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EA can break the Star Wars curse

Opinion: Finally the potential of Disney's IP could be unlocked, writes Andy Robinson

Just over a month ago the games industry received some grave news that many had been expecting for a while; LucasArts, veteran creator of so many treasured classics, was to cease internal game development following the sale of parent company LucasFilm to Disney.

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Unsurprisingly, the reaction from the gaming hivemind was a sombre one; this, after all, was the company responsible for a million childhoods of memories, from Monkey Island, to Dark Forces and X-Wing vs. Tie-Fighter.

News of company-wide layoffs (more than 150 employees were said to have lost their jobs) only added to the funeral mood.

I admit I was more upbeat than most. The closure of LucasArts' development operations brought a merciful end to a graceless period in the once great company's history. Let's not sugar coat it; for a number of reasons (including those beyond its control) LucasArts had become a prolific underperformer for more than a decade.

Since the turn of the century it had rotated its staff and CEOs at a puzzling pace, resulting in an inevitably muddled business strategy and half-baked line-up of games that only disserved the great names they carried.

The fact that eight years on, it still hadn't managed to follow-up the multi-million selling Star Wars Battlefront II - despite reportedly signing three different studios to create it - sums up the muddy mire that entrenched the company.

With Disney at the helm - another company that's had its fingers burnt in the core games space - it was time to move on.

Arguably the biggest vindication of the decision arrived this weekend, with news that EA has secured a multi-year agreement to create new 'core' Star Wars titles. DICE and Visceral will produce new games, joining the BioWare team which continues to develop Star Wars: The Old Republic.

At first glance this is an excellent prospect: For more than a decade, all of the best Star Wars games have come from external developers; Factor 5's excellent Rogue Leader, Raven's Jedi Knight sequels, the masterful Lego games from Traveller's Tales and of course BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic and Pandemic's Battlefront.

"For more than a decade, all of the best Star Wars games have come from external developers."

It's worth noting that the latter two are and were EA studios. Away from the management chaos of LucasArts' internal corridors, there's no debating that in recent years independent developers have had an easier time delivering the polished Jedi vs. Sith experiences the licence commands.

Put those views on microtransactions and DRM tinkering aside, and you'll probably also agree that few game publishers are as well equipped for this task going forward as EA. With DICE, Visceral and BioWare, it has three of the most accomplished modern core game developers as custodians for the great franchise.

Expectantly, and I must admit excitingly, the forum threads are already inundated with fantasies of Star Wars: Battlefield, KOTOR 3 and a Visceral-led completion of Star Wars 1313.

Two years ago those dreams would've undoubtedly become reality, but the state of today's EA - a company transitioning from a financially-punishing period of creative risk (see Mirror's Edge, Dead Space) - comes with a potential health warning.

Still without a permanent CEO following the departure of John Riccitiello, EA is in a transition of which no one is completely sure of the outcome.

No doubt the next chief executive won't turn his or her nose up at Star Wars games (even with those painful Disney royalty rates) but how that person will want to shape the franchise is a mystery to us all.

At best, the EA Star Wars deal could usher in a triumphant return to the golden days of Rebel Assault and Jedi Knight. The worst? It's not time to think about that just yet.

We've all pinned our hopes on Star Wars games and have had our dreams shattered far too often. But a franchise with this much potential, and a publisher with so much to prove, in my eyes deserves another chance.


Possible to see, OUR future is

Something is rummaging in the CVG office. The telltale signs of a major project litter the environment; piles of electric cigarette batteries; a sizable block of holiday marked in the dev calendar; an unmistakable aura of mixed fear and anticipation.

You'll be able to see the results of our work next week. It might be the nicotine talking, but we think you'll love it.

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