One hundred fifty four days after acquiring Lucasfilm — and the rights to everything Star Wars — for a cool $4 billion, Disney has shut down LucasArts, the Lucas division long responsible for making video games. The tech press had two immediate reactions to the news, both of them wrong.
Some greeted the news with sadness and longing. Per TechCrunch:
While the move was not unforeseen (the company’s last few games haven’t been very successful, and rumors of projects being shuttered have trickled in since the acquisition), that doesn’t make today’s news any less disheartening. A part of my childhood — a part of an entire generation of gamer’s collective childhood, really — goes down with LucasArts.
“So, first, Disney cancels the ‘Clone Wars,’ the best thing to happen to ‘Star Wars’ since the original trilogy, and now this,” wrote a commenter on a Kotaku story on the shut-down. “I am now extremely skeptical of Disney’s handling of this company, and I fear [for] the franchise’s future.”
For others, the move was new evidence of the gaming shift from consoles to smartphones, as Wired supposed:
It’s hard to be surprised at this turn of events when Disney spelled it all out at the time of the acquisition. It’s moving away from internally-developed console games, having shut down Warren Spector’s studio Junction Point following the release of Epic Mickey 2, and towards social and mobile.
But the real reason for Disney’s shuttering of LucasArts was foretold many years ago in that cinematic classic Spaceballs: “Merchandising. Merchandising. Merchandising.”
Merchandising, as the wise Yogurt tells us, is “where the real money from the movie is made.”
Consider the official Lucasfilm statement regarding the closing:
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.
It’s hard to view that statement, and the prominent use of the phrase “licensing model,” as meaning anything but this: Disney’s Star Wars team is looking forward to revenues, but backwards for, well… for “content.”
It’s All About Content. Star Wars Content
This is not cynical, just (big) business. Business — and Disney is the master of the “content” business — is what this acquisition was about, after all. Disney bought content, pure and simple — great big barrels of Star Wars content with which to fill its merchandising channels and theme park attractions and all that vast empty space on the Disney Channel.
Just think of it — all those great concepts like the Death Star, lightsabers and pod racing, and characters such as Luke and Leia, R2D2 and that robot that had the bad cough, all pureed and processed and poured out into any number of new money-making ventures. That’s what Disney was buying when it paid for the highly immersive Star Wars universe.
In the Disney calculation, LucasArts was little more than a distraction, if that. The Disney machine already includes a gaming division, an animation studio, and plenty of skilled people already on staff.
Likewise, Disney almost certainly never even considered the proposed Star Wars 1313 video game shooter, and probably never thought much — if at all — about many of the division’s great legacy games. Even if they produced memorable scenes or characters, these games touch very few people. Disney covets blockbusters — which, of course, are then ground up and forced through all of Disney’s many channels.
The Future According To Disney
So expect not just a new Star Wars trilogy but a cavalcade of Disney World-Star Wars thrill rides. Assume there will be a Star Wars “Experience” at Disneyland. Your daughter will be singing catchy Star Wars-esque tunes she’s already heard a million times on the Disney Channel. At night, you’ll read your young son one of the many age-appropriate Star Wars books.
New toys, action figures, games — based solely on the original Star Wars blockbusters and the hoped-for blockbusters of the future — will probably sell in the billions. The characters in Toy Story 4 will lovingly mock their new friend, the bumbling Jar Jar Binks. Your grandchildren will grow up believing Jango Fett is a spaceman-like Billy the Kid, delivering outlaw justice throughout the furthest corners of the galaxy.
LucasArts was never going to be a part of this grand Disney vision. All you can hope for now is that whatever Disney creates based on their total ownership of the Star Wars universe does not suck.
Image taken from Spaceballs press photo