I’ll warn you now, this one’s a long one.
So it’s all over the gaming news by now. Disney has officially pulled the plug on LucasArts and laid off about 150 employees. The official statement from Disney said:
“After evaluating our position in the games market, we’ve decided to shift LucasArts from an internal development to a licensing model, minimizing the company’s risk while achieving a broader portfolio of quality Star Wars games. As a result of this change, we’ve had layoffs across the organization. We are incredibly appreciative and proud of the talented teams who have been developing our new titles.”
And LucasArts is dead, just like that.
Sure, it’s clear here that they intend to keep the label alive by letting it be licensed out to other developers, but we all know that means pretty much nothing. This was just a purely stupid decisions in a long line of stupid decisions that have been plaguing LucasArts management for years. The reports from sources of Kotaku say that the official word (that they are trying to find new 3rd party developers to take over development of the games they were in the midst of doing) is somewhat of a smokescreen to appease fans, and the games are pretty much dead (that’s my interpretation, at least). This news hit me hard. I mean really hard. Like hearing that the dog you grew up with and that was still living with your parents got hit by a car. Then I spend a day pondering what affect this will have on the industry as a whole, and that also hit me hard. It’s not a pretty concept, folks.
Disney fucked up, as far as I am concerned. See, the problem with LucasArts hasn’t been that the games they make are buggy messes and crappily made; it’s that they are crap content and nothing but empty fluff or poorly designed. Were those 150 people that were laid off entirely to blame for that? Hell no. They more than likely had little to no say on the direction of what mechanics went into games or what games were made; they were just code-monkeys doing their jobs, and they did them well. As bad as Star Wars Kinect was, content-wise, the game itself was at least fairly solidly made, for the most part. It was just a f’ing joke of a game. Star Wars Force Unleashed 2 was a sad attempt at a sequel. The acting was well done, the visuals were impressive and breathtaking, and what gameplay there was worked properly; those weren’t where it failed. Where it failed was the acting was poorly directed, the gameplay was limited and repetitive, and the story fell far short compared to it’s predecessor. Heck, the game was too short, overall. But those aspects it failed on are all at the discretion of the management, not the others doing most of the coding, texturing, art, etc. It wasn’t the company as a whole that failed; it was only the management.
To use an analogy: yes, the LucasArts ship was sinking, because in the last 5 years, 3 different but equally stupid Captains were put at the helm and those captains kept running it into the reef with poor decisions. Disney bought the whole boat, and the crew; so what do they decide to do? Not replace both the idiot Captain and the idiots who put him in power then get the crew inspired to fix the ship and sail back into glory. They fired everyone, probably gave the Captain and the board that hired him new jobs, and are selling the ship for firewood. That was the biggest mistake in a series of big mistakes for LucasArts.
Now, before you jump down my throat with the whole “it’s a numbers game and any businessman would see that LucasArts was already dead weight” crap, just don’t. I’m not buying it. They had 2 games in development, and 1313 was looking very, very good before it got frozen last fall. There’s been new word since that it had been re-vamped only slightly to be about Boba Fett. Even if they’d kept it to a previously unknown bounty hunter, I really think this game could have breathed new life into Star Wars gaming; With Disney taking over the publishing and licensing aspect of Star Wars and LucasArts, then LucasArts could have re-focused into purely development. By removing the idiot corporate management and letting the development teams work more autonomously, I think LucasArts could have turned both 1313 and First Assault into very worthy games, and begun revitalizing not only their work, but the faith of their fans. It would have been a slow process, I know, and would have cost money at the start. But the costs would be worth it, and the rewards far greater, not just financially.
