When EA acquired the Star Wars license in 2013, it seemed like a match made in heaven: EA, one of the biggest third-party publishers of video games in the world, and Star Wars, one of the biggest pop culture and sci-fi franchises of all time. The partnership appeared to signal the long-anticipated arrival of pop-culture royalty to the video game scene. The mood was jubilant, the expectations massive. But how poorly it all worked out in practice is all rather depressing in hindsight.
It began in 2015 in conjunction with the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, as EA developer DICE released Star Wars Battlefront. The game’s sublime aesthetic captured the essence of Star Wars in a way that no other game had before, but its complete lack of single-player and the introduction of an unsavory Season Pass quickly divided the player base.
Then, in an effort to quickly rescue the situation, only two years later Battlefront had its sequel. This time, the much-requested single-player campaign was included, as were more maps, and the promise of EVEN MORE post-launch content coming absolutely free to all players. What could go wrong?
Ah, that’s right: absurd practices like forcing players to grind out 40 hours of gameplay just to unlock the franchises’ most iconic antagonist, Darth Vader. That’s after they’d spent $80 on the game, by the way.
Very obviously — and nefariously — manufactured gameplay loops such as this, which understandably infuriated the player base, were quickly spotted and called out. This Reddit thread breaks down the aforementioned one rather wonderfully.
Importantly, players weren’t shy to expose what they felt was EA deliberately focusing more on monetizing the game via the exploitation of Star Wars fans, rather than offering a thoroughly enjoyable and fair experience.
Despite finally resolving the Battlefront II debacle, the damage had been done. It was all too little too late for a game that has, ironically, now gone on to provide an admittedly excellent live service that’s unrecognizable as the symbol of Star Wars angst it once was.
With two tarnished games in the backlog, evidently the decision was made to finally green-light the story-driven, single-player Star Wars games that fans had feverishly requested for years.
EA turned to Respawn Entertainment, the team behind the fantastic Titanfall 2, to get the job done. Its recognition of Respawn’s penchant for well-written campaigns and how poorly Battlefront II’s episodic stories had gone over with fans is one of EA’s few good decisions in its handling of the Star Wars IP.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was born, which tells an original tale in the world of Star Wars where players assume the role of Cal Kestis as he attempts to save the Jedi race from extinction by the Empire.
There’s no multiplayer. There are no loot boxes or other forms of microtransactions. Fallen Order just a really great action game built on a solid foundation of popular design mechanics. Finally, too, we have a modern Star Wars game that features epic boss fights and oodles of wondrous exploration. Not to mention, one that so perfectly replicates the empowering feeling of sending Storm Troopers flying across the room with one flick of the wrist.
The result? An estimated 10 million copies sold by the end of the fiscal year. That’s 10 million copies in roughly five months since launch. It came as just as much of a surprise to EA, too, who claimed the game “significantly beat expectations” in a quarterly conference call for investors and analysts.
While this success should be enough for EA to see the light, a follow-up comment regarding Fallen Order’s success suggested that “EA plans to continue with depth and breadth across the Star Wars IP in order to meet the needs of its large fanbase.”
It suggests that we’re not done seeing DICE’s multiplayer-based Battlefront series just yet. Now, before we all start having Vietnam-esque flashbacks screaming “No, not Vader, nooooo!” there’s a glimmer of hope.
That hope stems from EA’s recent bad luck with loot boxes and microtransactions in general. Following Belgium’s ban on loot boxes entirely, an inquiry into loot boxes by the UK Government, and the rather disastrous launch of Star Wars: Battlefront II, EA will hopefully look to monetize its games by more scrupulous means.
Even without all of this microtransaction controversy, EA can win back some favor with fans solely from its combination of the Star Wars franchise and Respawn Entertainment’s talent. All it needs to do is not go back to its money-grabbing ways, and that’s something that clearly wasn’t baked into Fallen Order.
Considering EA’s poor form with the Star Wars license prior to Fallen Order’s release in November, it’s difficult to say whether the publisher’s hands were somewhat tied, or whether it actually saw the error in its ways (though FIFA 20’s FIFA points and RNG packs beg to differ).
Regardless, EA has an opportunity to wipe the slate clean. It’s now got the recipe for single-player success in Respawn Entertainment and the format that Fallen Order took.
It doesn’t even necessarily need to be strictly limited to Respawn and the Star Wars Jedi series. If DICE does release a Battlefront III, EA has a third time to get it right by integrating fair and sane microtransactions into the experience that don’t quite feel so “pay-to-win.” Or better yet, just not including any at all.
With EA’s Star Wars license lasting until at least 2023, there’s still plenty of time for more incredible story-driven adventures by the folk over at Respawn Entertainment, and for DICE to get things right next time with Battlefront III.