Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Lucasfilm ends EA-exclusive deal for STAR WARS games, announces new title from the makers of THE DIVISION

The new Lucasfilm Games brand is kicking off its existence with a slew of announcements. On Monday Lucasfilm announced the new brand existed, yesterday they confirmed a collaboration with Bethesda and MachineGames on an Indiana Jones title and today they've confirmed a collaboration with Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment on a new Star Wars title, which also means the end of Electronic Arts' exclusive licence to develop Star Wars games.


Lucasfilm previously developed a large number of Star Wars games either inhouse through Lucasfilm Games (rebranded LucasArts in 1990) or through partnerships with external studios, including BioWare, Raven Software and Totally Games. In 2012 the company was taken over by Disney, who shuttered LucasArts the following year and signed an exclusive deal with Electronic Arts to develop multiple Star Wars games (apart from various Star Wars Lego games, produced under a pre-existing licence with Warner Brothers). EA promised an ambitious slate of many games, bringing the full firepower of their multiple studios to bear on the franchise. However, eight years later they've only actually released four games: Battlefront (2015), Battlefront II (2017, both from DICE), Jedi: Fallen Order (2019, from Respawn Entertainment) and Squadrons (2020, from EA Motive). Battlefront II was harshly criticised for trying to nickel-and-dime customers through the use of "loot boxes" which were condemned by some governments as encouraging children to take part in gambling with real money, which resulted in one of the game's developers achieving the unenviable record of having the single most-downvoted comment in the history of Reddit.

EA have also cancelled many more games, starting with First Assault and 1313, which they'd inherited from Lucasfilm; an Uncharted-style action adventure from Amy Hennig; an open-world game set on Tatooine from Visceral Games; and a single-player-focused Battlefront spin-off, similar to the Bad Company and Hardline spin-offs from the Battlefield franchise. In addition, they had apparently considered working on a new Knights of the Old Republic game at BioWare (either a sequel or reboot), but had decided not to proceed.

EA's strategy, although criticised, has resulted in financial success: more than 40 million copies of their Star Wars games have been sold in the last five years, and Fallen Order and Squadrons had a strong critical reception. According to rumours of varying reliability, Respawn are working on Fallen Order II and DICE have been working on Battlefront III as a bigger and more epic title, not connected to a film release, whilst EA are still evaluating Squadrons' performance to see if a sequel is warranted.

EA's exclusivity period ends in 2023, but it appears this solely applies to release dates, not development. The Ubisoft project is only just spooling up and will be very unlikely to be released before 2024 or 2025.

The new game is being worked on by Swedish developers Massive Entertainment, who made the phenomenal strategy games Ground Control, Ground Control II and World in Conflict. They were bought out by Ubisoft and subsequently provided development support on Assassin's Creed and Far Cry titles before releasing the highly popular online action-RPG The Division in 2016. They followed that up with The Division 2 in 2019. The two games have sold more than 20 million copies. Reportedly they have almost concluded development of a game to tie in with James Cameron's Avatar sequels, but they have faced several delays because of the movie's delays.

Reportedly, the new Star Wars game will be an open-world title with action roleplaying elements, very much like The Division. Lucasfilm and Ubisoft have not confirmed it will be a multiplayer-focused game, but given the pedigree of the people involved, that sounds likely. 

This may be just the beginning of the opening of the floodgates for a whole ton of new Star Wars games from different studios. Some of these prospects are tantalising. Could Blackbird and Gearbox get a licence to make a new Star Wars space-strategy game? How about a hardcore Star Wars action game from FromSoftware? The possibilities are intriguing.

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