The gaming industry is starting to see a decline in game sales that had, until recently, been increasing steadily during the pandemic. However, Newzoo, the global game data, and insights firm, recently published its 2022 Global Games Market Report. It turns out that a lot of people are still gaming. Nearly 3.2B people will play games in 2022, spending a combined total of $196.8B.
I go into extensive detail about the marketing campaign for Fallen Order here, but the first game came out during a massive year for Star Wars. Jedi: Fallen Order released on November 19, 2019. It was a week after the premiere of the first season of The Mandalorian (which introduced Baby Yoda) and a month before Rise of Skywalker, the end of the Skywalker Saga of nine films, released in December.
These three releases were significant for the franchise and have since had different journeys these past three years. All three were successful financially (The Mandalorian in viewership). However, only The Mandalorian and Jedi: Fallen Order had the critical acclaim to match, which is why The Mandalorian and other content like The Bad Batch are setting up things that will connect to the final Skywalker Saga film.
For Jedi: Fallen Order, there are other indicators of Lucasfilm’s value in this gaming franchise. The sequel Jedi: Survivor has no official release date, but Lucasfilm has already started the marketing campaign. The teaser premiered during an otherwise muted gaming presence during Star Wars Celebration 2022. During Comic-Con International in July, Hasbro revealed a new Cal Kestis figure from Survivor, and even more recently, Lucasfilm publishing announced a tie-in novel and Art book.
Tie-in novels are not new for Star Wars canon games. Battlefront II had a novel tie-in with its story mode, and Star Wars: Hunters, an upcoming mobile game, will have a tie-in novel. Star Wars Hunters: Battle for the Arena will give backstory to the different fighters you can play in the game. The Battlefront II tie-in, Inferno Squad, was a prequel to the game’s events, so it mainly informed players of the characters’ motivations.
The Jedi: Survivor novel, Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars, will occur between the first and second game and follow Cal Kestis and the rest of the Stinger Mantis crew on an adventure. Like the novel for Battlefront II, reading the book is not essential to enjoying the game. However, unlike Inferno Squad, Battle Scars will connect the two Star Wars Jedi games, likely making it more of a complete story. The release date of Battle Scars is March 7, 2023, meaning that the game will not be too far behind (Inferno Squad came out four months before the game in 2017), leaving time for people to comb the book for hints at what might happen in the game.
Within Star Wars, Fallen Order’s popularity in storytelling seems second only to Knights of the Old Republic (the remake of which is experiencing a turbulent development). It is the third best-selling game behind LEGO: The Skywalker Saga and Star Wars Battlefront (2015). The NPD Group revealed the top 10 best-selling Star Wars games in the US from January 1995 through March 2021, which consists of LEGO Star Wars games and Battlefront Games. But the popularity of the Battlefront franchise overall has not stopped Lucasfilm from failing to release a Battlefront 3 game twice.
For the industry overall, mobile is queen. According to the Newzoo report, mobile growth drives global gaming growth and will generate revenues of $103.5B this year.
And Disney owns three top mobile IPs: Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney classic. Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes has been the best-performing Star Wars mobile game, generating over 98 percent of all revenue from the past five mobile games in the franchise. Hence, the elevation of the upcoming Zynga free-to-play game, Star Wars: Hunters.
However, Star Wars: Hunters combines the best of console and mobile gaming in several different ways. While it does not (and cannot) have the quality of a shooter game like Battlefront II, it looks to be at the top of the list for Star Wars mobile games.
Star Wars: Hunters takes place after the Galactic Civil War on the Outer Rim planet of Vespaara. Each player has unique skills and damage outputs that make them suitable for specific roles in gameplay. Players must pick three types of fighters (Damage, Support, and Tank) to build a winning team. Within the game, there are three game modes:
Huttball: Takes place in the main Arena, and you battle alongside your team to control the ball and score goals. The first team with five goals wins.
Control: This mode also takes place in the Arena. Working in a team, you must defeat your enemies and take control of the objective (a flag) in the center of the Arena.
Escort: The most Star Wars mode tests your team’s defense and attack skills as they work together to escort a payload safely through different terrains.
Star Wars: Hunters will also be available on a console (albeit a hybrid console), launching on Nintendo Switch.
The main thing missing with mobile for Star Wars is a story within the game. There are no cut scenes between battles in the Arena for Star Wars: Hunters, so most of the context for these characters will come from the novel. Then again, most people do not need backstory and canon context; they just want to play a fun game. And reviews for the beta released in late 2021 were relatively positive (the game entered soft launch in May 2022).
Perhaps Star Wars: Hunters can get closer to Fortnite in its merchandising strategy. Fortnite is also a three-mode game, but it is a console game similar to Roblox, where you can create worlds and battle arenas. There is a rumored open-world Star Wars game planned down the road, but a Fortnite-type Star Wars game could fill a hole in Lucasfilm Games for a ubiquitous match with a healthy merchandise line. If you have visited a store like Target, Game Stop, or a general toy store, you have seen Fortnite figures.
The characters of Star Wars: Hunters (left) look very similar aesthetically to Hasbro’s Fortnite line (right) | credit Lucasfilm Games and Epic Games
In addition to handling the Star Wars Black Series and The Vintage Collection line, Hasbro also handles Fortnite. And they can perfectly capture that type of animated style into figures, bringing a new merchandise line to Star Wars gaming (Fallen Order is under the Black Series line as the characters are less stylized). If Star Wars: Hunters is as successful as Galaxy of Heroes and Lucasfilm approaches monetization like Fortnite, it has the opportunity for a longer lifespan than the Jedi: Fallen Order franchise. Characters and locations from the Fallen Order franchise will and already have appeared in live-action, increasing its footprint. But, Hunters will have a broader audience appeal through mobile.
Next year will see two games on opposite ends of the spectrum in Disney’s portfolio: Jedi: Survivor, a narrative-driven sequel to the successful Jedi: Fallen Order, where the gameplay works in tandem with the story. And Star Wars: Hunter, a mobile-first game that will be a new entry to Lucasfilm games. Both can be massive hits for Lucasfilm, and both likely will in their own way.