Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Lucasfilm Games’ new partnerships mean the galaxy is the limit

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Today, Lucasfilm Games announced that it has partnered with Ubisoft to create an open-world Star Wars game. The title will be developed by Massive Entertainment from Ubisoft, marking the first time a company outside of EA has produced a Star Wars game since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, ending almost eight years of exclusivity. A new game Indiana Jones is also in the works, being developed by Bethesda Game Studios, a newcomer to the properties of Lucasfilm and Disney.

Let’s start with Star Wars. The development of this new title is still very early – Massive is always recruit for the project itself– details are therefore scarce. Julian Gerighty, Director of The Division 2 and The crew, will serve as the creative director of the game, and the title will use Massive Snowdrop Motor. Beyond that, Lucasfilm Games hasn’t revealed anything about the characters or settings of the Star Wars universe that the game will feature.

The announcement follows yesterday’s announcement that Lucasfilm is partnering with Bethesda to create a title Indiana Jones, the first non-Star Wars AAA game released from Lucasfilm in years. The move marks a seismic shift in Lucasfilm’s approach to gaming, widening the tent for developers who want to make games using the Lucasfilm franchises, particularly in the Star Wars universe.

While EA had previously suggested that the company would have exclusive rights to Star Wars games for 10 years, it seems like either a mistake or the time is up early. (Lucasfilm won’t confirm for WIRED anyway.) Either way, EA will continue to make games in the future, but Lucasfilm Games is free to seek other partners.

“EA has been and will continue to be a very strategic and important partner to us now and into the future,” Sean Shoptaw, senior vice president of global games and interactive experiences at Disney, told WIRED. “But we felt there was room for the others.”

In 2013, Disney laid off 150 employees at LucasArts, ending in-house game development. The reasoning at the time was that this move would minimize “business risk while achieving a larger portfolio of quality Star Wars games.” according to a statement the company made The Hollywood Reporter at the time.

However, in the years that followed, the EA Exclusive Deal was criticized as a bottleneck to this goal. Aside from a few small mobile or VR games, the number of major Star Wars games from EA since 2013 can be counted with one hand. By allowing more developers to contribute their game ideas, Lucasfilm hopes to diversify the titles it offers.

“I think if you look at the gaming landscape, it’s such a diverse population across the world that creates games,” says Shoptaw. “For us, going to capture the amount of quality that exists in the world and being quick to market, it would be a big challenge for us to do it internally.”

Just like with previous EA games, all new Star Wars games will be part of the same Star Wars canon and continuity shared in all movies and TV shows produced since the Disney acquisition. James Waugh, vice president of franchise content and strategy at Lucasfilm, explains that while that means games won’t always connect directly to content from other media, the possibility is on the table.

“I think where people get tripped up, sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh, so it’s at to connect to everything else. And that’s not necessarily what we always say, ”Waugh told WIRED. “It will happen if it suits this story.”

This new, non-exclusive arrangement for Star Wars games, as well as the rest of Lucasfilm’s franchise library, leaves the door open for developers to present their own story ideas to Lucasfilm Games. “We have no shortage of people knocking on our doors wanting to play with our toys,” Douglas Reilly, vice president of Lucasfilm Games, told WIRED.

Among that camp is Todd Howard. The famous director of Skyrim (among many other games) is also a standard Indiana Jones fan. “What’s been most inspiring about the Indy game in particular is that it’s a passionate project for Todd Howard,” Waugh explained. “He came with a point of view and a story that he really believes in.”

Of course, these franchises are still, in Reilly’s words, the toys of Lucasfilm. “At the end of the day, we have the final approval on everything,” Reilly explained. While developers – including but more exclusively at EA – may have the freedom to pitch story ideas to the company, these developers will continue to perform inside the Disney Theater.

Keeping both players and developers inside this playhouse seems to be the ultimate goal of the new Lucasfilm games. More and more, video games compete for recreation and entertainment with film and television. Disney has a long history of dominating film and television competing for consumer eyeballs, but it doesn’t have the same level of experience with video games. Leveraging the talent of outside studios could mean consumers spend far more hours of the day in the company’s vast franchises than if Disney relied solely on film and television.

A single story-based game can take dozens of hours. An open world game, like the genre Ubisoft made with Lucasfilm Games, can potentially run into the hundreds of hours depending on how long a player wants to explore. “It really explains why we do what we do, because these are massive entertainment experiences that last for many hours, way longer than the movies,” Shoptaw explained.

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