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LucasArts: A Publisher In Limbo

LucasArts: A Publisher In Limbo

Tue 19 Mar 2013 2:30pm GMT / 10:30am EDT / 7:30am PDT
BusinessPublishing

Rumors are swirling about a possible shutdown; game production is said to continue for now, but the future direction under Disney is very unclear

The Disney acquisition of LucasFilm last October included all of the company's subsidiaries, including Industrial Light & Magic, Skywalker Sound, and veteran game developer LucasArts. While news since the acquisition has been mostly focused - and justifiably so - on an announcement of a new Star Wars movie in production, what does the future hold for LucasArts?

Here's what's known about Disney's plans for Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries. Disney's official press release on the acquisition stated that "Lucasfilm, headquartered in San Francisco, operates under the names Lucasfilm Ltd., LucasArts, Industrial Light & Magic, and Skywalker Sound, and the present intent is for Lucasfilm employees to remain in their current locations."

"I'm frankly amazed that they've stayed in business this long"

ex-LucasArts employee

Subsequently, Disney has announced the beginning of production on Star Wars Episode VII, to be directed by noted director JJ Abrams; the cancellation of the acclaimed animated series The Clone Wars after 100 episodes; and Seth Green's planned Star Wars: Detours comedy has been shelved for now. The speculation among Hollywood insiders is that Disney wants to focus efforts on the new movie, and wants to remove possible distractions (other licensed Star Wars shows) from the entertainment landscape.

1

The picture regarding LucasArts' future is much less clear. The company began in 1982 producing games for Atari consoles, and later produced computer games including a series of popular adventure games (like The Secret of Monkey Island), military simulations (like Battlehawks 1942) and first-person shooters (Star Wars: Dark Forces). Subsequently, after the turn of the millennium LucasArts changed focus, working with other publishers and focusing mostly on titles based on Lucasfilm properties.

The last few years have been turbulent for LucasArts, with a series of executive changes and downsizings. Jim Ward headed up the company from 2004 to 2008; he was followed by Howard Roffman as interim until Darrell Rodriguez took over and was replaced by Paul Meegan in 2010; Meegan left in 2012, and the studio has not yet chosen a permanent president.

The game slate for LucasArts has been pared down to only one that's promoted on its web site: Star Wars 1313. The game is a third-person adventure game, seemingly similar to a BioWare game, and it caused quite a positive buzz at E3 last year. Kotaku has reported that the three different sources told them the game was put on hold since the acquisition, but LucasArts denied this, saying that "Star Wars 1313 continues production." Kotaku also reported that Star Wars: First Assault, a multiplayer shooter, may never be released given the uncertainty about the future of LucasArts and its direction.

According to BusinessWeek's article on the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm, LucasArts brought in $150 million in revenue in 2012, with operating income of about $90 million. Those numbers may seem high given the languid pace of LucasArts releases (Kinect Star Wars being the only release in 2012, and Lego Star Wars III in 2011), but LucasArts also has licensed game revenue from titles like Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Now, sources have indicated to GamesIndustry International that since the acquisition LucasArts hiring has been frozen, and other rumors passed along to us questioned the future of the studio itself. LucasArts, when reached for a statement, said it's "one hundred percent not true" that LucasArts was headed for a shutdown, and that "everything is moving ahead." Speculation will doubtless continue in the absence of hard information about release dates and future products.

The studio's performance in recent years has not impressed former LucasArts employees. One ex-LucasArts employee had this to say: “The 'business' has been on life-support since the Star Wars license and subsequent development for their best title went to Bioware/EA. I'm frankly amazed that they've stayed in business this long. No stomach for truly original product, and slender means to produce their previous cash cows - Indy and Star Wars.”

Disney has many things to consider when looking at the future of LucasArts. The studio has had a spotty record of product releases, but perhaps some of that may be due to the unfocused nature of the Star Wars franchise in the last few years. Disney has had its own difficulties in determining a strong interactive strategy, shutting down Junction Point Studios and recently slipping the ship date for Disney Infinity. Many of Disney's best intellectual properties (like the many Marvel characters) are licensed out rather than developed in-house.

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The relaunch of the Star Wars movie franchise with Episode VII is clearly a major event that Disney will want to exploit to the fullest. Either LucasArts should be revitalized to produce games worthy of a major media event, or Disney may decide to just give up in-house production of cutting-edge game titles and license the property out. Either way, Disney needs to decide soon which way to go; AAA games take years to develop properly, and time is passing swiftly.

