Does LucasArts have a future under Disney?

Posted by CB Droege

There is a lot of talk about what Disney will be doing with LucasFilm, but LucasArts may be where we see the most change.

If are somehow unaware, Disney recently acquired LucasFilm, and all of its DBAs, including Industrial Light & Magic, Skywalker Sound, and LucasArts, from founder and full owner George Lucas.

LucasFilm will be run by Lucas-appointed Co-chairman, Kathleen Kennedy, who will now be called ‘President’, as she reports to the Disney CEO. The talent under the film banner are being left mostly autonomous, it seems, with Lucas even staying on as a creative consultant. The rest of the company, however, might not be so independent after the merger.

Surely, there is no reason for the special effects and sound studios to continue to operate independently. Disney will most likely simply roll the talent from those departments into its existing special effects and sound studios, maybe even letting some people go from one or more of the sides of that equation.

The path that Disney will take with the game studio, LucasArts, however, is not as clear. With the acquisition, they gain all of the video game IP, of course, and the talent, so at first glance, one might think that the wisest move would simply be to roll all that talent into Disney Interactive.

The crux is this: LucasArts is much better at making games than Disney Digital. With no other part of this acquisition is that true. Lucas himself even said that one of the big reasons he’s so happy with this deal is that he’s seen Disney make some incredible leaps lately with their Marvel and Muppets properties. Their video games, though, have never been stellar.

Suffering from some of the same image problems that their movie studio was having ten years ago, Disney's games are frequently perceived as too childish and cutesy, and never seem to really get the gaming market, or they are poor tie-ins, designed to ride the coattails of a recent film and are otherwise effortless.

Yes, Disney made a good attempt with Epic Mickey a couple years ago, but wonky controls and some poor release decisions led to a game that did not fly off the shelves. After that fiasco, Disney Digital released a statement to the stock-holders and press promising that they had a plan to become profitable by 2013. No word on whether it worked as of yet.

 LucasArts, by contrast, has an incredible stable of franchises – from the Indiana Jones adventure games to the Star Wars flight simulators, and everything they have a hand in seems to sell very well, even if it’s not very good or seems childish, like Force Unleashed and LEGO Star Wars, respectively.

So, what does one do when one acquires a more successful studio? It’s hard to say, as there is not much precedent for the situation. If Disney Digital and LucasArts had been independent entities, there would have been no way that the former could have afforded to acquire the later, any merging would have had to go the other way, and Disney Digital is not all that appealing an acquisition.

The only announcement we have so far regarding the situation is that the current LucasArts project, Star Wars: 1313, a first-person adventure game which takes place in the seedy underworld of Coruscant,  will remain unaffected by the acquisition, with all personnel remaining in place to finish the game as intended.

Where will they go after that? On the surface – and from the outside, of course - it seems like the best move would be to dissolve the unsuccessful Disney Digital, and move whatever talent remains under the leadership at LucasArts, and make LucasArts be the new game studio, allowed to run and create successes as it always has.

This creates a naming issue, however, as it would be strange to fans for the LucasArts brand to suddenly be attached to every Toy Story and Cars tie-in game.

Therefore, I think that they’ll retain the Disney Digital name just for the sake of what studio name to stick on the box. It wouldn’t be the first time a single studio went by more than one name depending on which market it was producing for.

One can hope, and be mostly assured, Disney will not be daft enough to make any moves that will short the quality of LucasArts’ properties, but it will be interesting to see if corporation will be able to turn the move into increased quality for Disney Digital’s properties. Only time will tell.

What I’m most looking forward to, however, is the possibility that the talent over at LucasArts might be turned loose on the Marvel Film Universe to deliver some great Avengers games. Now that would be a film tie-in I would actually be looking forward to.