In this week’s Split Screen, Sean Knight and Anton Wegenast explore the light and dark side of EA’s latest license acquisition
Sean Knight: Well Anton, as you already know, it was announced that Electronic Arts has signed an exclusive deal with Disney for the Star Wars games. While I was sad to hear that LucasArts was being shut down (even though the developer’s last few years had been lackluster) I was interested about the future of the video game portion of the franchise. Now that EA has the license, I’m not so sure what to think.
Anton Wegenast: I’m optimistic about the franchise. I was worried that LucasArts IPs would spend a much longer time in limbo as Disney held the rights, but didn’t have the resources to throw at development. Outsourcing to one of the biggest producers in the business assures future Star Wars games will have lots of resources behind them.
Sean: Without a doubt EA’s resources are vast and it has the potential to develop a lot of big-budget Star Wars games over a short time. However, I was hoping Disney would outsource the IP to various developers and not just give it all to one publisher like EA. Let’s not forget that this is a publisher that has been voted the worst company in America two years straight, run great franchises like Command & Conquer into the ground, and adopted some, in my opinion, unsavory practices – such as microtransactions and in-game advertising – that aren’t best for the consumers by either gouging or inconveniencing them.
Anton: While EA has done some irritating manoeuvring as a company, it also has some solid talent to draw from. It definitely does not deserve the title of “Worst company in America”, especially when it consistently lost to Bank of America and BP Global. That’s just misplaced priorities. Look at the Dead Space series by Visceral, the games are fantastic. Battlefield is a great game thanks to DICE, and Mass Effect set a new standard for sci-fi RPGs, all under the EA umbrella. The bottom line is that whether or not EA is the publisher, the talent of the developing teams will shine through. Microtransactions and such don’t break solid game design.
Sean: There is only so much a good development team can do in terms of solid game design when publishers like EA are involved. All of those games you mentioned had problems or issues. Battlefield 3’s single-player game wasn’t great, Dead Space 3 didn’t perform as well as EA liked while straying away from its survival horror roots in order to appeal to a larger audience (and seriously…microtransactions?), Mass Effect 3’s ending caused consumer ire, the Command & Conquer franchise kept getting worse, and there is SimCity which was, and still is, a fiasco.
On top of all that EA having exclusive rights to Star Wars means that any games released on the PC will be Origin-exclusive.
Anton: The Origin platform is a venue where EA calls the shots. If the publisher wants to experiment with a new type of DRM or revenue source, Origin allows them to do it without approval from someone else. As a company, EA does a fair bit of experimentation. Not all experiments work as intended, or serve their purpose as well as hoped. On top of that, not all gameplay decisions can be levelled at the publisher. A lackluster single-player experience in Battlefield is almost expected, the game is clearly multiplayer focused. Every single expansion has added multiplayer modes and maps, none of it applied to the solo campaign. The Mass Effect ending was a writing decision, and I was not offended. BioWare was looking to have a singular canon ending so that further projects would not be scattered across a myriad of gameplay decisions. This makes writing sequels a lot easier, and makes the ending futureproof.
Not all games are suffering either, Need For Speed: Most Wanted is fantastic, and Crysis 3 is described by Crytek’s founder as the developer’s masterpiece. Who could you see making a quality Star Wars game outside of the three developers mentioned, yet still under EA’s umbrella?
Sean: I’d have to say that Crytek’s founder Cevat Yerli has been tooting his horn a bit too much when it comes to Crysis 3. As for Battlefield 3, I don’t know why a lackluster single-player campaign should have been expected. If their focus was on multiplayer then why make a single-player campaign at all?
But let’s look at BioWare. In 2003, it developed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which was an absolutely fantastic game and one of the best out there. In 2007, EA scooped up BioWare and its next Star Wars project happened to be Star Wars: The Old Republic, an MMO that is, in my opinion, forgettable and copied other MMOs rather than give us something new and exciting based on a franchise everyone loves.
It’s hard to think of any other developers, under the EA umbrella, that the publisher would task with making Star Wars games. Unless it decides to make a Star Wars: The Sims game or start making some mobile titles.
Scarily enough… I can see that happening. I just think that EA is going to milk this franchise for all it’s worth with DLC and microtransactions along with decisions to make the games appeal to as broad an audience as possible while crippling it with DRM.
Anton: One thing’s for sure, the Star Wars licence ties EA to an attentive fanbase who are starved for quality content. All eyes are on the publisher to prove the franchise is in capable hands. Are they up for the limelight?
Sean: EA is definitely ready. It is used to being in the limelight for both good and bad reasons. We’ll just have to wait and see how things unfold and what direction the Star Wars franchise goes.
Follow Sean on Twitter: @SeanDKnight
Follow Anton on Twitter: @virussixzero