Saturday, April 6, 2013

Corporate Decisions...

Hey Everyone

Hope you all are doing well and the weather is starting to warm up! Winter has come and gone, and I am game for some good sunshine!

Today's post will be focused on the video-gaming world, and how corporations (to many of us) still make decisions that defy common understanding.

LucasArts's Demise

If you haven't heard, the video game arm of LucasArts has recently announced its closure after months of speculation, and all video game development has been canned. Sadly, Disney decided to close the video game studio, which messes up the development of a couple of games that lots of people were looking forward to: Star Wars: First Assault and Star Wars 1313. These games will remain in limbo and LucasArts would be limited to external licensing.

LucasArts has been around for a long long time, and have released many classics that gamers will gladly reminisce about. The Secret of Monkey Island, the TIE-Fighter/X-Wing franchise, Republic Commando, and Dark Forces are among the masterpieces this venerable studio has crafted. Granted, LucasArts has not recently released games to critical acclaim or financial success, such as the Kinect Star Wars atrocity, and The Force Unleashed II which underperformed in sales. The Knights of the Old Republic franchise was jointly created with Bioware and Obsidian, and I don't think the current MMO by Bioware will be affected by LucasArts's closing.

While I can see the logic in closing down a studio that didn't meet financial expectation, the one tidbit I find difficult to digest is this - the fate of Star Wars 1313 was always in doubt. It is sad that Star Wars 1313 is one of the casualties of this corporate shuffle, the one game that got everyone excited about, looked headed into an awesome direction, especially with the fans who have clamoured for a darker/grittier Star Wars. (Apparently, George Lucas was shown the game and thought it should focus on Boba Fett instead, which has divided opinions between Star Wars fans.)

Before we jump to the conclusion that Disney has totally mis-understood Star Wars 1313, it's worthwhile to remember that the company serves its shareholders, who are in it for their portfolio. Video-game production is an expensive gamble and it seems that CoD style FPSes are what execs like, and a game based on bounty hunting doesn't seem to hold the same mass appeal (Prey 2 has been indefinitely delayed). Plus, we have never seen what else the studio has showed to the Disney execs, which could have been horribly bad for all we know, but I find that doubtful.

My hunch is that Disney is trying to run Star Wars on its own terms with minimal risk. Disney has their own videogaming unit, but their reputation is not exactly stellar (Epic Mickey series has been a flop)...and perhaps Disney has lost stomach for more video game development, and may see external licensing as the safe option to get some profit and avoid space-station sized costs. Closing LucasArts is corporate spring cleaning, and it is sad that games of great potential have fallen victim.

External licensing is our only hope. Who knows if a reputable game developer could come around and acquire the rights to Star Wars 1313?

Xbox 720: Always Online?

I'm not a Xbox gamer, but I find recent news rather troubling.

News has emerged that the Xbox 720 would require an online connection to play, and it will automatically stop the game if the console was brought offline for more than 3 minutes. This rumored feature was "confirmed" when Adam Orth, Microsoft's Creative Director, brashly tweeted his disbelief over doubts on the always-online feature (even using #dealwithit). Microsoft has since apologized for his behavior, but have avoided dealing with the always-online issue.

Wifi and broadband have greatly expanded the digital frontier, but always online features have not been popular in the gaming world. Diablo 3 (and perhaps SimCity) is the archetype of online DRM done poorly, but still managed to sell like hot cakes and apparently still has a million regular players. As a gamer, I feel extremely uncomfortable that my ability to play a game is governed by my access to the internet, a factor that is external to my own person. Server overloads/crashes, server maintenance, internet disconnections, bandwidth issues, moving houses, router malfunction...these factors are outside of our control and should not govern if I can play a product I have bought.

Sadly, always-online gaming looks set to be the future. The sales performances of always-online games have not been disappointing, with Diablo 3 and SimCity as fine examples. Also, the sales of single-player only games have been a mixed bag. While Skyrim continues to enjoy a wide fan-base, Square Enix has experienced poor sales from Sleeping Dogs, Hitman Resolution and Tomb Raider. Although the games listed here may have succeeded/failed to reasons unrelated to online-DRM, sales figures do not suggest that having always-online will damage profits as long as mass appeal is maintained.

And again, corporations make decisions that ensure cashflow. The always-online feature would allow them to obtain a captive audience, who would be ripe to purchasing for digital services you provide exclusively through your distribution system. Also, as long as the Xbox 720 has strong video game releases and capable hardware, it is hard to see it failing just due to its internet connection requirement. (at least Microsoft won't be getting my money)

Did Microsoft wisely decide on an always-online Xbox 720? Or are we on the cusp of an event where offline gaming would prevail? Or would we see a bifurcation of the gaming audience into the online/offline groups?

Time will tell.


  1. Wow, I read your previous post and it seems like in conjunction to that, this doom and gloom of corporation killing the common man is tragic. Sad to say, this is a reality. The populace must boycott or take action for this companies to change their policies or at the very least do something to satisfy their fanbase and community. With respect to Disney, they really should take up the mantle of completing this projects but I am assuming this would not be the case as they have relieved the LucasArt team.

  2. LucasArt demise is the fact that they have not been viably lucrative. I guess we must understand that this corporate decisions are made through much analysis and profit potential of the company. Not to sound harsh, but if companies were to always cater to the "fans", it would not guarantee that they would be sustainable and profitable.

  3. As far as we all know, there are two very general archetypes corporations catering to the consumer entertainment business. 1. are the companies that listen to the fans of their products and try their best to cater to the fans and community in the most economically profitable way. No. 2 are the companies who do whatever is necessary to sustain or increase profits. Regardless, of what type though, as long as the consumer base keeps sustaining whichever type company, their corporate decisions will continue to steer in that direction as the results show that they are doing it right. As long as we choose to be powerless in making our decisions in accommodating to ruthless tactics by horrid companies, we will have to reap the consequences.

    While it may sound jarring to many, deal with it. If you can't deal with it, then as a community, we must take action and may our action be significant to make corporate profit mongers think twice before they decide on doing things that could hurt the community. In the end, there is a truth to the saying "Victors set what the truth of history would be"

    There are som many great gaming companies like Micropose, Westwood, SSI and now Lucasart that have vanished across the decade or so. We will remember their hits. But even if ppl recognize them for other traits like doing it for the fans, the truth remains that they are gone. Some probably have failed. So unless we are the mgmt of these corporate companies and have an in-depth view of what is going on internally in terms of the company's situation. It is hard to tell truly whether theya re making really bad decisions. Of course, if a company is painfully obvious in scathing their fanbase and community with their tactics, action must be taken. But if there is no action, then there is no check on them. Consequentially, it gives them no reason to not do whatever they want.

    This is by far the longest comment I have posted but I feel it is something necessary to point out.

  4. When you really put yourself int he shoes of Disney, I guess in some way I can understand their decision based on what Josh said in his article. It is a very good point that you have mentioned, Shen.