Essentially, if Disney doesn't decide what to do with LucasArts soon the decision will effectively be made for it. Employees who have no clear picture of their future will be looking for work elsewhere, and typically the most talented employees are among the first to leave. If Disney waits too long, it won't be able to have AAA games available around the launch of the new movie, and the talent pool may be lower than it was. May the Force be with them.

14 Comments

Craig Burkey
Software Engineer

172 213 1.2
You'd think they'd look at Warner Bros/DC/Rocksteady are doing

Posted:A year ago

#1
Warner has had a pretty checkered history with computer games.

Posted:A year ago

#2

Greg Knight
Freelance Developer

56 49 0.9
They say never work for the mouse...

Posted:A year ago

#3

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,152 932 0.8
Limbo is quite a light expression for the state of affairs here. Too bad really...

Posted:A year ago

#4

Meelad Sadat
[a]list daily editorial director

51 30 0.6
From a marketing strategy standpoint, Disney knows what it's doing. They want the Abrams film to be the official reprisal of the IP under them. Right now Star Wars has what it hasn't had since Attack of the Clones - anticipation. Another mediocre product in the franchise would only dampen it.

Clarification added: I'm not advocating the closing of Lucasarts, just the strategy to hold major game releases until the next film.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Meelad Sadat on 19th March 2013 10:29pm

Posted:A year ago

#5

Paul Jace
Merchandiser

896 1,325 1.5
If licensing out their titles is the only way we will ever get KOTOR 3 and TFU 3 then I'm all for it. But they shouldn't just give up on all Star Wars games completely.

Posted:A year ago

#6

Christopher Bowen
Editor in Chief

411 567 1.4
I'm not sure what the debate was. We pretty much all knew LucasArts was screwed the moment Disney, who just gutted the last of their developers in favour of mobile, mobile and mobile, bought Lucas out.

Posted:A year ago

#7

Joshua Rose
Executive Producer / Lead Designer

191 81 0.4
A KOTOR 3 would be fantastic!

Although once a game franchise goes to an MMO format, it will never turn back. Look at the Warcraft universe. Tons of fantastic RTS games over the span of nearly two decades. Then WoW comes out and we haven't seen an addition to the RTS Warcraft universe since.

I worry the same will happen with Elder Scrolls Online. Skyrim may very well have been the last of the Elder Scrolls single player games. But only time will tell.

Posted:A year ago

#8

Nick McCrea
Gentleman

178 231 1.3
I would give my left arm for either of these to happen:

- a hardcore,Thief-style, Jedi infiltration game.
- Elite space trading / combat sim set in the Star Wars universe.

Likelihood of seeing either - nil. More's the pity.

Posted:A year ago

#9

David Radd
Senior Editor

359 78 0.2
LucasArts has been lost in the wilderness for a while, going from lead executive to lead executive about every year and a half for the past several years. There hasn't been a good sense of creative direction, and since the Star Wars movies last ceased, fewer easy opportunities for profit. As an example of the dysfunction, check out the stories floating around the internet about Battlefront III. LucasArts did great things in the past, but it might take a concerted vision and particular effort by Disney to get up to that level again.

Posted:A year ago

#10

Gareth Donaghey
Customer Support Agent

34 44 1.3
It's perfect timing to make a space-sim, remake Xwing vs Tie Fighter and laugh all the way to the bank.
People want to be Luke Skywalker, not a random dude or dudette from 3000 years ago.

Posted:A year ago

#11

Sean Lane
Artist/Animator

15 7 0.5
Lucasarts hasn't done anything good since Grim Fandango, so meh.

Posted:A year ago

#12

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,154 1,070 0.5
@Gareth: "
People want to be Luke Skywalker, not a random dude or dudette from 3000 years ago..."
Oh, I dunno about that. I played KOTOR about seven times (well, OK, six plus one half-completed playthrough) and KOTOR II four, so I'd love to see a KOTOR III (and would have definitely preferred THAT over any MMO, as would have tons of other fans)...

Posted:A year ago

#13

Shane Sweeney
Academic

355 267 0.8
If the general public or even the industry saw video games on par with films the upset people feel for Episode I-III would pale in comparison to the rage people would throw at George Lucas for the often poor Star Wars video game treatment the series has had. Maybe Disney is right, we have had enough Star Wars for a time and a few years of being starved in preparation for the movies could be a good thing.

But what do we do with LucasArts? Can we please go back to exclusively focusing on the launch of new IP preferably smaller projects like the old days of LucasArts? Wishful thinking.

Posted:A year ago

#14

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