During EA’s E3 showcase in June 2018, Respawn’s mysterious Star Wars game that was first announced in 2016 was officially given a name, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and where it stood in the timeline of Star Wars Canon (between Episode III and Episode IV). Even though the game was more than a year away, there was a sense in the gaming community that a lot was riding on Fallen Order for EA. The date to see what Star Wars gaming held in store was November 15, 2019.
Their previous game, Star Wars Battlefront II, which featured both single-player and multiplayer game modes was a mixed bag. Earlier that year, EA reported its earnings call for its third fiscal quarter ending in December 2017 and posted a $186 million loss. While they blamed a one-time tax charge, there was no doubt a gap in projected sales vs actual sales for Battlefront II that played a part. The game sold 7M units that quarter, 1M less than EA had anticipated, which was also less than the 13M that the first Star Wars Battlefront sold during its launch quarter in 2015. And a lot of the blame was put on the fact that Battlefront II launched with microtransactions (MTX). MTX is a common business model in gaming where users are strongly encouraged to purchase virtual goods and features with micro-payments. Usually, MTX is the main source of revenue for free-to-play games (along with ads). But Battlefront already came with a $60 price tag and then launched with certain characters not readily available unless you played a certain number of hours or paid additional money for the chance to unlock characters. Naturally, this drew the ire of many gamers and negative publicity, causing EA to temporarily turn them off.
Marketing and Launch
So, announcing Jedi: Fallen Order, there were a lot of concerns that it would be more of the same from EA. This was put to rest at the beginning of the marketing campaign for Fallen Order at Star Wars Celebration in April 2019, stressing that Fallen Order would not have microtransactions. Paul Tassi from Forbes noted that EA’s strategy for Fallen Order was to essentially use anti-EA talking points and provide a solid single-player story, noting “they will gain more in good press and regained fans than they would if they managed to extract 10-20% more revenue from selling loot boxes full of different lightsaber colors or XP boosters.” (Forbes, 2019).
Another difference from Battlefront was that Fallen Order got a more robust marketing campaign pre and post-release that included merchandise launch during a Force Friday, a Marvel comic run, and books.
Pre-launch included several different trailers across platforms that gave more tidbits on the story and an almost 14-minute gameplay demo launched at EA Play. And, since Fallen Order was coming out a month away from Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, two of the characters (lead Cal Kestis and villain Second Sister) were included in the Force Friday release in October for Hasbro Black Series. Funko Pops of Cal and the Second Sister were also released on Triple Force Friday. Interviews with the creators were given at the beginning of the marketing campaign where new lore was provided, like the new Junkyard planet at the beginning of the game, Bracca. Also, in September, Marvel Comics released the first issue in their prequel miniseries leading up to Fallen Order’s release: Jedi Fallen Order Dark Temple which gave backstory to Eno Cordova, Cere Junda and the Zeffo Temples the player encounters in the game. The run included five total issues, four that were released leading up to the November 15 launch date and the final issue released after launch.
EA also launched some special edition and bundle packs: one was a limited-edition version that included the game and a special The Art of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order cover. Another Black Series figure, the Purge Trooper, was included in a bundle with the game and separate as a Gamestop Exclusive. Unlike Battlefront II, Fallen Order enjoyed mostly positive reviews with both gameplay and story. Gamers and Star Wars fans praised the interweaving of gameplay with the discovery of lore. For example, Cal has the rare ability of psychometry that allows him (and the player) to see the history of objects and people through the force and giving the player useful hints and info on objects found in the game. Respawn was also smart in giving more attention to the backstory of Dathomir, understanding that there would be players who did not watch The Clone Wars and providing two new characters to canon: one a fallen Jedi and the other a Nightsister to give Cal and the player deeper understanding of a world that has become so important to Star Wars. The game did have its’ critics who felt that, once you got past the story, the gameplay was pretty limited overall. Spider-Man by Insomniac, which had come out the year prior, was still held on a pedestal of what a single-player game could be and that was always going to be tough to compete against.
Legacy (and the Future)
Where Battlefront II had initially disappointed in sales, Jedi: Fallen Order exceeded expectations. EA had projected to sell 6 – 8M copies by March 2020 but had already hit the 8M units sold by December 2019, proving that a great single-player game and story could be the driving force of success for EA Star Wars games. By the end of their next quarter in 2020, they had passed the 10M units sold and there was a leaked rumor that EA had canceled an intended Battlefront II spin-off game, while Respawn was moving ahead with a Fallen Order sequel.
On the merchandise front, Hasbro would continue to release a few more Black Series figures in 2020, including another version of their popular Purge Trooper, this one with an Electrostaff, and the Biker Scout with an electrobaton, both Gamestop Exclusives.
For the Jedi Fallen Order franchise (and it is now a franchise), it was an invaluable boost to launch alongside the final entry into The Skywalker Saga and the first Disney+ series The Mandalorian, making for a true Star Wars Holiday season full of content.
For the game design in general, more thought was put into new character design for a more mass-market appeal beyond gamers. The Second Sister and the Purge Trooper specifically provided the kind of sleek, non-personal coolness that Star Wars collectors eat up and BD-1 was another cute droid to put on shirts, mugs, and stationery. Battlefront II had one single Black Series figure, a Gamestop Exclusive Inferno Squad which was just a TIE Pilot mold with red stripes. Like Fallen Order, Battlefront also had prequel content in the form of a novel by Christie Golden that took place after the destruction of the first Death Star. Going forward if I had to take a guess, comics will be the main companion content pieces as it is easier to publish different variants in case there is an unexpected hit character (like the Tomb Guardian on the variant Dark Temple #1 issue which has increased significantly in value). And also, a five-issue comic series is easier to pull someone into reading versus a novel.
There has been nothing official on the plot or launch date for the Fallen Order sequel, though another leaked report has it launching Fall 2022. Given what I mentioned above, even though Star Wars won’t have a movie come out in theaters until 2023, there will still likely be a Star Wars series releasing around the same time (whether it is a fourth season of The Mandalorian or a new series). Lucasfilm found a way to market three separate Star Wars properties in tandem where it did not feel like too much so I expect that to be replicated with releases of games in the future, especially those focused on adding lore to the Star Wars Universe. Even though EA has a less than adequate track record of launching Star Wars games in the past, their partnership with Respawn has borne promising results, both creatively and business-wise and Star Wars Squadrons, their first-person space combat game, has by and large been a success. The future looks hopeful for Star Wars gaming.