The Star Wars license has been struggling since its 2012 Disney acquisition. The four movies which have been released since then have been met with mixed reception from fans, and their unwillingness to develop AAA games in-house led to a disastrous partnership with EA, which saw the Star Wars Battlefront franchise become yet another victim of the loot box-laden live service dumpster fire that is modern gaming.
What’s more, Disney is the proprietor of Marvel and has been responsible for the box office-dominating MCU films, but that cinema success hasn’t translated to video game sales. In fact, aside from a few games like Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 and Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite, there really hasn’t been much in the way of hero-themed interactive media from Disney. E3 2019 did bring news of the Marvel’s Avengers game, which is slated for a May 2020 release, but the reveal trailer looked less than promising and had a bunch of fans dazzled by how astoundingly un-Captain America-like Captain America looked.
So, where do we go from here? Is it time for Disney to revoke the Star Wars and Marvel licenses and start developing things themselves, or should they stay the course and allow EA and Square Enix to run these beloved IPs?
While most fans are likely clamoring for Disney to finally push back and rescind their third-party publishers’ access to the license, it doesn’t seem all that likely to happen. Disney themselves have stated that they aren’t currently interested in video game development—that being evidenced by the fact that Disney Interactive is now defunct—and they clearly don’t need to rely on the medium from a financial standpoint.
But would an EA and Square Enix-led future be all that bad? It may have seemed that way back in 2017, but, wonky characters aside, it would be unfair to claim that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Marvel’s Avengers don’t have any promise. Plus, the fact that EA hasn’t gone the multiplayer-only route once again could be a sign that they’re listening to consumer demands. After all, they’re the ones who once famously claimed single player games to be dead, and now one just might be their biggest game of the year.
The real kicker here is that, realistically, there doesn’t seem to be an alternative to Disney outsourcing game development. It’s more likely that, should they cut ties with their subsidiary publishers, they would just give up on video game publishing all together rather than attempt to do it themselves. While some would argue that Disney could at least give the Star Wars and Marvel IPs to more competent licensees, there’s really no guarantee that they wouldn’t also pollute their games with unwanted microtransactions. Does anyone really believe that Star Wars would do better in the hands of Activision or Ubisoft?
We’re also forgetting that Disney themselves love to shove awful microtransaction mechanics into their mobile games. Sure, gamers’ tolerance for such things are generally higher on that platform, but it still demonstrates that, were they to go it alone on the AAA development front, Disney may not be a far cry from the sort of output we’ve already seen from other developers. One need only open a few “victory” or “tactical defense’ crates in Star Wars Commander to get a feeling for what we could be dealing with in terms of a first party-developed affair.
So, what are the pros of Disney reclaiming their licenses from their subordinate publishers? Most crucially, it means that the community stands a better chance of avoiding another major fiasco like the one we experienced at the hands of EA in 2017. Had they had it their way, Star Wars Battlefront II would have been an outrageously player-gouging ordeal cluttered with freemium mechanics which came in a sixty dollar package. While EA appears to have learned their lesson at the moment, there’s no saying whether they’ll relapse to their old ways. Disney’s mobile ventures may have been loaded with loot boxes and other sorts of eye-rolling free-to-play junk, but, to some, wrenching popular IPs away from publishers with terrible track records will always seem like the better option.
Plus, in the past, Disney proved themselves willing to take risks on slightly out-of-the-ordinary projects. The Epic Mickey duology, for instance, wasn’t the sort of thing most publishers would take a chance on. Their collaborative efforts with Square Enix in the past have also yielded some of the most wild and enthralling RPG experiences of the past few gaming generations, so it’s safe to say that they weren’t necessarily afraid to break the mold when it came to video games.
Under Disney, it’s not impossible that we would see much less Battlefront-esque content and more Old Republic or Rogue Squadron-like stuff. Imagine a game like Split Second but themed around pod racing—that’s not something we’re ever going to get under EA’s watch.
At the end of the day, we probably won’t see these properties change hands any time soon. There’s so much invested in these projects and partnerships that to back out of them now wouldn’t make sense financially. What’s more, Disney doesn’t view gaming as a high priority and probably never has, so, for better or worse, it looks like the rights to these franchises will stay where they are.