The Star Wars universe has been portrayed in a variety of different games over the years - Jedi Knight, X-Wing vs Tie Fighter, LEGO Star Wars, Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars Galaxies to name a few.
But with visibility ramping up on BioWare's forthcoming Old Republic MMO - arguably the most ambitious Star Wars game project to-date - LucasArts president Darrell Rodriguez talks about the IP-holder's views on MMOs, business models, digital downlads and humour in games.
Q: One of the most-anticipated titles that's under development at the moment must be Star Wars: The Old Republic - what are your feelings on that game?
Darrell Rodriguez: We're very excited about it - the partnership with BioWare has been phenomenal in the past and the way it's coming around, especially relating to the core mechanics of a basic MMO... taking that and then adding the story element, and story and character development, that's something that's close to our hearts and is really the root of all that we do.
Partnering with someone like BioWare, who is amazing at that as well, to change the MMO genre... absolutely, that's exciting.
Q: Stories in games in an interesting subject - some feel that games should tell the player stories, others prefer that players make up their own stories. The Old Republic seems to be more about the latter, which is a bit of a change for LucasArts games, isn't it?
Darrell Rodriguez: Well I think you hit the nail on the head - Lucas has always been about strong stories and strong characters, and regardless of what the rest of the industry does, we will continue to do that in the future. It's very important to us.
There are different consumers that want different things, but story has been important to us for the last 30 years, and definitely will continue to be so in the future.
Q: And when you're making a decision about who to work with on something like that, obviously BioWare has a great track record - but were there any other contenders? There's already a Star Wars MMO out there, after all, so why now?
Darrell Rodriguez: Why not now?
Q: Some people might say that one reason might be World of Warcraft...
Darrell Rodriguez: Yeah, that's interesting, and kudos to World of Warcraft and the folks there, it is a phenomenal offering. But we've got a very strong IP, Galaxies is a great IP as well, and why not now, related to people's desire to see more Star Wars?
It continues - Clone Wars is an expansion of the universe there - and BioWare proved that they were good shepherds of the IP with KOTOR. So we decided to partner with them because of that, and also their passion for it.
Q: When you look at a timescale for the life of a product... Star Wars Galaxies has been going for about seven years now, and there are still updates begin added -
Darrell Rodriguez: And we're continuing on.
Q: So when you're looking at the MMO space now, how do you forecast the business arc? Is it three years, five years, ten years? What are the indicators you make the decisions on?
Darrell Rodriguez: I think the indicators are subscriptions and ongoing interest, but just related to the IP in and of itself. So it's a 30 year old IP and we anticipate that the IP and the quality game that we're making here is going to continue on for a very long time.
We talk about the business curves of subscriptions, interest and investment it takes to make these games, but at the end of the day it's about making a compelling offering for our consumers.
Q: There is a lot of talk about the business model for MMOs - subscription, free-to-play... nothing's been announced for Old Republic yet, so is everything still on the table in that respect?
Darrell Rodriguez: Yeah, we're considering it all, absolutely. You start looking at how different communities, territories such as Asia, actually play games, and we start to consider it all - especially if we want it to be a worldwide phenomenon.
Q: Monkey Island was recently revived with digital downloads, and there are the LEGO games on console - how important is it to have that portfolio approach for LucasArts?
Darrell Rodriguez: Absolutely - different consumers take in IP in different ways. Some people want a deep and long experience, but those same people might want a chunkable or very social - or instantly accessible - experience as well. I think digital media offers that clearly.
We haven't done it in the past, but June was a big month for us relating to the first XBLA game, with Steam, with iPhone, with Direct2Drive as well - so we're definitely getting our feet wet there, and we're going to continue to do that.
Q: And how do you look at older IPs? For something like Monkey Island do you ever talk about an MMO or PS3game - do you think that IP has those kind of legs?
Darrell Rodriguez: Yes, I do, and I think that's a long partnership that we're building with Telltale - taking the Monkey storyline and characters forward. I do think there's an opportunity, just because the foundation transfers extremely well.
There's always that opportunity.
Q: Humour in general doesn't really feature highly in most games, but Monkey Island definitely had that - as does Schafer's latest, Brutal Legend. Why is that?
Darrell Rodriguez: Monkey Island definitely has it, but look at the LEGO products as well, which transcend age, really. I play the LEGO games, I know a lot of core guys that play them - kids do as well, or core guys with their kids.
They're very tongue-in-cheek, and so is Lego Indiana Jones, which I think will be the best LEGO product to-date, so we're very excited about that.
But Tim Schafer's brilliant, I've had the opportunity to meet him a couple of times, and next time I do I'll get his autograph [smiles]
Darrell Rodriguez is president of LucasArts. Interview by Phil Elliott.