EA acquires rights to develop Star Wars games; why that’s a good thing
The shutdown of LucasArts by Disney early last month left many wondering about the fate of the Star Wars games. Disney had previously stated that their focus would be directed toward social games, and the with the demise of LucasArts fans wondered if all hope was lost. Who would save us from a sea of Star Wars Facebook and mobile games? Then an unlikely hero emerged. EA stepped in.
The announcement came yesterday to mixed reception. Some were optimistic, others were quick to point out EA’s reputation as the Consumerist’s Worst Company In America. On Twitter the #starwarsnextgen hash tag began to trend with ideas for new Star Wars titles, the majority coupling Star Wars Battlefront III with the Battlefield series engine, EA DICE at the helm. Others clamored for a new, non-MMO installment to the Knights of the Old Republic series.
Regardless of how you feel, it’s a very exciting time to be a Star Wars fan and a gamer. With LucasArts’ relatively poor showing the last 5-8 years there’s really only one direction Star Wars games can go. Up. So let’s take a few minutes to assess just why EA is a great choice for the franchise, and take a few more to note some potential caveats as well.
A love of Star Wars
Some could argue that EA as an overall entity is in it for the money. That’s okay. They’re a business, and they should be in it for the money. But think of the work force. The Joe Nobody’s with a wife and three kids, a mortgage and two car payments. To each of those developers working in the trenches this is a dream come true. It’s Star Wars, and who doesn’t dream of being able to contribute to the franchise? Heck, even the big wigs in companies like this are smart enough to know that these games demand love. They can’t be treated like your typical contract job. Fans demand greatness, especially after some lackluster years at LucasArts. The developers are surely excited to bring it. The businessmen (and women) understand the financial and media ramifications if they don’t, and frankly that’s good enough for us.
Strong tech and developers
Take a look at EA’s pedigree. Mass Effect, Battlefield, Madden, Need for Speed, Dead Space, Burnout. All EA-owned franchises, all amazing. Then there’s the partnership with Crytek, developers of the Crysis series. And with that partnership comes Crytek UK (formerly known as Free Radical), who were originally working on Star Wars Battlefront III before its cancellation by LucasArts. So there’s at least a potential there for a continuation of the original project. Then you start looking at the tech behind these games: EA DICE commands the Frostbite engine, which powers the Battlefield games. EA Redwood Shores maintains the “Godfather” engine, which was used in The Godfather: Part II and the Dead Space games. Criterion has their amazing racing engine, as does what remains of EA Black Box, both of which have contributed to the Need for Speed franchise.
Then there’s Bioware, who are already steeped in Star Wars lore. They’re responsible for the entire world of the Old Republic, and though the recent MMO installment of the sub-franchise is somewhat troubled, no one can argue that these games pay tribute to the very best of Star Wars. And with that comes lots of experience with Unreal Engine 3, which was used to power the Mass Effect games. Star Wars 1313 runs on UE3, which may mean the troubled flagship title could survive this transition.
But everyone is looking for Star Wars Battlefront III, or at least some semblance of it. Here’s and interesting tidbit: Pandemic Studios, developer for the first two Battlefront games built the engine that powered them. Prior to their closure in 2009 they had been owned by EA. Translation: EA owns the Pandemic engine (known as Zero). This means that there’s at least the potential for EA to use Zero to re-release the older Battlefront games on XBLA/PSN/Wii U eShop, and that a port to portable/tablet devices (which would be better suited to this older tech) isn’t unheard of.
Money. They want to make it
Yeah, we have to address it. But instead of treating it like an evil thing, let’s take the opposite stance. Let’s realize that EA wants to make money on these games. That means they at least need to make decent games, and given EA’s releases we’re unlikely to see any shovelware. While games like Dragon Age II have been met with criticism, instances of issue are generally based more on creative direction and less on build quality. Regardless they have a reputation for high review scores, and while that’s only part of what makes a great game, it’s a strong measure.
If there’s one thing many folks aren’t aware if it’s that assets get reused. A lot. That building texture in Battlefield 3? Yeah, it’s probably been a dozen games. But that’s a major bonus when it comes to Star Wars. In addition to the already large library of prefabs and characters EA will be able to pool into from the remnants of LucasArts they’ll be able to mix their own library of stock textures with any new assets. These get created for the first time, then used again and again. That means one Millenium Falcon for multiple games. One Luke Skywalker. One Death Star. And with all that it shortens development time, which means no more waiting three or four years for Star Wars games, or at least that more of that time and money can be spent on other aspects of a given title.
As mentioned above, EA “won” the Worst Company In America from The Consumerist. Two years in a row. So even with all the good, we’re going to get a barrage of bad as well. Perhaps the most infamous of EA’s practices is that of microtransactions. Who knows when and where that will hit. Will Battlefront III have exclusive helmets or logos only available via purchase? If so can we handle that? Many folks worry about the “unfinished game” DLC as well–that notion that some content is purposely left out of the final game to be included in DLC. Now typically speaking DLC is nothing but a forethought until the game is nearly ready to be released, but we’re not so blind to realize this sometimes happens. Regardless not all DLC is developed that early, and if it means heaps of new locations for a future Podracer or Battlefront game, we’ll take the good with the bad.
But there’s another potential issue: the movies. Disney will no doubt want to tie video games into the new Star Wars films, and with that comes forcibly rushed titles. Just take a look at rival company Sega’s Iron Man 2 or the recent CBS Studios Star Trek game if you want to see what rushing a title can do. They both have visible potential, particularly Star Trek, but both suffer from the feeling that someone was over the developer’s shoulder forcing them to cut corners. (For the record, co-op Star Trek is actually pretty decent)
A new hope…
Fears aside, we see this as great move for Star Wars gamers. Finally the franchise is put in the hands of a company that has the manpower to produce the greatness these games deserve. The studios are there, as is the technology to push these games forward. While EA has its own weaknesses to overcome, the future for Star Wars itself looks strong. And given the fact that deals are often sealed before the public press release it’s likely some EA teams are already hard at work on our favorite franchise. Who knows, maybe they’ll even save Star Wars First Assault and 1313. Maybe we’ll see XBLA versions of games like Jedi Academy and Racer Revenge, too. One can hope.