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LONG BLOG

Disney, EA and their adopted child Star Wars

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Whispers began of Disney being interested in purchasing the rights to Star Wars in mid-to-late 2012 only to be confirmed late in December of that year when it was announced that Disney had effectively purchased the entirety of Lucasfilm. This move essentially meant that now Star Wars, Indiana Jones and all other Lucasarts owned properties were now owned, and therefore under the control of, Disney. At the time the biggest news (that is, the news that got people immeasurably excited) was that a new Star Wars trilogy was in the works and George "Howard the Duck" Lucas would have absolutely nothing to do with it. In the midst of the excitement and speculation about the future of Star Wars (because really, who cares about Indiana Jones), other snippets of news began to come out about other facets of Star Wars and its many incarnations. A number of people were dismayed to learn that the Star Wars Extended Universe was no longer considered canon. Plots like those explored in Knights of the Old Republic and Shadows of the Empire were filed under the new "Star Wars Legends" subheading and while it's still possible to purchase these books and, games, they're no longer considered official canon. When it comes to the aforementioned Knights of the Old Republic, this news upset a number of people but when it comes to things like the Yuuzan Vong and Cade Skywalker, nobody seemed to care (not out loud anyway).

Around the time Disney and Lucasfilm were negotiating the terms of purchase and consulting with the FTC, fans of Star Wars were either enjoying the Star Wars Clone Wars cartoon, telling themselves The Old Republic MMO wasn't dead, or looking forward to the recently announced Star Wars 1313. 2012 was a year of optimism in the gaming industry: the Wii U, Xbox One and, PS4 were all still very fresh in the collective minds of gamers and 1313 looked like an exciting new direction for the franchise, especially after the disappointing Star Wars Kinect. Star Wars 1313 was going to be a gritty 3rd-person shooter with nary a lightsaber to be found. It was remeniscent of the much loved Shadows of the Empire N64 game and the equily loved Dark Forces which graced Playstations and PCs way back when. Once Disney bought Lucasfilm though, that also granted them access to Lucasarts and in time it was discovered that 1313 was quietly cancelled as it wouldn't fit into the new canon Disney was constructing. This is what can easily be seen as the first great betrayal and an indicator of things to come. 

As recent years have proven, E3 trailers need to be taken with an amount of salt that would obliterate all slug-like creatures from the face of the planet so whether Star Wars 1313 would have been good is purely speculative. There have been a lot of cover-based shooters launched in the last decade after all and they certianly haven't all been winners. Star Wars games have tried going for a darker tone in the past, most notably The Force Unleashed. What killed that would-be franchise however wasn't grittiness but rather a misguided philosophy that Force Unleashed was anything other than the base of an incredible anthology series. We didn't play Force Unleashed because we gave cared about Starkiller or his vestigial love interest; it was for the fun of force-pushing a dozen fodder enemies through tempered glass, explosive barrels, another half-dozen fodder enemies and realizing you've just destroyed 3 floors of the level you're playing in. 

On May 6th 2013 Disney announced that it had found a publisher for all future Star Wars games. EA had won a contract making them the exclusive rights holder of the Star Wars IP from then onward. For most people, I don't think the news hit too heavily. In fact I can see why a number of people would be excited about this announcement: EA owned Bioware and Bioware had been responsible for arguably the greatest Star Wars games ever programmed: the original Knights of the Old Republic. EA was also the owner of other well regarded studios such as DICE and the recently shuttered Visceral who were still riding high on the success of Dead Space and Dead Space 2. It would have been very easy for an optimist in 2013 to assume that EA would hand Star Wars 1313 over to Visceral and get started on a new Star Wars RPG with Bioware (a very optimistic person might have even held out hope for a vehicle based game by Criterion, the Burnout publisher). Unfortunately, cynics among the gaming community would have noticed that with EA being the sole holders of the Star Wars license, it would be highly unlikely to see any new games launched on the languishing Nintendo Wii U. I was of course one of those cynics who knew EA wouldn't put any new Star Wars games onto my precious Wii U but I wasn't expecting the 3DS to be shut out too. EA has always had a strained relationship with Nintendo but during the Wii U days that bridge was utterly demolished. EA completely abandond the platform after Mass Effect 3, Fifa 13, and Need for Speed Most Wanted utterly bombed. Crysis 3 was rumored to have been developed for Wii U, needing only to be pressed to disc and shipped out but the failure that was the Wii U's first year (and its following years) was enough to keep EA away.

