Ubisoft is making an open-world Star Wars game. Lucasfilm Limited and Ubisoft made the announcement this morning, and you can read all of the known details in our story right here. Electronic Arts, the Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order publisher, is continuing to make Star Wars games as well. But it is not renewing its exclusivity agreement with Walt Disney. So what’s happening here? The simplest explanation is that Lucasfilm wants the kinds of games that Ubisoft makes and EA doesn’t.
We don’t know much about the Ubisoft Star Wars game. The publisher began talking with Lucasfilm more than a year ago. Circumstantial evidence for that includes EA scaling back one of its Star Wars projects to release the smaller Squadrons game before the end of 2020 (and before this announcement).
But Ubisoft and Disney still aren’t speaking publicly about the exact structure of the game. One thing, however, is clear: Ubisoft’s Star Wars game is what Lucasfilm wanted from games and EA failed to deliver (either due to lack of will or capability).
Ubisoft developer Massive Entertainment is famous for a specific brand of persistent online experiences with Tom Clancy’s The Division, and that’s what Lucasfilm has always imagined it would get from EA. But that never happened.
EA knows a lot about making big-budget projects, and it has seen how they can go wrong (Anthem, Battlefield V, Mass Effect: Andromeda). That has seemingly scared the company off of taking almost any risk. Ubisoft, however, has spent the last decade investing in the infrastructure and institutional knowledge to efficiently produce gigantic open worlds. And it’s using that to build its Star Wars game. Hopefully it will do that without the sexual misconduct and discrimination that has plagued Ubisoft.
Disney can’t let its weakness in gaming continue
The pandemic economy hurt some businesses more than others, and Disney knows that better than most. Its film and theme park divisions took huge hits due to social distancing. In the meantime, Disney watched while Nintendo, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Activision, and more saw huge profits from surging game sales. Even Electronic Arts stock was trading near an all-time high price earlier this year.
This likely made Disney realize it needs to have a larger presence in games, which was a potential factor in speeding up discussions with Ubisoft. Disney also revealed this week that it is starting Lucasfilm Games as a publishing label. It’s even working with Bethesda and Machine Games to release an Indiana Jones game.
These moves are signs that Disney knows it needs to do more with its properties in the lucrative gaming business. And to get the most from its publishing partnerships, it needs games that can make a lot of money over time. Nothing is going to turn into a Fortnite, but that’s the model. And Disney would rather run it itself than licensing its characters to Epic Games until the end of time.
It’s fine that EA is going to continue making Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order games. Those marquee, single-player experiences are key to keeping a lot of people excited about the settings and characters of the various Lucasfilm properties. Machine Games is likely filling that role with its Indiana Jones adventure.
But really, the goal is to build Disney projects that can run persistently and bring players back to spend money for years. Only the idea would be to get off to a better start than the Square Enix Marvel’s Avengers game.
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