How Electronic Arts has single-handedly ruined Star Wars videogames
In 2013, when Electronic Arts signed a 10-year exclusive licensing deal with Disney to produce Star Wars videogames, fans like myself were cautiously optimistic. The hope was that developers like BioWare (the people behind Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), DICE, Visceral Games, and later Respawn Entertainment — all of them owned by EA — were going to start churning out new content as early as 2015, when Disney resurrected the Star Wars at the movies with The Force Awakens.
In December of that year, EA delivered Star Wars Battlefront, a followup to the Star Wars: Battlefront games Pandemic Studios made in the mid-’00s. The game was riddled with bugs, lacked a campaign mode and focused entirely on player-vs-player matches, and hid a lot of content behind DLC (downloadable content) packages players had to pay for. In an attempt to appease backlash from fans, EA’s chief design officer Patrick Söderlund (no longer with the company) basically blamed Disney. “We made [the choice] due to time and being able to launch the game side-by-side with the movie that came out to get the strongest possible impact,” he said in May of 2016.
Still, there was hope that EA would correct these problems with Star Wars Battlefront II in 2017. Not so much.
Battlefront II dropped just ahead of the theatrical release of The Last Jedi. It featured a campaign mode this time, but it was buggy and boring at best, and there was a new problem: an overly aggressive loot box system that allowed players to buy enhancements, giving them an advantage over players who didn’t have the money for the “pay-to-play” system, or who just wanted to grind it out the hard way. Once again, Patrick Söderlund had to apologize for EA’s mistake. “We had the intent that was designed for us to have more people play it over a longer period of time,” he said. “And like a lot of other games on the market, to be able to afford to do that we had an idea of getting returns from that. But at the same time, we got it wrong.”
And this time an apology wasn’t going to cut it. Battlefront II’s pay-to-play mechanics were so bad that congressional bodies around the world started to investigate if loot boxes constituted gambling and required regulation. It was a mess, to put it lightly.
So EA has had the Star Wars license for five years and only produced two games, and one of them engaged in practices so unethical a few governments felt the need to step in and protect people. (For comparison’s sake, back when LucasArts was managing the license, we got 16 Star Wars games over a five-year period from 2002-2006, and none of them stirred up even close to the s*it Battlefront II did.) But surely, a company as large as EA had other irons in the fire, right?
Yes…sort of. At one time, Uncharted writer Amy Hennig was working with Visceral Games to create a single-player Star Wars game, but EA shut down Visceral Games in 2017, leaving the fate of the game uncertain.
The game moved to EA Vancouver, where it evolved into a more open-world type experience — think Red Dead Redemption, but with blasters — and there was hope something might be salvaged. Per Kotaku, the game was being developed under the codename Orca, and would let players explore the galaxy as a scoundrel like Han Solo or a bounty hunter like Boba Fett. Then, just last week, EA cancelled the game outright, and released this statement:
There’s been speculation overnight about one of our Star Wars projects. As a natural part of the creative process, the great work by our team in Vancouver continues and will evolve into future Star Wars content and games. We’re fully committed to making more Star Wars games, we’re very excited about Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order from Respawn, and we’ll share more about our new projects when the time is right.
Fallen Order, a single-player game about a Jedi Padawan who survived the liquidation of the Jedi order in Revenge of the Sith, is due out this holiday season. It’s anyone’s guess whether it makes it.
In the eyes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story writer Gary Whitta, EA has really botched the Star Wars license. He gave his take on the podcast Kinda Funny Games Daily, and talked about what he’d seen of the cancelled Visceral game.
“I saw a bunch of that game and it looked terrific,” Whitta said. “After it was canceled I saw some stuff, I saw what they had up to that point, it was far from finished but it looked amazing, it would have been Star Wars Uncharted which I’m very excited about.”
My understanding is what they [EA] were saying all the way through is that we don’t want to make Star Wars Uncharted. Well, maybe don’t hire the narrative director of the Uncharted games to make it for you, and figure out what it is you actually want?
That’s a strong statement from the man who helped write the best standalone Star Wars movie so far. “If I was an EA shareholder, I’d be f**king furious,” he continued. “It has been catastrophically mismanaged.”
And there you have it. EA has had five years to make a decent Star Wars videogame but has bungled it at every turn. The company’s contract with Disney ends in 2023, but maybe it’s time for the Mouse to break things off early and seek out developers who are more in touch with the gaming community and can produce more than two games in five years.
Games like Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the Knights of the Old Republic series, and the original Battlefront games are what gamers like myself are clamoring for. Hopefully, Star Wars: Fallen Jedi will be a decent game and help fill the void, but with EA’s track record, I am not hopeful.
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h/t ScreenRant, The Verge, Kotaku, Forbes