Hey LucasArts, Get Your Act Together
Countless missteps and lack of direction are robbing gamers of great experiences.
by Ryan McCaffrey
March 11, 2013
I've had it with LucasArts. The publisher/developer's latest head-scratching move, allegedly pumping the brakes on the promising third-person next-gen bounty-hunting action game Star Wars 1313, leaves me to wonder if - or rather, why - the once-proud subsidiary of Lucasfilm has now become a joke that gamers are the butt of.
This is a studio sitting on a treasure trove of beloved brands, and yet, when was their last Indiana Jones game that didn't star a Lego figure? Or a Star Wars title in the marketplace's most popular genre, first-person shooters? Only the big-budget MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic can be considered a bold effort. In fact, their triple-A (read: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and/or PC) output during this console generation can be generally summed up as: three Lego Star Wars games, Two Lego Indiana Jones titles, a pair of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed releases, The Old Republic, and Kinect Star Wars. And of those, only the original Force Unleashed (six-plus million copies sold) made any substantial impact at retailer cash registers. That potential franchise withered on the vine after Force Unleashed II fizzled with both critics and consumers.
Worse, their highest-rated games in this console era, using Metacritic as the evaluator, aren't even new titles! Indeed, the most well-received offerings have been enhanced rereleases of two of the company's 20-year-old classics: The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition (Metacritic average: 88 out of 100) and Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge (Metacritic: 85).
That's a rudderless ship if I've ever seen one and, quite frankly, it's embarrassing to the company and just plain sad for us customers, who just want to play great games in the popular universes that LucasArts controls. And it's an output would've shuttered most other companies not owned by a billion-dollar (and now a bajillion-dollar) entertainment monolith a long time ago (see: THQ).
But it goes much deeper than the products themselves. The problems trace back to the top of the LucasArts food chain: company president. LucasArts has had no fewer than five bosses in the last eight years, and none of them - not Jim Ward (2004-2008), Darrell Rodriguez (2008-2010), Paul Meegan (2010-2012), or the current pair of interim co-presidents, Kevin Parker and Gio Corsi - have been able to set a consistent vision for the company. They've grown. They've shrunk. They've dabbled in digital titles and then stopped. They've tried to create blockbusters and then given up.
Clint Hocking - the respected creator of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Far Cry 2, and others - was brought in to lead internal development in 2010. Within two years he'd departed LucasArts with no games even announced, let alone released. Star Wars: Battlefront was a massive multiplayer-centric franchise in the waning days of the last console generation with the strong potential to have continued its success on Xbox 360 and PS3, but they couldn't get a game out and the series inexplicably died. Fracture was so terrible that, according to my source that was at LucasArts at the time, Ward ripped the game at its original internal demo.
More recently, The Old Republic fared well out of the gate, but quickly lost steam and had to abandon its subscription model in favor of free-to-play. And then, of course, there's the infamous Kinect Star Wars. What was once Kinect's Great Hardcore Hope became a 200-person money sink that shipped with a damn Vader-dancing rhythm mini-game and must've cost the company tens of millions after a woeful critical and commercial reception.
And as for Star Wars 1313? It seemed well-positioned to become LucasArts's next big franchise, a planted seed that appeared ready to grow and bear fruit for the better part of the next generation of consoles. Now, it's the latest etching in the headstone of a publisher that used to be among the most popular, respected, and innovative in the gaming industry. Worse, LucasArts is heading into the next hardware round with exactly zero projects announced. Sigh. Long gone are the days of X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, the Jedi Knight series, and the adventure game golden era of 1988-1998. (Side note: to read more about that time, pick up the excellent book Rogue Leaders: The Story of LucasArts, written by longtime video game journalist Rob Smith.)
More importantly, with Disney in control of Lucasfilm and clearly looking to leverage the company's assets by greenlighting numerous Star Wars movie projects, it's only a matter of time before LucasArts's new owners realize that they've got a game studio too and begin pumping out a whole galaxy full of new Star Wars games. But by then it may be too late for gamers. If LucasArts doesn't get its act together and come up with a sound organizational roadmap very soon, Disney might swoop in, assume control, and begin ordering game after game with no regard for quality.
Of course, maybe, just maybe, Disney will take the same approach they have with the movies and find the best talent out there to revitalize the game studio. But until then - if it happens at all - gamers continue to be robbed of some of entertainment's biggest and most beloved brands. So for the love of Han Solo, LucasArts, make something. You used to make games and care about your customers. And while I fully recognize that this is a for-profit industry and that the latter isn't required for the former, at least you took action. These days, you don't seem to do either.