For the 150 former employees now out of a job, the decision by Disney to close Lucasarts is a sad and terrible one. I wish them all the best in their efforts to find a new employer.
But for everybody else, there’s quite possibly a silver lining to this dark and stormy cloud.
Disney aren’t the bad guys here. Once you’ve squeezed out your requisite levels of nostalgia over the company’s demise – and given Lucasarts’ illustrious back catalogue, that’s going to take some time – move on from thinking about what Lucasarts were and think about what they are. Well. Were more recently.
Lucasarts as a video game developer was a joke. Lucasarts as a video game publisher was a j0ke. Here we have a company that was solely responsible for the Star Wars licence. It also had Indiana Jones on the shelf. Not to mention a wealth of other revered and, no doubt, profitable self-made properties just lying around.
If any other major publisher with its own development staff had that kind of IP lying around, it would have changed the name of the company to Money Printing Inc. Lucasarts, though, through successive handovers from bad management to worse management, seemed content to do…well, nothing with it. And the few things they did do didn’t work.
Internal development had dried up. Attempts to develop new IP failed, and were abandoned. Letting other people develop Star Wars games, at one time a seemingly smart move on the heels of games like Knights of the Old Republic, culminated in the disaster that was/is The Old Republic.
The less we say about Battlefront 3 the better.
They couldn’t even manage to do the easy stuff. Every other publisher on Earth has mined their back catalogues for re-release on Steam, Good Old Games and new platforms like the iPhone. Lucasarts tried, sputtered for a bit, then gave up. I should be able to buy Full Throttle on Steam. I can’t.
When you realise this dawdling and mismanagement has led to an exodus of staff, and see the sorry state the once-great studio was in, the decision by Disney is not a crime. It’s a mercy. 2013′s Lucasarts wasn’t the same place behind games like Monkey Island and Tie Fighter. It was the place behind Star Wars Kinect.
Which leads us to the silver lining: Lucasarts can’t waste their own properties anymore. Say what you will about Disney and its attempts to monopolise popular culture, but it’s doing so because it wants to – and knows very well how to – make money.
It won’t do this by sitting on projects and not releasing Star Wars games. It will make money by farming out its properties – Star Wars, Indiana Jones and whatever else it thinks will work – to the highest bidder. EA, Activision, Ubisoft, Take-Two, whoever.
Sure, that mightn’t be the greatest thing. We’ll no doubt see shameless cash-ins. Ill-advised remakes. But if Disney opens the vaults – and judging by the outpouring of nostalgia and emotion following today’s decision it will, since the market is there – there could be good games as well. Maybe even some great games.
Which is a lot more than we could have hoped for from Lucasarts circa 2013, that’s for sure.