LucasArts, the video game arm of the empire which formerly called George Lucas its Emperor has just been put to rest. Current property owners, Disney have announced that staff have been let go and all projects currently in development, including the ambitious new shooter, Star Wars 1313 have momentarily ceased production.
According to the issued statement:
"After evaluating our position in the games market, we've decided to shift LucasArts from an internal development to a licensing model, minimizing the company's risk while achieving a broader portfolio of quality Star Wars games. As a result of this change, we've had layoffs across the organization. We are incredibly appreciative and proud of the talented teams who have been developing our new titles."
There's been no shortage of major news centered around the Star Wars franchise since Disney laid down $4.05 billion dollars to absorb it last fall. (A sequel trilogy, one-shot movies, the cancellation of The Clone Wars, etc.) However, this move, perhaps more than anything, may actually reflect how the old, tightly-controlled, self-sustaining business model created by Lucas has truly been disassembled. Indeed, the news represents how the old ways of a grand business microcosm, centralized towards one man in his giant ranch has ended. In fact, Lucas' iconic effects company, Industrial Lights & Magic will also see layoffs, which may not bode well for its potential posterity, as well.
Is it time to panic? Is it time to celebrate? Well, at this point, what Disney announced is pretty much merely an official codification of what has been happening for the last decade or so, since most of their recent significant titles were developed by outside companies. LucasArts, at least the LucasArts that gained its reputation through groundbreaking video game titles (which actually used to publish games that did NOT contain either "Star" nor "Wars") has certainly not been around in any form familiar to those old enough to remember its creative apex.
Started in 1982 as Lucas' original Star Wars Trilogy films were ready to round the finish line, LucasArts took the unconventional route towards making their mark on the video game industry, armed with promises of conceptual innovation and the proverbial lightsaber of the George Lucas name ensuring their dedication to visuals. It was a goal that they certainly would achieve in the home computer game market with innovative titles like Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island series, and Full Throttle.
Of course, the company namesake's signature cash-cows were also covered sufficiently with games centered around Indiana Jones and, to a far greater extent, Star Wars with groundbreaking titles like Star Wars: X-Wing, its spinoff, Star Wars: TIE Fighter, franchise first-person-shooter debut Star Wars: Dark Forces, and the Rogue Squadron series. Yet, if one were to flash forward past the 90's to the post-Star Wars prequels era, it would be evident that most of those innovative titles were starting to be phased out in lieu of gimmick-driven Star Wars movie tie-in titles. Moreover, the company itself would be plagued with internal turmoil and a constant revolving door of leadership changes in the last 5 years. Thus, the LucasArts that we mourn for today is a far cry from the innovative, risk-taking company it was during its creative glory days. (Sure, there were early 2000's era hits like Star Wars: Battlefront and the KOTOR series, but we might also attribute those successes to Pandemic Studios, BioWare, and also EA in the case of the more recent The Old Republic MMO.)
Now, Disney will switch their Star Wars-centric gaming strategy to a license-based model, which may end up opening the door for our favorite franchises to be handled in a more effective way by a more diverse array of developers. So, if anything, the news certainly marks the end of an era, but perhaps one that had already passed long ago in a gaming era far, far away.