“This will be a day long remembered.”
On Wednesday, Lucasfilm Games announced that a brand new open-world Star Wars game is being developed in collaboration with Ubisoft. The announcement of this kind of game is the realization of many hopes and dreams of Star Wars fans over the past several years, but it also represents something even more significant: the end of EA’s exclusivity license.
Back in 2012, The Walt Disney Company purchased Lucasfilm from George Lucas for over $4 billion, sparking a brand new chapter for the company and its most iconic brand, Star Wars. In 2013, then, LucasArts, the company that had overseen the development of Star Wars games for two decades, was shut down. The previous Star Wars games were rendered Legends material, like the books and comics, and a new era of storytelling began. As part of that, also in 2013 a deal was announced with Entertainment Arts (EA), a major video game studio, to make Star Wars games. Importantly, this deal granted EA an exclusive license to produce Star Wars video games, meaning that other studios could not. The only exception to this was mobile games, which continued to be developed by various studios (including EA).
Now, in hindsight, the deal is widely regarded as a mistake. The lack of games and questionable quality of some of those that were released led many people to think that the exclusivity license should not be renewed, and it is now over. The deal was originally reported to be for ten years, so it’s unclear whether Lucasfilm ended it early or if the original reports were wrong, but either way, a new era of Star Wars games is beginning. And that’s a really great thing.
The Star Wars release about this announced that new open-world game, but also said, “Lucasfilm Games is now opening the doors to developers that want to come play in the galaxy far, far away.” That means multiple studios working on different Star Wars games. And one of them will continue to be EA. Douglas Reilly, VP of Lucasfilm Games, told StarWars.com:
“We’re really proud of the games we have created with EA. We will continue working with them and our relationship has never been stronger. While we may not have a lot of details to share at the moment, we’ve got a number of projects underway with the talented teams at EA.”
So EA will continue to make Star Wars games, but they just won’t have an exclusive license any longer to do so. They will now, finally, have competition. And I think that’s a very welcome thing. Competition will hopefully bring out the best of everyone involved, including EA. Knowing that other studios are also working on games set in a galaxy far, far away means that the pressure is on to do it well. That can’t hurt. In fact, I’m even more excited now to see future Fallen Order games and maybe even a Battlefront III, as EA seems to have made significant progress in recent years. I’m sure this will only serve to make things better. Additionally, it means that we’ll probably be getting some more variety of styles and substance from these games, which is also a good thing. This is a great move that gives a lot of hope for the future of Star Wars gaming.
But it also marks the end of an era, so I thought we’d take a look back at the four (yes, only four) console games that EA released during the nearly eight years of having the exclusive Star Wars license. And maybe that fact itself is all the evidence you need to realize that this move by Lucasfilm was long overdue.
Star Wars: Battlefront (2015)
When it was announced that the first game coming from this new partnership would be a reboot of the Battlefront franchise, it made perfect sense. The original games were iconic and beloved, and a modern take on that figured to be incredible. But that was not to be. Instead, this first Battlefront installment proved to perhaps be most successful as a learning experience for EA. The game sold well, but the reception wasn’t so great. The game had been rushed to release in coordination with the return of the Skywalker Saga with The Force Awakens, and the content was incredibly limited as a result. Only original trilogy content was included, while the game also focused almost exclusively on online multiplayer. Single-player story modes, or split-screen co-op, were either not included or mere afterthoughts. It was a far, far cry from the beloved Battlefront games of old, and fans realized it instantly. It was enjoyable for what it was, but the problem is that it wasn’t much. Subsequent content updates were released, but required players to spend additional money to gain additional content on a game that lacked it in the first place. The game was, quite simply, very underwhelming.
Star Wars: Battlefront II (2017)
Maybe as a surprise to some, then, the next installment from EA also was a Battlefront game, with Battlefront II releasing two years later. EA had learned some lessons from the previous game, and this time included a single-player campaign, as well as content from all eras of Star Wars (prequel, original, and sequel trilogies). It included more modes, more maps, and more characters. But whatever positive momentum it may have seemed to be gaining was sabotaged by EA’s thirst for greed. Shortly before the game was set to be released, it was reported that there were loot boxes included in the game that essentially required you to pay to progress in the game. For an online multiplayer especially, you can see how that was extremely problematic, especially since people would be spending $60-70+ on the game itself. By the time the game launched those loot boxes had been removed in a desperate damage control attempt by the studio, but the damage had already been done. Sales were lackluster, credibility was shot, and the game seemed doomed from the start.
But, as a testament to the developers, they didn’t simply give up on it right away. They steadily continued to work on the game, releasing free updates for all players. These content updates brought new maps, new characters, and new game modes, marking a significant improvement on what was already a solid game (if you remove all the controversy around it). And slowly but surely, the game began morphing into something that could rightly stand in the same sentence as the Battlefront games of old. Creative modes like Ewok Hunt brought engaging and fun ways to play, while the release of Capital Supremacy and Co-Op were the biggest of them all: with these modes, the game once again allowed you to play in competitive combat for control of command posts on a planet, just like the old games did. By the end of its run, with content updates ending by mid-2020, this game was a worthy entry in the Battlefront franchise and an incredibly enjoyable game. But for almost its entire run, the developers were working on climbing back uphill from the disastrous pre-launch controversy. They deserve credit for doing so, sticking with the game and turning it around.
Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order (2019)
Two years later came a totally different kind of Star Wars game: Jedi: Fallen Order, a single-player game centered around the Jedi Cal Kestis in the era of the Empire. It marked the first (and only) time in EA’s eight year run that a single-player, story-based game was released. Battlefront II and Squadrons both included a single-player mode that was really well-done, but this was the only game to actually be exclusively devoted to that. But while EA lacked in quantity, they made up for it in quality, as this is one of the best Star Wars video games ever made. It tells a very compelling story about a survivor of the Jedi Purge trying to survive in the new galaxy, and it features terrific planets, thoughtful and challenging gameplay, phenomenal music, and a story that is very much worthy of Star Wars. This release, finally, was a home run.
Star Wars: Squadrons (2020)
And then last year came another Star Wars multiplayer, Squadrons. This game was from the start smaller in scope than other games, but that was reflected pretty clearly in the leadup (so fans weren’t surprised by it). This game also gave fans something else they had been wanting to see, as it was a true starfighter game in the Star Wars universe. Battlefront II included ships, but it was basically ignored. This time, the whole game was about ship combat. The game features a single-player campaign mode, and then features a few different multiplayer modes that allow players to dogfight and engage in strategic fleet battles. It’s not a massive entry into the gaming world, but it’s fun enough in its own right. The ship combat is exceptionally well-done, and though it’s limited, it was still a very worthwhile release.