must make all of the games fit canon, before the games just had to get a blessing from George Lucas. Now the games must tie in to the movies, books, comic books, etc. That’s a lot of RETCON if the games don’t fit right. Additionally, being in the Star Wars universe appears to limit what developers can expand upon. There’s lasers, lightsabers, the Empire and the Rebellion. For whatever reason it appears that games are not making new territory in such a vast galaxy but instead having to fit inside the tiny box that Disney is currently operating in.
Project Ragtag and 1313 both fell to the dark side, never to appear again. Ragtag was a third person adventure through Star Wars while 1313 would have followed Boba Fett through one of his adventures. Now we sit here in safe and uncompromised aspects of Star Wars. Projects that have been released are set in the familiar, the safe, planets, ideas, and just about everything that has already been established.
Where is the Outrider boldness, battling the Black Sun underworld criminal organization? Bounty Hunting across the Outer Rim? Battling pirates, trafficking, and smugglers? Building an monopoly or exploring the unknown regions? An Old Republic Jedi padawan? A young smuggler trying to survive?
I am altering the deal, Pray I don’t alter it any further:
My fears for the future lay in mobile gaming. It is hugely profitable because of the gacha mechanics and pay to win designed to exploit desires to play more now. The games are designed to have players log in multiple times a day and create habits increasing the chance that players will spend money on the game over time. We have already seen the invasion start years ago with pay to win, gacha systems, gambling, loot boxes, and limited energy games. Highly successful yearly releases have these elements embedded in their core mechanics such as Madden, FIFA, Call of Duty, and battle royales with their seasons.
For Star Wars Gaming I would prefer to see more variety without EA’s oversight, or Activission. I believe re-instating Lucas Arts as the license holder to the Star Wars IP and allowing that company to board game ideas, work with developers and ensure that canon is adhered to would be a tremendous leap forward. Multiple publishers, developers, and thousands of individuals working to expand, explore, and be bold within the Star Wars universe can bring great things to the future. Sure, we might get another Masters of Teras Kasi but we also might get the next Rogue Squadron or Pod Racer.
I’d love to get your thoughts as well.
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