So, not long ago we learned that EA canceled its upcoming open-world Star Wars game, which now marks two Star Wars titles down the drain since the company took control of the publishing rights.
The internet is awash with disappointment, even outrage, despite the fact that we never actually saw the game in action.
From what we’ve heard, it would have been an open world title where players controlled a scoundrel/bounty hunter who traveled the Star Wars universe and rubbed elbows with various factions.
It’s pretty compelling stuff, which does go some way to justifying the upset among fans.
The news isn’t all bad, though. We can still look forward to Respawn Entertainment’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order —but that’s like saying it would be a good idea if Disney decided to cancel every upcoming Marvel movie except the Gambit one.
In brief, it’s getting hard to argue that EA isn’t squandering its exclusive license.
Let’s back up and revisit April 3, 2013, a day that will live on in infamy. LucasArts, the studio behind every Star Wars game before then, closed its doors, taking with it the highly-anticipated Star Wars 1313.
On that day, millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and unlike the citizens of Alderaan, they’ve yet to be silenced.
One month later, EA announced it acquired an exclusive licensing agreement from Disney to develop and publish all future Star Wars games.
The announcement was bittersweet, for many. EA had come under fire in the past for locking the multiplayer modes of used copies behind an online pass, but it also owned BioWare, the studio that made the critically acclaimed RPG Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
Fans, therefore, were somewhat hopeful, especially since that company started working on a Star Wars game shortly after LucasArt’s closure, as did other EA subsidiaries DICE and Visceral Games. How quickly hope can turn into vitriol…
EA’s first AAA Star Wars game was 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront. Developed by EA DICE, it was a beautifully rendered multiplayer FPS that has good shooting mechanics but not much else.
Critics lamented its lack of content, from the absence of a proper campaign (which was a publishing decision by EA to ensure the game shipped as a tie-in to The Force Awakens) to its limited maps and character customization options. Oh, and much of the game’s content, including new maps, heroes, and an emote, was locked behind a Season Pass.
Following its middling reception, EA vowed to take players’ complaints into consideration for the next game, and while the company fixed some issues, it also caused many more.
2017’s Star Wars Battlefront II takes the idiom “one step forward, two steps back” to new lows. The game looks gorgeous and features solid shooting mechanics; it even has a campaign mode, albeit one that rehashes the Star Wars: Shattered Empire comic miniseries.
However, nothing Star Wars Battlefront II does right can distract from the backlash that ensued because of the unsavory focus on further monetization via loot boxes in its multiplayer mode.
To many, EA seemingly used its Star Wars license to create a digital gambling den to prey on children and people with gambling addictions. The backlash was out of control, and even Disney had to step in and tell EA to stop.
In the five to six years since EA gained its exclusive Star Wars license, it pushed out two mediocre shooters —one of which started a freakin’ anti-loot box holy war— canceled two promising in-development games, and closed down Visceral Games.
By comparison, it took LucasArts four years to quintuple EA’s current Star Wars output, producing brilliant games along the way –some of which would have genuinely been best-sellers without leaning on the franchise name.
In brief, under LucasArts, Star Wars thrived; under EA, it’s barely limping along.
I understand EA is a business and is out to do what businesses do: make money. But the urgency to generate revenue from a half-baked product leaves plenty to be desired from a gamer point of view.
EA’s problem is it doesn’t have its priorities straight: it wants to profit from Star Wars, and it does so with practices that maximize short-term gains and erode consumer trust.
Granted, microtransactions can provide companies with a continuous revenue stream, but the best microtransactions —or at least the ones players don’t mind— are nothing more than an optional garnish placed on top of a solid foundation of quality, features, and content.
Even with the improvements made to Star Wars Battlefront’s single-player content, it was all too easy to draw a conclusion that EA’s drive toward microtransactions was indicative of apathy towards its fans and the Star Wars license in pursuit of money.
Between that and now two canceled single-player-focused Star Wars games, the trust between consumer and publisher is at an all-time low.
If EA wants to win back disgruntled customers and create a product that doesn’t squander the Star Wars license, it has to make some big changes.
As much as its counter-intuitive in a business sense, it’s time for EA to put commercial success to one side and create something that helps rebuild its image. They need a PR win. Let the quality speak for itself with this next smaller Star Wars title and give Star Wars fans something to cheer about.
Picture it: an EA Originals Star Wars game. Sounds like a good idea, no?