Will EA’s Mishandling of Star Wars Battlefront 2 Damage its Disney Deal?

EA hasn’t done a great job with the Star Wars license thus far. Since teaming with Disney four years ago in order to handle the sci-fi franchise’s video game releases, EA’s relationship to the Star Wars property has been littered with controversy, best exemplified by the vehement reaction to Star Wars Battlefront 2‘s microtransactions. With EA now pulling a monumental 180-degree turn on this problem, removing its paid currency from the game altogether at launch, many are wondering whether the mistakes EA has made with the license has soured their relationship with the House of Mouse.

When the EA and Disney partnership was announced back in May 2013, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy expressed how EA could “consistently deliver our fans great Star Wars games for years to come,” adding: “When we looked at the talent of the teams that EA was committing to our games and the quality of their vision for Star Wars, the choice was clear.” But with EA’s multi-year contract for the Star Wars license set to conclude in 2023, EA is approaching the halfway point and all they’ve got to show for it is one commercially successful but moderately received Battlefront game, a closed studio and now an internal crisis over in-game purchases that has made national headlines.

Also: Star Wars Battlefront 2 Review – Born to Lose, Pay-to-Win

The deal between EA and Star Wars was ostensibly a logical one. There are few companies who could match the scale of the Star Wars license like the publisher of many of the gaming industry’s biggest hits, and when it was announced that they were bringing Battlefield developers DICE into the fold alongside Visceral and BioWare (who had plenty of prior experience with Star Wars as the creators of The Old Republic and KOTOR), things were looking hopeful.

But while Battlefront was successful (though hardly the game that Star Wars fans had been asking for), EA announced in October that it was shutting down Visceral, effectively bringing an end to the Dead Space developer’s big-budget, single-player Star Wars adventure. The assets to the game would be re-purposed under an internal team led by EA Vancouver, and the wording of a statement from Executive Vice President Patrick Soderlund suggested that the new vision for the game would be moving away from single-player entirely. Though online multiplayer games are certainly more bankable than solo experiences, EA funnelling resources into Visceral only to then shutter the project four years into its development cycle is certainly not a great look.

Now we have Battlefront 2. Though there has been no mention of Disney getting involved in this latest controversy from EA, DICE or any other involved parties, it’s imaginable that the immense negative coverage the game has received hasn’t exactly pleased the company. The furore surrounding Battlefront 2 got so intense that it spilled out of the gaming community and leaked into the wider media, with it even receiving coverage from CNN. The news outlet contacted Disney in order to receive an official statement, but Disney “did not immediately respond to a request for comment.” Within the same day, it was announced that microtransactions would be pulled from the game entirely.

Publishers don’t remove lucrative avenues for extra cash from their games for no reason, especially not mere hours before a game’s launch. While few had faith in EA’s platitudes about how they would continue to tweak the game post-launch to provide a “balanced” experience, they could well have continued with that PR-friendly line in the knowledge that, despite the controversy, there would still be a market for loot boxes among the game’s audience.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 Review Iden Versio

Instead, they’ve opted to delay capitalizing on that market indefinitely, a situation that without further patches has also left the game in a messy state on its day of release. Certain challenges still reward crystals, the game’s purchasable currency, despite them having now been temporarily removed, while earning credits remains a lengthy grind in the absence of a day one patch. It’s clear that EA didn’t plan for this to happen, and that this decision was a last-minute grasp for positive coverage.

The kind of negativity that encircled Battlefront 2 would have been bad enough if it was an original property, but that the Star Wars license is attached to it makes it a major headache for EA. The publisher’s shareholders are no longer the only people that EA has to answer to, with them now having to worry about Disney’s response to their missteps, too. With that being said, that this particular misstep made its way to the likes of CNN and USA Today probably didn’t go down all too well with the powers that be.

It’s impossible to say whether or not EA’s underwhelming and controversial run with the Star Wars video game license will harm its multi-year contract with Disney. We do know that the company has seen more success in the mobile division, with Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes having remained a hit since its 2015 launch (EA stated earlier this year that players logged an average of 162 minutes a day in the game, compared to the 24 minutes most mobile games achieve), and that there’s still a game from Titanfall developer Respawn in the pipeline. But with Star Wars arguably being the biggest entertainment franchise outside of Marvel, it’s difficult to imagine that notoriously family-friendly company Disney is comfortable with one of their products receiving huge amounts of negative attention for trying to underhandedly squeeze money out of Star Wars fans.