Electronic Arts and Star Wars announced their commitment to each other in May 2013 through a deal that could have optimistically brought the best of each other under one roof. One of the most lucrative video game publishers ever and the biggest pop culture property in history could surely work out for all involved. But it hasn’t. As the two consummated their marriage with the first Battlefront, EA also began pounding the Star Wars license into the ground by everything it did and didn’t do. And, with the news of yet another (possibly temporary) cancellation, it’s time for the two to file for a divorce.
EA’s relationship with its audience in recent years has almost always been hostile and Star Wars fans have been known to be a bit hard to please. But announcement of the deal contained some key buzzwords that would help ease over some of the discomfort: Visceral and DICE were both making Star Wars titles. Given the space pedigree of the former and the shooter pedigree of the latter, it was exactly the right thing to say.
DICE’s Battlefront trailer debuted the next month and didn’t show much, but was the magical pairing people had been waiting for. The studio was famous for developing tight shooters and there hadn’t been a proper Battlefront game since 2005. It was the announcement to make to set the expectations high and silence the EA haters.
But that goodwill didn’t extend to the game’s launch. Critics and fans derided the game for its stunning lack of content. Selling a (mostly) multiplayer-only experience with so few modes and levels for $60 was already a stretch, but the $50 season pass was the straw that broke the tauntaun’s back. While mechanically sound thanks to DICE, it was financially disgusting thanks to EA and a bad way to kick off the relationship.
It’s a trap!
It was a symbolic scenario of what was to come. Amy Hennig’s promising Uncharted-esque Star Wars game was canned and the studio was shuttered. Star Wars Battlefront 2 may have talked about adding free DLC and a Han solo campaign, but ended up having microtransactions evil enough to make Darth Sidious blush. And now with the most recent report stating that EA has now shut down the repurposed ex-Visceral game is just the latest nail in the carbonite coffin. Essentially canceling a game twice is beyond a parody at this point.
The constant flow of hollow words and broken promises shows EA’s ineptitude with a license that should be a slam dunk. The amount of studio closures and cancellations time and time again plainly display how unprepared EA is for the job. It’s fucking Star Wars, not just some cheap property from the 1980s bargain bin. If the deal was about making Alf games, then EA’s goof ups would not matter. Pissing off the Alf subreddit isn’t nearly as dire as pissing off players and Star Wars fans.
Despite the reports of EA Vancover’s next game being a Star Wars title, Jedi: Fallen Order is the only announced thing EA is clinging to right now to show that it deserves the high honor of the exclusive rights. Developer Respawn Entertainment is quite talented and its Titanfall games have been fantastic, but it’s hard to trust anything with EA, especially since each cancellation chips away at that trust. DICE and Battlefront seemed like a perfect combination until the final product rolled out. The same goes for an Uncharted game in space but we never got to see anything more than concept art for that one.
The desperate attempt to goad a mere title out of Respawn CEO Vince Zampella was there to help cover the fact that the studio had nothing concrete to show outside of a nebulous holiday 2019 release date. Jedi: Fallen Order could help justify EA’s acquisition of the developer and Star Wars game rights, but that’s a lot of pressure for one game to hold. And it would be hard for one game to undo what has already happened.
A No Hope
EA’s recent internal output shows that it can’t even be trusted with its own big franchises. Mass Effect Andromeda not only had its DLC canceled, but also nearly sank the entire series and shoved it into hiatus. Battlefield 5‘s sales were poor enough to cause the publisher to adjust its expectations. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst’s release may have been a small miracle but it learned very little from the first game’s faults and had poor reviews (although it seemed to have met EA’s expectations even after the delays). It would be incredible if EA could make must-have games again — Star Wars included — and turning around the ship isn’t impossible, but it does look grim.
The mega publisher may share part of the blame for its own downfalls but it didn’t invent the process of cancelling Star Wars games. Others have had issues with the license in the past. Free Radical’s nearly complete Battlefront 3 was trashed. The impressive Star Wars 1313 never found and home and was essentially dumped when Disney bought the license as was Darth Maul’s hack and slash game, Star Wars: Battle of the Sith Lords and the Call of Duty-like title, Star Wars: First Assault. The ill-fated sequel to the tactical first-person shooter Star Wars: Republic Commando also didn’t get to see the light of day among many others that didn’t get past the concept stage.
But it’s the constant failures and nearly non-existent victories that equal a depressing average that show how unfit EA is for the job, even if Jedi: Fallen Order is award-winning game of the year candidate. It has been nearly six years and the maligned publisher has disrupted the careers of many indirectly through this deal and produced nothing but disappointment and half-baked core Star Wars games; a far cry from the success of the recent film entries (Solo aside). It’s hard to say what publisher should take on Star Wars but, given its record, it’s easy to say that it probably shouldn’t be EA.