Should Disney retain first-party control over Star Wars video games?

Star Wars Outlaws. Image courtesy Ubisoft
Star Wars Outlaws. Image courtesy Ubisoft /

The Star Wars universe is full of unique stories and uncharted characters that would go very well in a video game setting. Although the video game industry has changed in the last 10 years since the EA exclusive deal started, so has technology. Game publishers are all fighting for control of the nearly $185 billion-a-year beast known as the video game industry.

While revenue fell overall, the want for games has not. Game publishers like Electronic Arts (EA) and Ubisoft have all put their hands in the Star Wars universe with mixed results. Ubisoft has a yet-to-be-released game known as Star Wars: Outlaws, and EA has had the past 10 years to perfect Star Wars games and hasn’t. This makes me wonder why the EA deal was not renewed and if it will be given to another third-party publisher or if Disney will bring back LucasArts, a first-party game publisher. In 2013, Disney chose to license the Star Wars name and close LucasArts rather than develop games themselves which reduced the risk by the company.

At the time, this business model made sense. Disney had just purchased the Star Wars brand from George Lucas. While there was still a hunger for Star Wars content, Disney was unsure if their $4.05 billion investment would pay off. Gaming was still a niche market and the PC market was vastly lower than it was now. The console market was booming with the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 recently released. The economy was also recovering from the 2008 Market Crash while gamers were just starting to find money to invest in gaming again. Disney’s decision made sense with the market the way it was and gave EA the 10-year deal that gave exclusive rights to them for the Star Wars name.

This benefited Disney two-fold:

The first was it gave Disney the ability to absolve themselves of 150 jobs and the vast marketing and upfront cost of developing a game. This major technology and manpower investment would no longer be an issue for Disney, but rather they would put that on someone else.

The second was it allowed Disney to make money on the franchise through royalties as well as significant upfront cash from EA, who gave Disney an undisclosed amount of money for the deal. So not only did Disney absolve itself of a major investment, they made more money in doing so.

This brings us to the current state of Disney. The company may be the first media company to lose $1 billion of first-party assets in history. With shows like Echo and movies like The Marvels on the horizon, the company is on the verge of selling off assets. To help right the ship, Disney fired Chapek and rehired Bob Iger, who recently signed his deal through 2026. Iger, who was once beloved by Cast Members, was vocal about his opposition to the writer’s strikes:

"“It’s very disturbing to me. We’ve talked about disruptive forces on this business and all the challenges we’re facing, the recovery from COVID which is ongoing, it’s not completely back. This is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption, I understand any labor organization’s desire to work on behalf of its members to get the most compensation and be compensated fairly based on the value that they deliver. We managed, as an industry, to negotiate a very good deal with the directors guild that reflects the value that the directors contribute to this great business. We wanted to do the same thing with the writers, and we’d like to do the same thing with the actors. There’s a level of expectation that they have, that is just not realistic. And they are adding to the set of the challenges that this business is already facing that is, quite frankly, very disruptive.”"

Disney has the right infrastructure to get back into gaming and has people who know how to animate and could, in theory, have a seamless transition into the gaming industry. Iger is known as a buyer and not a seller, so I could see them making a move to buy a studio like EA or even Ubisoft, or even a less likely option of reopening LucasArts and having complete control over Star Wars content.

The major downfall of EA and Ubisoft is the massive disconnect between fans and creators of video games. The video game industry has also been known for high-stress environments, unrealistic deadlines, and borderline abusive environments. This could be something Disney could change and bring a different culture, welcome a Union, and honestly, live the values they speak about constantly.

Many Cast Members working for Disney are also major fans of the content they make, which could be something Star Wars could benefit from. Having fans of the content creating the content is something the gaming industry is sorely lacking. The EA deal highlighted that just because there’s a Star Wars name on the cover doesn’t mean it will sell well. In the last 10 years, the only games worth playing were the Jedi games and the Battlefront games, full of microtransactions and built with a profit model in mind rather than for love of the content. This all being said, EA has made $3 billion over the past 10 years, and this is money Disney could use at this point.

As a major Star Wars fan, I can say there are so many untapped stories in the canon that would be fantastic games. Take Darth Revan, or what about Darth Vader in the 2015 comic line, where he is blamed for the Death Star destruction and even plots to kill Palpatine. Any of these would make fantastic games!

Getting creative control back in the video games could benefit Disney as they could make games they want and give them to people who care about the stories they tell.