Back at E3 2018, during the Electronic Arts stage show/press conference/whatever you want to call it, the publisher awkwardly revealed the title for its next Star Wars game. The lead of developer Respawn of Apex Legends and Titanfall fame just sort of announced the title from his seat in the audience, calling it Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. That’s all we got, outside of murmurs from journalists, but now it seems like the marketing push is about to kick into gear. As we head into the front-facing news cycle for this thing, I have to wonder if this is the swan song for EA’s Star Wars deal, for better or worse.
The story of EA and Star Wars has been awkward, to say the least. Disney, when it came into control of the Star Wars IP, folded LucasArts. LucasArts was the video game developer which handled that IP before exclusively prior to that, along with occasional other properties like Monkey Island. After that, Disney shopped out the IP and landed on Electronic Arts with a deal for exclusive rights on console games, with Disney maintaining the rights to shop out mobile games. This happened in 2013, more than five years ago.
In that time, EA has continued BioWare’s work on its Star Wars multiplayer online game and released two new Battlefront games. While the first Star Wars Battlefront was sort-of positively received, the second game was a disaster. The foundation is the same, the gameplay being what fans and critics enjoyed. But the structure was a big problem for both games. While the first one was light on content, the second one caused a forest fire due to its loot box-based progression structure. This, alongside a few other games which dropped around the same time, blew up so big that politicians took notice and video games’ actual revenue streams came under legal fire in multiple countries.
Meanwhile, Visceral was famously shuttered and its project was moved over to EA Vancouver, where it seems super early in development still. So in the time since the deal was made, EA produced an okay shooter that people sort of liked, then one that helped foster a political uproar so intense that Disney itself had to step in and have EA remove the payment structure in the game entirely until the whole thing was revised. The people who still play the game enjoy it quite a lot now, thanks to tons of content updates and the new microtransaction structures, but the damage has already been done.
Enter Respawn’s game. We don’t really know what it is outside of a few inklings. It’s part of the Jedi brand, and of course Respawn has a certain schtick. The tagline for the game, based on a recent pre-marketing tweet, seems to be, “Don’t stand out.” That’s a weird one, and it could have a lot of plot connotations. We know the game is set after the Order 66 massacre, and that the lead character is a surviving Padawan. So the tagline could be related to being in hiding. We’ll know for sure when the game is officially unveiled in April 2019.
So Respawn’s game is going to be EA’s latest chance to be a good, as in widely praised, Star Wars game. What happens if it isn’t? Does Disney cut its losses and bail? Does EA Vancouver’s project get to move past pre-production if it hasn’t yet? We’ve seen plenty of precedent that EA isn’t above hitting the “cancel” button. Obviously we don’t know the entire terms of the contract, and what the limits are on either side of the table. But the narrative isn’t great for EA, and at the same time, the narrative for Respawn is great thanks to Apex Legends. It feels like there’s a lot riding on this game – the future of the Star Wars license, the future of the EA deal, and even the future of the studios wrapped up in it. The drama surrounding nearly every facet of contemporary Star Wars remains as fascinating as ever.