One would think that with all of their resources and talent, EA would have begun work on any number of Star Wars projects. Between 2013 and 2016 there were a handful of expansions released for the MMO, The Old Republic. Star Wars: Battle Pod was released to arcades, a number of largely forgotten mobile games launched and, past games like Super Star Wars, Bounty Hunter and others were re-released on the PSN and Xbox Live marketplace. What of exciting new home console developments though? Yes there was a new Lego Star Wars game launched in conjunction with The Force Unleashed but those aren't the responsibility of EA because shut up, Lego doesn't answer to you, me or anybody else. No, EA was busily shoving the burden of developing the next great Star Wars game over to DICE, who usually toiled in the fetid tombs of the Battlefield series except for that one time they ruined Medal of Honor. In mid-November of 2015 DICE and EA wowed the world by releasing Star Wars Battlefront upon the masses. It was quickly criticized for a baffling lack content and game modes.Like past games in the series the combat was limited to ground skirmishes between two teams of footsoldiers with some stages being vehicle compatible and of course the ability to unlock and use hero characters like your Boba Fetts and your Luke Skywalkers. There was no space combat, there was no conquest mode and if you wanted to play the game by yourself you were going to get very bored at some point during your third or fourth bot match when you realize you've been told to capture the same pod for the umpteenth time. I was one of the many people who referred to the game as "Star Wars Battlefield" but in hindsight, that bit of name calling is unfair to the Battlefield series which is more content rich. What's undeniable though is that this is not what fans were looking for when they were promised a new Battlefront. 

Despite being an anemic shell of a game and despite recieving the damnably abysmal metacritic score of 72/73/75 (depending on the platform you're looking at) Star Wars Battlefront broke sales records. It might not have wowed people during its Beta earlier in the year but it was, and still is, a beautiful game to look at. It was the fastest selling online PS4 game and it was said by game's anylist Micheal Pachter that 12 million units were sold by December 31st of that year: 12 million in less than 2 months. Battlefront's success should have been used to fund new and exciting projects but it seems like the newest and most exciting project EA have been working on has been a direct sequel to Battlefront, the insultingly titled Star Wars: Battlefront 2. As mentioned above, EA also allowed the Super Nintendo Star Wars titles to grace online platforms but other than that, EA has placed all of its Star Wars themed eggs into the Battlefront basket. 

DICE's Battlefront was a bare-bones experience catering to people who prefer playing shooters online. DICE's Battlefront 2 however looks like it's more robust. Settings from the prequel, Skywalker and, 2010's trilogy seem to be present along with improvements on vehicle combat and honest to God space combat. DICE's Battlefront 2 actually dares to take these wars into the stars! Pre-release material was looking great and hype was beginning to build in earnest...that is until the Beta launched and fans got a taste of how the microtransactions would work in this title. Over the past few weeks the biggest news in gaming seems to be how DICE's Battlefront 2 is to console gaming what EA's Dungeon Keeper was to mobile gaming. If you don't want to play the game for 40 hours in hopes of unlocking a character who's more recognizable than Jesus Christ you can always spend real money for the priveledge! Sure you can earn more credits by playing Arcacde mode but there's a cap on the amount of credits you can get that way (within a certain time frame) so it's better to just spend your actual money on top of the $60 - $80 you've already spent just to get the base game. 