Instead, Disney added to what is seeming like a horrifying growing industry trend. They just shut it all down heartlessly, killing not just LucasArts, but also killing the faith of many Disney and LucasArts fans and customers. A lot of people are bemoaning the loss of LucasArts, grieving, then moving on. I can’t, though. I’m seeing patterns. Not with Disney and LucasArts specifically; I’m seeing patterns in the game industry as a whole over the last few years that are becoming more and more prominent. How many developers has EA Games bought out, stripped what they could, and killed? What’s happened to THQ in the last year? How many other developers have been closed by their corporate publishers, and how many other publishers are or have been dying? It’s becoming more and more painfully obvious that the people at the top of these corporate publishers are arrogant and have lost touch with their consumers, as is made clear by this rebuttal by The Consumerist to EA Games’ rant of their being nominated for a second time as the Worst Company In America.
It would seem like the Video Game industry is dying. We’ve seen so many big publishers dissolve good developers for no more reason than they cost more money than they wanted to pay, and even seen those publishers collapse themselves due to bankruptcy from one thing or another. But is it really dying? Or is it just evolving?
Crowdfunded indie developers are becoming more and more numerous, as well as more and more successful. Double Fine is a perfect example of this, and not the only one. Since Double Fine lead the way, dozens of other indie developers, and even some not so indie ones , are taking to things like Kickstarter and Indigogo rather than lock themselves in with a corporate publisher. While EA Games, Disney, and other big-name publishers struggle to keep their sales up and jump for desperate last-ditch efforts to penny-pinch and make any sale they can, developers are going indie and finding more funding than they could have hoped for, sometimes even more than they might have gotten from a publisher. We’re talking amounts into the millions of dollars. Even the developers of some incredible titles (such as the makers of the Divinity series) seem to have dropped publishers and are going with crowdfunding.
So what does all this mean? Well, it means a few things. A lot of people have been working under the assumption that triple-A titles can only be made by the big corporate publishers, like EA Games or Activision Blizzard, and that crowdfunding was only good for cheap little mobile games. Well, so much for that broken concept. Double Fine proved that assumption wrong, and has lead the way into putting the publishing power into the hands of those with the real power – us. And since then, others are starting to prove that you can make a triple-A game through crowdfunding, and that’s including ones requiring budgets of a few million dollars. Because of this, more and more developers are being freed and more and more corporate publishers are getting not only scared, but dying off.
This has it’s good side and it’s bad side. On the good side, it frees indie and new developers from having to spend years slaving away for a corporate publisher hoping someday they might kiss enough @$$ to be able to do a pitch for their game idea, and hope that they can retain at least some rights to it. On the down side, some of the best IPs that many people want to make games for (such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Stargate, Game of Thrones, Mass Effect, etc.) are all owned by these big-name publishers, and they tend to not play nice with most developers, unless those developers sell themselves off to the publishers. This is where things get kind of dicey.
With so many of the big corporations holding so tightly to these greatly desired IP licenses, the future of games for some of our favorite franchises is unclear. Take Star Wars, for example. Anyone who wants to make a Star Wars game now has to go and pay licensing fees for permission to use anything from Star Wars in their game. Now, if Disney is smart, they will make those licensing fees fairly affordable. But, of course, if Disney were smart, LucasArts would not be dead. Which means only well-funded developers will be able to make a Star Wars game, which (probably even with massive amounts of crowdfunding) rules out most, if not all, indie developers. So the big corporations will be sharing their IPs with each other, like some rich snobs only club of development. It could be years before we see an indie developer rise up and become self-sufficient enough to afford those IPs again, but it is definitely possible. A new developer company just starting out would have to have a few very successful titles they’ve made with crowdfunding that are also bringing in further incomes beyond the costs of initially making and launching those games; that alone could take several years.
I honestly don’t see the big corporate publishers lasting much longer as they are. Every day, they lose more and more customers due to foolishly short-sighted and greedy decisions, pushing those customers instead to indie and crowdfunded games. This feeds more money into the crowdfunded developers, allowing them to make even better games. The only way these corporate publishers will survive more than another 4 or 5 years is if they smarten up and open their IPs for indies to license more easily. ANd by buying developers only to shut them down, they are not at all defeating this competition; they are strengthening it by creating animosity with the developers – the people they keep laying off. Eventually, no developers will be willing to make games for them, because the quality of the gameplay will be too embarrassing for most good developers to want their name associated directly with the corporate logos.