EA’s had its ups and downs since brokering a deal with Disney in 2013 for the Star Wars license. Gaining exclusive rights to Star Wars until 2023, EA went on to support its previously published Star Wars the Old Republic MMO. Bioware’s MMO is having its 9th anniversary this December, having been kept healthy with quality patches and expansions, and thus retaining a sizable user base. SWTOR eventually incorporated a free-to-play model with an optional premium subscription granting quality-of-life bonuses.
Battlefront, the first IP released after Disney and EA’s deal, released in 2015 and received praise for its level of detail and for staying true to the movies. It also received criticism for lacking content and absence of a single-player campaign. The reveal of expensive DLC didn’t sit well with fans either, who felt they had been cheated out of content for which they’d already paid. The game left many wanting and lacked the necessary depth to be regarded as a worthwhile purchase.
Attempting to make amends, EA-DICE included all three trilogies and a campaign in Battlefront 2. However, adding microtransactions was a misstep. As early as its beta, Battlefront 2 was boycotted and labeled “pay-to-win” by fans. EA was criticized for using a lootbox mechanic that accepted real money for items granting in-game advantages. Popular characters such as Darth Vader would take 40 hours of game time to unlock, while also having a chance to drop from purchased lootboxes.
The public storm of outrage that followed Battlefront 2’s release caught even Disney CEO Bob Iger by surprise. He and Disney’s head of consumer products and interactive media, Jimmy Pitaro, contacted EA to voice their concerns. Soon after, EA announced Battlefront 2 would no longer have microtransactions. EA DICE went on to support Battlefront 2 with multiple free content updates and fixes. The new Star Wars Battlefront 2 Celebration Edition provides a complete experience with all unlocked heroes and skins, as well as all content released to date.
After EA announced Respawn’s Jedi: Fallen Order, many doubted the truth of their claims. The game was said to be single-player only, and absent of microtransactions. Based on EA’s track record, it’s easy to see why those promises were taken with a grain of salt. Upon Fallen Order’s release, however, the promises held true. Respawn’s first action title was praised for its original Star Wars story and fun gameplay. There were no typical EA gimmicks or hooks, which fans appreciated.
After publishing the successful Jedi: Fallen Order, as well as fixing Battlefront 2’s pay-to-win fiasco by removing microtransactions and delivering quality content updates for free, EA has regained the faith of many Star Wars fans. With its deal ending in 2023, however, the publisher must soon renegotiate its Star Wars contract with Disney. Taking into account the strict reigns Disney and Lucasfilm keep over the coveted Star Wars license, EA’s recent successes may not be enough to make up for the Battlefront 2 blunder.
With Jedi: Fallen Order confirmed to be the start of a new franchise, fans eagerly await the sequel. Now is EA’s time to prove to Disney it can be profitable while generating good press. Hopefully the publisher gives Respawn enough liberty to develop a proper sequel that capitalizes on next-gen hardware. With the general dislike of the new movies, Fallen Order’s strong storyline is a great asset to EA, especially considering the amount of details that must be approved by Disney to be canon.
Star Wars Squadrons, a space combat game set after Return of the Jedi, is being developed by Motive Studios and releases October 2, 2020. It’s playable with or without VR and may prove to be an enjoyable addition to the aerial shooter genre. Once again, EA will have a chance to add fair, if any, microtransactions and generate both sales and good press.
EA is expecting to release a new Star Wars game before April 2022 according to Niko Partners senior analyst Daniel Ahmad. In 2017, EA closed down Visceral Games and cancelled the awaited bounty hunter-based Star Wars IP, Project Ragtag. EA Vancouver cannibalized Project Ragtag, turning it into Project Orca, an online-based open-world game also eventually cancelled. The unannounced 2022 game could be the finalization of those projects. It could also be something entirely new, though, it would be a shame to waste all the assets from the cancelled titles.
EA must hit it out of the park these next three years as their track record can’t take more damage. Disney and Lucasfilm are picky with who they allow to handle Star Wars, and EA’s recent bad press will have left a bad impression. They’ll surely scrutinize EA’s handling of its other franchises such as Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem, both of which were technical nightmares developed by SWTOR and KOTOR devs, Bioware. Combined with the Battlefront 2 controversy, EA’s blunders may make renewing their contract more challenging than expected.
Personally, it would be great to see something similar to Visceral’s planned Bounty Hunter game, if not an exact replica. Star Wars has lacked single-player RPGs since the KOTOR series and a current-gen open-world Star Wars RPG would be phenomenal. In a time when EA’s actions are under intense scrutiny, it can afford to give its developers more time to create quality games. Whether EA manages this or ends up passing the Star Wars mantle to a different publisher remains to be seen.