Since it's already being talked about by everyone and their sisters and, their brothers and, their mothers I'm not going to harp on about EA doing their thing all over DICE's Battlefront. It's not an altogether surprising move by EA of course, it can be argued that their microtransaction fetish was what killed Dead Space 3 back in 2013 and wounded Mass Effect Andromeda back in March of 2017. For a company who wants to stop earning 'worst company' awards, EA is incredibly good at garnering ill will from the people who bafflingly continue to support it monetarily. In a way, EA acts like Nintendo used to in the early 90's; if you want their game on your platform, then you will push Origin and use their DRM. If you want the complete gameplay experience, you will accept that some elements are locked behind paywalls. If you want your favorite studio to see the next fiscal year, then you WILL buy what EA allows them to put out, en masse and shell out for the microtransactions.

As I said earlier, Disney giving soul rights of the Star Wars brand to EA could be seen as one of the biggest mistake the entertainment megalith has made in recent years. At first my opinion was because EA won't launch anything Star Wars or otherwise on Nintendo consoles but it's so much bigger than that. Star Wars 1313 being cancelled is definitely a scab that I don't think I should pick at but when EA announced that Visceral was being taken to a farm upstate where it can run around happily with Bullfrog and Pandemic, I feel like that was EA bringing up 1313 on their own. Before being tossed into a metaphoric river, Visceral was working on a linear, plot-driven Star Wars title which tactfully went unnamed but which I'm sure many would like to think was what remained of Star Wars 1313. Visceral was almost certainly working on something completely different but 1313 did look like something that would have been up Visceral's alley.  Personally, I really liked  Dante's Inferno and the first 2 Dead Space games were critical darlings, beloved by all. Visceral could have adapted the middling book Death Troopers into a horror-themed Star Wars action game and it would have made its money back and then some but EA isn't interested in that.

EA seems to be solely interested in transferring their malicious mobile microtransaction schemes onto home consoles via the medium of triple-A game releases. Their attitude seems to be to maximize returns on Battlefront 2 by any means necessary and yet again we're in a situation where the masses cry 'boycott EA'. This time could be very different though; Let me summon the spectre of another publisher/developer, Sega. Once upon a time, Sega was granted publishing rights to games based on movies which themselves come from a bunch of funnybooks. Their Iron Man game for PS2 was alright, scoring 79 on Metacritic. In May of 2011, Sega's game adaptation of Marvel's film adaptation of Thor scored an embarassing 39 on Metacritic. Then in July of 2011 Sega's Captain America tie-in game only earned 60/61 on Metacritic with the Nintendo games on Wii and DS not even breaking out of the upper 50's. The Liefeld-like infamy of those games was enough for Marvel to pull licensing rights of their films out of Sega's greasy, gloved hands. I'm gleefully digging up this skeleton and flinging it onto our collective doorsteps as a reminder that even though EA will continue to EA until the end of time, EA's hold on the Star Wars IP isn't as cast iron as it might at first seem to be.

Disney owns a lot of shiny toys at the moment and it seems eager to use them to amass more and more money for itself. Disney has claimed that there will not be a year without a new Star Wars film and even before they bought Marvel, that's how it seemed to be with that studio as well. Disney knows that Star Wars will sell and they likely won't want anything to stand between them and maximized profits. With EA though, controversy seems to be part of the package. EA is the first company to 'win' the consumerists' "Worst Company" award in both 2012 and 2013 and with the controversy surrounding DICE's Battlefront's 'pay to win' controversy it could easily be in the running for another golden poo. Disney didn't seem to mind the first two times but with enough of an outcry the titan might finally act and take Star Wars away from EA. On Friday when Dice's Battlefront launches, if you chose to boycott the game, make sure you tag Disney when you talk about it online. 

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About Shoggoth2588one of us since 6:55 AM on 06.03.2013

Hello all! I'm Joe, from Maryland! I've was released the same year as Mega Man 2 but I haven't really been playing games until around the time of Mortal Kombat 2's home release. I'm mostly harmless so if you wanna talk to me send me a message I guess. I'll be around, lurking maybe. I'm not sure yet.