What Lucasfilm Games can learn from Marvel Games
The company that Star Wars creator George Lucas built is doubling down on games. In back-to-back news, Lucasfilm Games announced that not only is it reviving the original name (which it used to go by before rebranding to LucasArts in the 1990s), but that it’s also working on two new games based on its film properties.
One is an Indiana Jones project from publisher Bethesda and developer Machine Games, and the other is a new open-world Star Wars game from Ubisoft Massive. This all in addition to EA’s own future Star Wars games. In an interview, Lucasfilm Games VP Douglas Reilly promised that even more news will be coming within the next year.
The rebirth of Lucasfilm Games is exciting, as it signals that the company is ready to embrace the games industry once again and willing to let more developers play inside the Lucasfilm sandbox. In doing so, it appears to be following in the footsteps of another Disney-owned brand: Marvel Games.
For a glimpse into Lucasfilm’s possible future, we can take a look at how Marvel underwent a similar transformation and the effect that it had on the company’s games.
Ditching The Past
Up until a few years ago, Marvel had a laissez-faire approach to licensing. While this resulted in a lot of games, many were terrible and tied to the films (with rare exceptions like Marvel Heroes and X-Men Origins: Wolverine). But that changed in 2016 with the big announcement of Marvel’s Spider-Man from Insomniac. And with it came a new mandate from Marvel’s gaming division: to make “truly epic” games.
Marvel Games’ relaunch involved a more thoughtful approach to licensing its popular IPs, one that expanded beyond just mobile and movie tie-ins. The company wanted to work with developers who were just as passionate about the characters and storytelling as they were.
It’s only been a few years since Marvel refined its focus on games. But so far, it has helped usher in two PlayStation exclusive Spider-Man games, an original Guardians of the Galaxy story from the now-defunct Telltale, the long-awaited third entry in the Marvel Ultimate Alliance franchise, and Square Enix’s Marvel’s Avengers.
Not every title has been a hit, of course. But at least they encompass a wide variety of genres and tend to have interesting ideas. The days of publishers creating mediocre Marvel games just so they can piggyback off a movie’s release date are thankfully over, and we’re much better for it.
Like Marvel, Lucasfilm has a long and uneven legacy when it comes to licensed games. It tried something different in 2013 when it announced an unprecedented 10-year deal with EA, giving the publisher exclusive rights to making Star Wars games on consoles and PC. But EA’s time with the brand has been mixed at best, which may have been a factor in this new initiative from Lucasfilm Games.
Either way, opening up Star Wars and other Lucasfilm franchises to more developers is a great thing. In theory, it should lead to more games overall, and perhaps even higher quality ones as well. According to an interview with WIRED, Lucasfilm Games said it will be working closely with all of its new collaborators, just as it’s been doing with EA.
Predicting Lucasfilm’s Breakout Hit
From a critical and commercial point of view, Marvel’s Spider-Man proved just how different this new era of Marvel Games would be from the past. Lucasfilm Games now has a chance to make its own statement with a triple-A game. But what could possibly live up to that kind of success?
Of the two games announced so far, I’d wager that Indiana Jones (not the final title) has the best chance. It’s been more than a decade since Indy was the star of his own game, and Lucasfilm is also working on a new movie with Harrison Ford back in the role. Though the two projects are unrelated, the synergy between them could generate a lot of demand for a rugged action-adventure game.
Additionally, Machine Games has a stellar reputation for storytelling with the rebooted Wolfenstein franchise, and it seems like a perfect fit for an Indy game. It helps that the original idea came from Bethesda’s Todd Howard, who’ll oversee the game as an executive producer.
I’m more apprehensive about what Ubisoft is working on. While the idea of an open-world game set in the Star Wars universe is exciting (EA almost made one before canceling it), I’m scared that it’ll turn into some kind of games-as-a-service grind. Ubisoft Massive’s previous games, The Division and The Division 2 had cool areas to explore, but their stories took a backseat to the endless hunt for loot.
Lucasfilm is more than just Star Wars and Indiana Jones, however. Maybe a developer out there has a great pitch for a game set in the fantasy world of Willow, which is also getting a new film. The company has a rich legacy of original IPs from its LucasArts days (such as Grim Fandango and the Monkey Island series), so maybe we’ll see something along those lines, too.
Hopefully, Lucasfilm Games will have its Spider-Man moment someday, with a great game that shows just how serious the company is about this new endeavor.