Disney’s Dissolution of LucasArts - The Facts And Why You Should Be Happy
As most of you are probably already aware, Disney made the decision to shut down a large portion of LucasArts, firing roughly 150 employees and disarming their development capabilities. There is an astonishing quantity of non-factual information and emotional rhetoric washing over the web right now about this, so it’s time to take a breath, sit back, and look at things objectively.
This probably isn’t as bad as it looks.
Wake-Up Call: LucasArts was Failing
As with any event like this, it’s to be expected that the mass majority will forget about all previous variables and factors etched into the foundation of the event. For those who have [selectively] forgotten, LucasArts has been in the dump for many years now. In 2008 LucasArts’ president Jim Ward left the company. They then placed Darrell Rodriguez (formerly at EA) at the helm. The company experienced layoffs after The Force Unleashed 2 - a relatively high budget game for the small company, which failed. Another large wave of layoffs in 2010 saw the departure of Rodriguez after only two years. After this, director of the original Force Unleashed - and one of the bigger creative minds at the studio - Haden Blackman left unexpectedly. LucasArts acquired Clint Hocking (famous for Far Cry 2) who then turned around and almost immediately left for Valve. At the end of 2010, 1/3 of LucasArts’ employees were fired. Two years later, in August of 2012, Paul Meegan (who replaced Rodriguez as president) left the company. In September of 2012 LucasArts stated that it was freezing all hiring activity.
LucasArts’ financial position was weak. The Force Unleashed 2 was a major failure for the in-house development team and 1313 was looking to be an ambitious but costly product. There was nothing to suggest that Star Wars 1313 was going to sell nearly enough copies to allow them to reach equilibrium. Poor management, lack of strategic direction, and poor market research was tearing LucasArts up from the inside. Something had to be done.
The Force Unleashed 2 was considered a failure by most critics and gamers.
Lucasarts is Not “Closing”
I’ve seen some awful journalism around the web over the past two days. “Disney Shuts Down LucasArts,” “Disney Closes LucasArts, Cancels all Current Projects,” etc. Is this event really so mundane that other game journalists have to sensationalize it to make it sound dramatic?
Disney’s official statement directly contradicts the majority of what you’ve probably read online.
"After evaluating our position in the games market, we've decided to shift LucasArts from an internal development to a licensing model, minimizing the company's risk while achieving a broader portfolio of quality Star Wars games. As a result of this change, we've had layoffs across the organization. We are incredibly appreciative and proud of the talented teams who have been developing our new titles."
Essentially, LucasArts is being refined into what it should be - a licensing entity that helps maintain the Star Wars brand by licensing it to competent companies. It’s not shutting down, it simply won’t be developing games internally anymore. For anyone who was born prior to 2005, that should sound awfully familiar…as most of LucasArts’ famous game franchises (Knights of the Old Republic, Battlefront, Jedi Knight, and Rogue Squadron) were made by external entities (BioWare, Pandemic, Raven Software, and Factor 5). The majority of LucasArts -branded games were licensed/published by the company, not developed internally.
KotOR - one of the most highly rated Star Wars games and RPGs of all time was developed by BioWare and licensed by LucasArts.
But Monkey Island!
LucasArts has developed some incredible and memorable games internally, but the LucasArts of last week was not the LucasArts of the 1990’s. The creative mind behind most of LucasArts’ classics now heads up Double Fine and is putting out great games. Lucasarts hasn't put out a game like that in over a decade, so you really can’t be angry at Disney for that.
1313 Isn’t Necessarily Dead
Why are people all complaining about the “death” of 1313. Where in this restructuring did that game get killed or canceled? LucasArts is perfectly capable of licensing it, and whatever other projects they’ve been working on, to other companies. We don’t know whether LucasArts was even able to complete 1313. It’s been how long since its revealing, and all we have is one gameplay peek and some concept art? For those who want 1313 this could actually improve its chances of becoming a reality. The same goes for First Assault.
Star Wars 1313 is not “Canceled.” The game might even be more likely to come out now that it can be licensed out to a dedicated developer.
The Bottom Line
Disney is streamlining the creation of Star Wars games. No longer will there be a dispute over LucasArts internal development versus external development. No longer will LucasArts be driving itself into bankruptcy with its development wing. Star Wars games will now be licensed by LucasArts to other companies (Obsidian recently announced an interest in creating a new Star Wars RPG, for example), and both 1313 and First Assault are among the games that can be licensed out. They can finally get back to doing exactly what they’ve always been good at.
This is the best thing that could have happened to LucasArts, and the only reasons people are upset (aside from the employees who unfortunately lost their jobs) are because they either don’t understand how internal development was a financial disaster, or they’re clinging to nostalgia for the 1990s classics as if they were developed last year.