Today, Lucasfilm Games announced that it is partnering with Ubisoft to create an open Star Wars game. The title will be developed by Ubisoft’s Massive Entertainment, marking the first time a company outside of EA has produced a Star Wars game since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012 and ended nearly eight years of exclusivity. There’s also a new Indiana Jones game to be developed by Bethesda Game Studios, a newcomer to the features of Lucasfilm and Disney.
Let’s start with Star Wars. The development of this new title is still very early – Massive is still recruiting for the project itself – so the details are sparse. Julian Gerighty, Director of Division 2 and The team, will act as the game̵
This announcement follows yesterday’s news that Lucasfilm is partnering with Bethesda to create an Indiana Jones title, the first non-Star Wars AAA game out of Lucasfilm this year. The move marks a seismic shift for Lucasfilm’s approach to gaming, expanding the tent for developers looking to create games using the Lucasfilm franchise, especially in the Star Wars universe.
While EA had previously suggested that the company would have exclusivity on Star Wars games for 10 years, it appears that either it was faulty or the watch has run out early. (Lucasfilm would not confirm for WIRED in any way.) Either way, EA will continue to make games in the future, but Lucasfilm Games is free to seek other partners.
“EA has been and will continue to be a very strategic and important partner for us now and in the future,” Sean Shoptaw, senior vice president of Global Games and Interactive Experiences at Disney, told WIRED. “But we felt there was room for others.”
In 2013, 150 employees at LucasArts laid off and completed internal game development. The rationale at the time was that the move would minimize “the company’s risk while achieving a broader portfolio of high-quality Star Wars games”, according to a statement issued by the company to Hollywood Reporter at the time.
In recent years, however, the EA exclusivity agreement has been criticized as a bottleneck to this goal. Apart from a few small mobile or VR games, the number of major Star Wars games from EA since 2013 can be counted on one hand. By letting more developers bring their ideas into play, Lucasfilm hopes to spread the titles it offers.
“I think if you look at the gaming landscape, it’s such a diverse population of people all over the world that makes games,” Shoptaw explains. “For us to capture the amount of quality that exists in the world and be fast in the market, it would be a great challenge for us to do it internally.”
As with previous EA games, any new Star Wars game will be part of the same Star Wars canon and continuity shared across all the movies and TV shows produced since the Disney acquisition. James Waugh, Lucasfilm’s VP of franchise content and strategy, explains that while this means that games do not always connect directly to content in other media, the possibility is on the table.
“I think where people get stumbled upon it is sometimes like, ‘Oh, that’s it have to connect to everything else. And that’s not necessarily what we’re always saying, ”Waugh told WIRED. “It will happen if it’s right for that story.”
This new non-exclusive Star Wars game arrangement – as well as the rest of Lucasfilm’s library of franchises – leaves the door open for developers to put their own ideas into stories for Lucasfilm Games. “We are not short of people knocking on our door and wanting to play with our toys,” Douglas Reilly, vice president of Lucasfilm Games, told WIRED.
Among that camp is Todd Howard. The famous director of Skyrim (among many other games) is also a huge one Indiana Jones fan. “What has been most inspiring about the Indy game in particular is that it’s a passion project for Todd Howard,” Waugh explained. “He came in with a point of view and a story that he really believes in.”
Of course, these franchises are still, in Reilly’s words, Lucasfilm’s toys. “Ultimately, we finally have approval everywhere,” Reilly explained. While developers – including, but no longer solely at EA – may have the freedom to provide ideas for stories to the company, these developers will still play inside the Disney playhouse.
Keeping both players and developers inside this playhouse seems to be the ultimate goal of the newly renamed Lucasfilm Games. Increasingly, video games compete for leisure and entertainment with movies and television. Disney has a long history of dominating movies and television that compete for eyeballs for consumers, but it lacks the same level of experience with video games. Leveraging the talent from external studies can mean that consumers spend far more hours a day inside the company’s exuberant franchises than they would if Disney stood on film and television alone.
A single story-driven game can take dozens of hours. An open-world game like the one Ubisoft makes with Lucasfilm Games can potentially push into hundreds of hours depending on how long a player wants to explore. “It really leans into why we do what we do, because these are massive entertainment experiences that last many hours, much longer than movies,” Shoptaw explained.