Skip to main content

EA’s Star Wars stranglehold is gone, just as the games were getting good

In 2021’s first bit of bombshell gaming news, Disney announced it had decided to end a long-running partnership with EA that granted the studio exclusive development rights to the Star Wars franchise. Instead, Disney opted to open the series back up to other developers and gave Ubisoft the reins to its first post-EA game.

Many gaming fans found the news to be a positive step for the franchise, and for good reason. EA has had a troubled history with the series since entering into the deal in 2013. While the change ultimately feels positive, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the rug is getting pulled out on EA just as it was finding its footing.

A new hope

EA and Disney’s Star Wars partnership started off strong enough. In 2015, EA successfully brought back the Star Wars Battlefront brand with a fun multiplayer revival. Players’ good faith was quickly squandered with its sequel, Star Wars Battlefront II. EA implemented an aggressive microtransaction strategy into the game that affected the game’s progression and created a “pay-to-win” environment. Players didn’t need to pony up to unlock paid content, but doing it the old-fashioned way required dozens of hours of grinding.

When a fan complained about the system on Reddit, EA replied by noting that the system was meant to inspire a sense of “pride and accomplishment.” The comment quickly became the most downvoted comment in Reddit history. EA responded by disabling microtransactions entirely prior to launch, but for many players, the well was irreversibly poisoned.

In the short few years since that historic fallout, EA appeared to take the backlash to heart. The studio went on to release Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order in 2019, which focused on single-player storytelling with no hidden fees. Just last fall, it returned to multiplayer with Star Wars: Squadrons. The aerial combat game was imagined as a “you-get-what-you-paid-for” experience that didn’t feature any microtransactions or pricey DLC. EA even decided to break its own promise by offering unplanned free content based on the enthusiastic response from fans.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The difference between Squadrons and Battlefront II’s launches were night and day. While it would have been easy for the company to squeeze in a paid component, the restraint seemed to indicate that the company had learned from the mistake, at least when it came to the Star Wars brand. Add in the company’s long-term commitment to supporting Battlefront II, which received updates through 2020, and it seemed like EA was on the right track.

Perhaps most importantly, EA’s newer titles presented an exciting creative vision for the franchise. Jedi: Fallen Order successfully took elements from Dark Souls, Metroid, and Uncharted to create one of the better single-player Star Wars games to hit shelves yet. Squadrons found an exciting new way to bring the series’ epic space fights to life thanks to excellent VR support.

Taking exclusivity rights away from EA in 2018 would have been a justified decision that few would have disagreed with, myself included. The timing just feels off in 2021 as EA was finally sticking the landing and giving the brand its first era of consistency in well over a decade.

A step back

What’s especially puzzling is Disney’s decision to pass the baton to Ubisoft for an open-world Star Wars title. The shift makes sense on its surface. Ubisoft has the open-world formula down to a science thanks to series like Assassin’s Creed, and it’s easy to imagine titles in that vein becoming cash cows for Disney.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla Blacksmith
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Still, it’s hard not to feel like Disney has taken a step backwards with the deal. From a PR standpoint, Ubisoft is in a more unstable standing with gamers now than EA was in 2017. The studio’s recent sexual misconduct scandal forced top executives out of the company, sending it into rebuild mode. Ubisoft has taken steps to right its wrongs since the news broke last summer, but players can’t be blamed for feeling like the rights to Star Wars simply moved from one problematic mega-studio to another.

Ubisoft’s reliance on microtransactions makes the move puzzling more than anything else. Games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Immortals Fenyx Rising both utilize paid resource packs that speed up progression, not unlike the model used in Battlefront II. If Ubisoft’s open-world game uses a similar approach, it could undo the progress and positive growth EA has made for the brand in the past year.

Passing the torch

In truth, it’s hard to feel sympathy for a corporation as giant as EA. The company made serious missteps with the brand and has long been a symbol of the industry’s controversial financial models, even outside of Star Wars. EA is currently dealing with class-action lawsuits and fines issued over business models that some consider to be predatory practices akin to gambling.

On top of that, EA isn’t losing the rights to Star Wars altogether. In a statement sent to Digital Trends, EA says: “We are proud of our long-standing collaboration with Lucasfilm Games, which will continue for years to come … We love Star Wars, and we look forward to creating more exciting experiences for players to enjoy.” It’s not so much a loss as it is a symbolic passing of the torch.

Still, both the timing and solution don’t feel quite right. It would be different if Disney gave the ball to a smaller studio with more ethical practices. That could open the doors wide open for some creative takes on the franchise while avoiding the same modern gaming pitfalls that fans rejected in 2017. Imagine what Hades developer Supergiant Games could do with The Mandalorian.

Instead, it feels like Disney is putting a fresh coat of paint on an old strategy just as the brand was starting to enjoy some welcome consistency with EA. Star Wars will never find its footing as a gaming brand if fans don’t see the logo as a seal of quality.

Editors' Recommendations

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
The best skills to buy first in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
Jedi Cal Kestis.

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor has improved upon the original game in almost every way, and that includes expanding main character Cal Kestis' wide selection of skills and abilities. Whether it's new stances to engage with or entirely new skill sets to acquire, you'll find plenty to unravel throughout the game's lengthy adventure. If you're just getting started, though, you may find that your limited skill points leave you wondering which skills are worth your investment. Don't fret, though, as we've got the best skills for you to buy first in this guide.

