Was Disney's closure of LucasArts the right choice for the Star Wars franchise?

by Nathan Misa Featured 17 Comments 32 Votes 6412 Views 04/04/2013 Back to Articles

2013 seems to be a turbulent and unsure time for many game developers and publishers. This morning brought the sad news of yet another veteran studio falling prey to closure: LucasArts, the company behind several iconic adventure games such as the Monkey Island series, and best known for being the developer and publisher behind the majority of Star Wars licensed titles since X-Wing released in 1993.

With the publishing arm of LucasArts made redundant from Disney’s acquisition of LucasFilm last year, it made sense, business-wise, for Disney to restructure and consolidate the Star Wars license and handle the publishing side of things within their own organisations.

Left with the modern-day LucasArts developer team, it’s hard not to see why Disney decided to close the studio: their last two offerings, Kinect Star Wars and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed are a far cry from the consistent quality Star Wars fans received from the company in the years prior. While the former has become the best-selling Star Wars game of all time, when the reputation of Star Wars games essentially becomes akin to shovel-ware, the strength of the brand must be preserved first.

LucasArts is no more.

However, part of me can’t help but feel that Disney took the easy way out in closing down the developer division of LucasArts. While the studio’s glory years seem long past them, a somewhat hopeful future lay ahead with the intriguing Star Wars 1313 and First Assault. If any key team members remained from the days of Star Wars: Republic Commando and their unrelated original title Gladius, then there was still plenty of immense in-house talent to consider fostering.

Disney have the money and advertising power to have easily supported the developer-side of LucasArts in their planned upcoming projects, an area the studio has faced problems with in the past. Perhaps if the development team received some consistent direction or support, they would have got back on the right road.

"...when the reputation of Star Wars games essentially becomes akin to shovel-ware, the strength of the brand must be preserved first."

Over the years, LucasArts notably went through several changes in top-level management, constant restructuring phases and heavy staff layoffs. All contributed to the conflict the studio seemed to face in their indecision to either exclusively develop Star Wars games, or split time and money into original games simultaneously.

As a result of what probably was a combination of poor management and fluctuating bosses, several of their most promising games were hurt, and fans faced disappointment after disappointment. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 was severely rushed, the planned third title was scrapped, and one of my all-time favourite strategy RPGs ever and perhaps one of LucasArts’ best (forgotten) games, Gladius, suffered from zero support, zero marketing and zero chance when the studio decided for the umpteenth time that Star Wars games should be their only output.

Those are but some examples, of course, and every LucasArts fan has their own choices. I always wonder what could have been for my favourites, especially now with the development team’s closure. But then I think back on the studio's general mismanagement of the Star Wars license and the few original games they developed, and it's hard not to think Disney's choice was a smart one, nostalgia put aside.

Get the Adobe Flash Player to see this video.

Footage of pre-alpha Battlefront 3, and what could have been had mismanagement not plagued the studio.

Perhaps the best case for the Star Wars games license to be handled by another studio was LucasArts' handling of third-party contracting. I was one of many fans who wanted to see Battlefront 3, and Free Radical (of Timesplitters fame) was indeed contracted to produce it, having worked on it from 2006-2008.

However, LucasArts effectively destroyed their relationship with the third-party studio after several abrupt changes in top-level management, and Free Radical co-founder Steve Ellis described, in an extensive interview with Eurogamer, how working with LucasArts evolved from being “the best relationship we'd ever had with a publisher” to a shouting match for 6 months worth of withheld pay, a broken contract and effectively the end of Battlefront 3 and Free Radical as a company, not to mention dashing plenty of Star Wars fans hopes.

LucasArts may not have been on the ball with Star Wars related titles in the last few years or in a business sense, but their legacy will remain and I for one will remember the many great games they've made, bad business decisions put aside. It’s sad that Disney closed down such a prominent studio, but in the end, it’s just business, and it was a smart choice for the Star Wars brand overall.

The Star Wars license is still viable in gaming and Disney are smart in taking control of their property -- perhaps a solution can be found in handing over development of Star Wars: 1313 or other unannounced titles to more than just one development team, and Star Wars fans can see the return of original Star Wars games as great as the original Knights of the Old Republic rather than ones that make them wince, like Star Wars Kinect.

What do you think about Disney's closure of LucasArts? Was it time for the famed Star Wars developer and publisher to go? Sound off in the comments below, or join the discussion in the MMGN forums.

Nathan Misa is the senior games writer, reviewer and contributor for MMGN.com and GamesFix. You'll never find anyone more stubbornly adamant that KOTOR was the best Star Wars game. You can catch his ramblings here on MMGN, and Twitter.

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Was Disney's closure of LucasArts the right choice for the Star Wars franchise? Comments

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It was the right thing for Monkey Island [monkey]

But we'll see. I guess it depends how they license games. LucasArts hadn't made a good game for a while, but if they're too overprotective of the license, nobody else will really have the chance to make a unique Star Wars game either.
To be honest I don't think it will change much. 1313 was obviously cancelled because it didn't fit the Star Wars direction Disney envisioned. And it would have been another Force Unleashed. It looked amazing but at the end of the day it was just a third-person cover-based shooter.

It's still sticking around as primary license holder of these brands so it's only dissolved as a publisher. I'd imagine Disney wouldn't want to ditch the brand completely.

I just hope they don't let SW sit in dust in games. It's a franchise with a storied history in games.
It was the right move for Disney; LucasArts has been supbar for... 8 years? As nostalgic as LA are with Monkey Island and such, they weren't really the same, great studio they once were.
there goes any chance for kotor
whats this about monkey island? how is this good for it?

now that they've closed down the studio that did great Point and Click adventures (full throttle) I wonder if these will ever see the light of day unless they pass on their intellectual property for a 3rd party like telltale games to handle

Im assuming they'll now re-focus their efforts into tying the games with the upcoming star wars movies.

It probably is all about the direction their heading with the franchise lets hope its all for the better.

punk said: whats this about monkey island? how is this good for it?

Its creator, Ron Gilbert, has been very vocal in saying he wants the rights back.

Unlikely while LucasArts had them since Disney is normally reluctant to sell unused rights.

Now that LucasArts is shutting down, he may well get a chance to buy them back.
@Ben, now I understand! Here's hoping he does because that would be awesome.
Wait. So no more StarWars games? Wtf [WTF]

M@ndyz said: Wait. So no more StarWars games? Wtf

No more LucasArts games. It is very possible Disney will give/sell the rights to third parties.

stublu said:

M@ndyz said: Wait. So no more StarWars games? Wtf

No more LucasArts games. It is very possible Disney will give/sell the rights to third parties.

This is definitely happening. LucasArts as a studio is closed down, but a handful of staff will remain to license games to other publishers/developers - so the LucasArts logo will still probably be on the box, but nobody there will actually be involved in making the game(s).
They sell the rights to Gearbox [MOG]

OllyEbbz said: They sell the rights to Gearbox

lol should have seen that coming :P
Thanks a lot Justin Beliebers & Hannah Montannas [sick]
I wanted another force unleashed :'(
A moment of silence for those who have fallen. And a moment to load your guns and buy some plane tickets.
Coming back to this after having spoken to someone at Disney about this, the way Disney sees it is LucasArts is a nostalgic brand with lots of fans in their late-20s, early-30s, and that's it. It's not a reputable brand in the mass market, and its name doesn't come with an automatic expectation of quality productions like it used to.

Trust me when I say that in the long run games based on franchises like Star Wars will benefit from this.
It's a smart business move for sure. I'll miss LucasArts and their great games but yeah, Star Wars titles need to move on.

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