Let’s not mince words here. Ever since they were handed the exclusive right to produce ‘Star Wars’ video games in 2013, their handling of the license has ranged from disastrous to merely embarrassing. But it wasn’t always this way. In the early 2000s, the now-defunct LucasArts controlled the license and would routinely contract outside developers to produce ‘Star Wars’ games. Among those developers were studios under the EA umbrella, and they made some damn good games. All time classics, in fact.
One of those classics is the 2003 RPG ‘Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic’. The game was developed from BioWare, the studio now best known for the ‘Mass Effect’ and ‘Dragon Age’ franchises. A sequel – ‘Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords’ followed a year later, with the development chores handled by Obsidian. For the nearly fifteen years since, fans have been clamoring for a third installment. The closest we’ve come was when BioWare returned to the property for the 2011 MMORPG ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’, but its setting (some three hundred years after ‘KOTOR II’) and the less narratively focused nature of MMORPGs meant that for all its merits, the game fell short of what fans had been (and still are) hoping for: a proper ‘Knights of the Old Republic III’.
Unfortunately it doesn’t look like we’ll be playing that game any time soon. On the face of it, that might not be the most surprising news. What might surprise you, though, is the stumbling block: EA.
Okay, maybe that’s not so surprising.
Earlier this week in a Twitter thread reflecting on EA’s abysmal handling of ‘Star Wars’, Kotaku editor Jason Schreier revealed that BioWare has, in fact, tried to get another ‘Knights of the Old Republic’ game off the ground on more than one occasion only to be denied the opportunity.
So why wouldn’t EA want to move forward with this? Maybe at one time it was to keep BioWare focused on ‘Mass Effect’. Okay, but the thing about that is that whether this would-be game took the form of ‘KOTOR III’, a reboot of the series, or something else altogether, at the end of the day, this would be a proven studio returning to a proven (and beloved) series under a more than proven brand. And granted, you could say the same about ‘Mass Effect’ (arguably to a lesser degree, but nonetheless), so perhaps they’re trading one blockbuster IP for another. Maybe. But I suspect the real answer lies in what EA has actually done with ‘Star Wars’ thus far.
As much as the Jedi are famous for philosophizing about fear, anger, and hatred, all too often it’s money that you’ll find at the root of a great evil. And the thing about ‘Star Wars’ video games is that the intellectual property is essentially a license to print money if you’re even a little bit good at your job. All you have to do is make decent games and – ‘Star Wars’ being what it is – they will practically sell themselves. And let’s be clear on this point. As much as they might be every gamer’s favorite punching bag, EA certainly has the resources to make great games.
In this case, though, it’s not clear that they have the will. The monetization-driven approach they’ve so whole-heartedly embrace is incompatible with games like ‘KOTOR’, which are lengthy, narrative-driven, single player experiences. Make no mistake, the fact that ‘Star Wars’ fans have been starved for exactly that sort of experience is a feature, not a bug. Games like that make publishers like EA gun shy these days. Not because they won’t sell, but because it’s much easier to turn a lazy multiplayer shooter into an exploitative, loot box-ridden, perpetual monetization machine than it would be to do the same with a BioWare-style single player RPG.
What kind of ‘Star Wars’ games do you hope to see if EA ever gets their act together? Is there a classic you’d like to see revisited? A cancelled title you want revived? Let us know in the comments!