Before we get started, however, be aware that the decisions you make in your skill tree can be reversed by spending 1 skill point, giving you the option to try new builds as you play. Luckily, that shouldn't generally be necessary – especially if you're thorough with your exploration – as Jedi Survivor has no level cap. Because of this, you can continue to grind out infinite skill points whenever you wish. In other words, you can max out the entire skill tree by the end of the game. With that out of the way, here are the best skills to buy first.
Survival Skills

Read more
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor brings balance back to an unstable universe
Jedi Cal Kestis.

It’s funny to think about how much has changed about Star Wars since EA released Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order in 2019. The action-adventure game would launch just weeks before The Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a polarizing conclusion to its sequel trilogy that would create a disturbance in the force. In the years since, Disney has entirely changed its approach to the series by expanding the cinematic universe with a mixed bag of content, from the critically acclaimed Andor to more middling projects like The Book of Boba Fett. More than ever, the series is in desperate need of stability. It’s somewhat fitting, then, that Star Wars Jedi: Survivor could be the project that gets Star Wars back on track.

During a demo event ahead of the sequel’s April 28 release, I got to play a sizable chunk of the game – spanning over three hours of playtime. What stood out most during that session wasn’t its visual glow-up or fleshed-out combat. Rather, it was how tightly packaged it all is, both as a AAA video game and as a piece of Star Wars media. It’s an almost classic Jedi adventure, filled with dramatic lightsaber battles and some lighthearted comedy in-between the galactic melodrama. It’s hard to imagine anyone being upset over it (though the fan base always finds a way, doesn’t it?).

Read more
Bringing VR’s best Star Wars game to PlayStation VR2 was a no-brainer, devs say
star wars tales from the galaxys edge psvr2 interview ilmxlab starwarstalesee screenshot c 3po and r2 d2

When ILMxLAB learned about the PlayStation VR2, Director Jose Perez III thought it was a "no-brainer" for the studio to bring the Oculus Quest game Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge to the new headset.
"We're always looking at how we can push the fidelity of the work that we're doing," Perez III tells Digital Trends in an interview. "PlayStation VR2 is ridiculously powerful; we got really excited about what we could bring to that. We started talking with our friends at Sony because we had a great relationship with them for Vader Immortal, and it was really a no-brainer. Then, you put the headset on, you start feeling the haptics, and you start seeing what you can do with the visual fidelity and lighting, and it's like, 'Oh, this is awesome!'"
Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge - Enhanced Edition | Official Trailer | PS VR2
PlayStation VR2's launch and its first wave of games are nearly upon us, and Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge Enhanced Edition is one of those titles. This is a make-or-break time for VR, which is still struggling to move into the mainstream but could become more popular if Sony's headset can offer a compelling and accessible virtual reality experience. Ahead of its release, Digital Trends spoke to Director Jose Perez III and Producer Harvey Whitney from ILMxLAB to learn about the process of crafting one of these critical "no-brainer" launch games and PlayStation VR2 will ultimately stand when it comes to the future of VR gaming.
The power of PlayStation VR2
Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge was originally released for Meta Quest VR headsets in November 2020. It's set on the planet of Batuu, which people also explore at Dinsey parks, and follows a Droid Technician who gets caught in the middle of a grander fight against the First Order after crash-landing on the planet. At the time, it was meant with decent reviews and only got better as its story was completed and expanded with the Last Call DLC.
After getting the "Enhanced Edition" of the game for PlayStation VR2 greenlit, ILMxLAB actually had to go and make it. As the team was dealing with new hardware for the first time, producer Harvey Whitney thought it was good that the team's first project on PlayStation VR2 was an enhanced version of an existing game.
"Early on, knowing that we already had the content that was created for the original, that changes things quite a bit," Whitney tells Digital Trends. "We're not redeveloping the story and coming up with all of that. We just had that opportunity to work as a team and ask, 'What do we really push here, and where are the changes that we want to make, and what we can do to really take advantage of this hardware?'"

The VR space is full of different headsets with unique specs, with the much higher specs of the PS VR2 standing out. The PlayStation VR2 sports some impressive specs compared to its VR peers, displaying content in a 4000x2030 HDR format at a 90Hz or 120Hz frame rate. Plus, games have the PS5's power, spatial, and brand new Sense controllers to take advantage of, rather than the 2013 console and 2010 motion controls that limited the original PlayStation VR.
PlayStation VR2 supports Roomscale, Sitting, and Standing play styles, which added more complexity as Tales from the Galaxy's Edge supports all three. Thankfully, Perez III that bringing Tales from the Galaxy's Edge to PlayStation VR2 was relatively manageable because of how impressive the system's specs were.
"A lot of the development processes are similar [to other VR platforms]," Perez III says. "We're still working inside of Unreal, and we're doing a lot of those same processes. But we don't have to look at performance quite as much as we do on some of the other devices, so we're able to open up a lot of things or not be as concerned about certain things. That comes with better hardware."
Better hardware, better games
Looking at the biggest games of the PlayStation VR2 launch window lineup, the visuals of titles like Horizon Call of the Mountain and the VR modes of Resident Evil Village and Gran Turismo 7 are impressive. In our discussion, Whitney also made it quite clear that one of the real advantages of working on this remaster was not having to worry about strict limitations on the visuals or even the audio. "We got lucky in the sense that there's a lot more to PlayStation VR2 that we hadn't had previously," Whitney says. "We could really push the graphics and make it shine. But then there were also some other things that came into play. We totally redid the audio, it sounds amazing."

Read more