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EA’s Star Wars game better learn the right lessons from Batman

Every genre needs its Arkham City. South Park got it recently, as did The Walking Dead, but its the Caped Crusader that stands at the top of AAA action games, earning untold number of honors. Both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City achieved a rare level of recognition for any game regardless of origin, and EA now hopes to replicate that success in its upcoming Star Wars games. I hope the publisher can actually meet that admirable goal, because many gamemakers have missed the crucial details of Arkham’s singular achievement in licensed gaming.

It’s laudable that EA CEO Andrew Wilson wants their Star Wars game to replicate Batman’s “interactive experience that had real ties to what you would see in the films and what you had read in the comics, while having its own life because it could provide such deep and more immersive storylines.” Sadly, similar tie-in adventures have eyed the same prize and came up short. Middling titles like Captain America, TMNT: Out of the Shadows, and The Amazing Spider-Man all clearly followed the Arkham example, but failed in the end. Why was that? And how can EA avoid that with its upcoming Star Wars releases?

A large reason for so many other licensed games failing to match Arkham’s quality comes down to resources. Speaking as a spectator that played so many Bat-wannabes, it was painful to see promising titles get hamstrung by a lack of time or money. 2012’s Amazing Spider-Man showed potential, but meeting a hard deadline of the film’s release likely contributed to it being half-baked. Meanwhile, TMNT: Out of the Shadows had the makings of an iconic turtles adventure, but a downloadable release means a budget that’s likely a small fraction of Arkham City’s, so it too disappointed.

EA’s Star Wars game at least has time on its side, because the EA CEO used the same interview to make it clear their upcoming Star Wars titles aren’t based on 2015’s Episode VII. With the upcoming game freed from an impending release date, that hopefully means the developers will get the time they need, but will they get the money? EA certainly has the cash to pay for a triple-A experience like Arkham City, but I have my doubts that it will have that big a bankroll.

Thing is, it’s not in EA’s best interest to invest in Star Wars as much as they would in Battlefield or The Sims. EA owns those brands, while Star Wars is only theirs for as long as its deal with Disney lasts. If EA’s Star Wars games win scads of awards and honors, that’s good for the publisher in the short term, but that ultimately builds up the portfolio of a company that isn’t Electronic Arts. That economic truth is why most licensed games suck. Warner Bros. Interactive both publishes and owns the Batman franchise, so it has actual monetary incentive to build up the franchise. Does this mean we’ll only see truly great Star Wars and Marvel Comics games when Disney handles development themselves?

Then again, EA’s history with the Star Wars brand makes it appear possible it'll break this troubling trend. The company spent a ton of money on The Old Republic MMO, on top of spending big money of sports franchises like UFC, FIFA, and Madden. Perhaps it knows it needs to invest heavily just to buck player expectations of a middling Star Wars game. If it's successful, there's no reason that Disney wouldn't renew that contract--or, hell, maybe they'll just buy EA. They do that stuff a lot nowadays, and I don't think EA would turn that down. Meanwhile, LucasArts reached for greatness with Force Unleashed and definitely came up short.

History like that gives me more hope that EA’s desire for “deeper and more immersive storylines,” will pay off better than most of its competitors licensed schlock. Otherwise, I fear that the best gamers can hope for is the damning praise of “good for a movie game.” Until developers are ready to give up the resources needed for true action greatness, Batman will remain in a class of his own.

9 comments

  • Relayer71 - March 26, 2014 5:17 p.m.

    That first line made no sense: South Park and The Walking Dead aren't genres. In the voice/inflection of the narrator in GAUNTLET: "First sentence need rewrite, badly."
  • ZeeCaptain - March 25, 2014 11:20 p.m.

    Well yes and no, while every genre needs to have a great success I would rather have the new star wars game be of the CoD variety than the Arkham City/Asylum type. This being because despite how great it would be to have a decent star wars game, right now we need a game that's going to sell like crazy, to encourage EA that there is a market still for star wars, and that even their feeble attempts at videogames can have an impact even if the brand name does the heavy lifting. I know that there is already a CoD and many CoD clones, in fact EA has just finished the creation of Titanfall, essentially a CoD clone, and it has proven that CoD fans are willing to try new things even if their just so much a texture pack with parkour and only one type of kill streak reward. The unfortunate fact is that just because something is good doesn't mean it will sell, so the next game will either be a fan service or an attempt to make a game that will appeal to a wider audience; or EA will screw up somehow, like an always online single player that has constantly downed servers.
  • jedisamurai - March 25, 2014 2:44 p.m.

    There's actually a lot of good news here if you are looking for it. First of all, other companies are noticing that you can make more money with a game done right than a crappy rushed one (that should be obvious but big corporations think with their accountants and decide with their stock brokers). Secondly, Warner Brothers was theatrically and game-wise driving Batman into the ground for quite a long time (and Superman wasn't doing much better). After all these years someone FINALLY realized an advantage of the WB/Batman relationship (for years it was their biggest problem, just as SONY's relationship with Spiderman was, exclusivity meant no decent studio/dev could make someone worth watching or playing). That advantage being...if YOU own it, release it when it's up to YOUR standards to increase the value of YOUR brand. And lastly, if you're going to pick a game-type to copy, better the Arkham series than many others. A Star Wars game with a big open world and lots of polish could really turn things around.
  • lvl1201 - March 25, 2014 11:46 a.m.

    Im just gonna guess around: 1) Pre-orders will grant you the exclusive maps and bonus xp and a special weapon or something. 2) DLC on day one. 3) Premium content and early acces. 4) Origin. 5) Digital deluxe edition wich only means cash grab. 6) No one will be able to play on launch day. 7) Serious bugs, maybe something like Battlefield 4. The dudes who make the decisions at ea are just there to monetise and nothing else.
  • Divine Paladin - March 25, 2014 3:48 a.m.

    I think you should just make an article focusing entirely on the comment about why licensed games suck (in the context of this article - the South Park one doesn't really touch too much on the "the developer isn't the IP holder" part of the equation). Great article.
  • allen-martin - March 25, 2014 12:51 a.m.

    Even if EA doesn't stand to make a lot of money from good Star Wars games since they don't own the Star Wars license, they should still try their damnedest to make the games awesome so that A.) They can increase their fan base, since there is a LOT of EA hate out there and making some truly killer Star Wars titles could help them earn some good will and B.) They stick the landing on these games and they could negotiate more for other big name licenses with more favorable deals cut to them when they have a solid track record of releasing awesome franchise based games.
  • shawksta - March 24, 2014 9:43 p.m.

    Honestly i think it depends on WHO makes it rather than just shoving all the comments at EA. True EA had experience with the Brand of Star Wars in the past, but its still the developers themselves, if anything its the servers EA is responsible for. For example all the good things so far going on with Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare regarding content isnt EA, but Popcap, yet people just like to ignore how good the game is and just blab "YAR EA MICROTRANSACTIONS RUINING SERIES" So yeah, basically we'll need to see who is going to be making the Star Wars game, obviously its gonna be on EA's judgement but still, thats like complaining to Nintendo about the CDI games.
  • Jib-47 - March 24, 2014 7:01 p.m.

    I hate to say it but just because the games aren't necessarily based on the upcoming movies doesn't mean that they won't release at the same time. I can't see EA, and Disney not cashing in on the hype that the new movies are going to generate. I hope I am wrong but we will just have to wait and see.
  • alllifeinfate - March 24, 2014 9:20 p.m.

    It sounds really likely to happen... I just hope they would put the right people and resources behind it with enough time to develop it to the tee.

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