It’s easy to think that Star Wars: Battlefront II is the sole result of Electronic Arts‘ work. That publisher taken the lead on developing and promoting the sci-fi shooter, which is available now on PC and consoles. But Lucasfilm is involved with everything.
“Yeah, that’s very much true,” Luasfilm brand boss Douglas Reilly told GamesBeat last week. “We have a games team here that I run, that meets with all of our partners, and particularly we spend a lot of time with EA, both on the marketing side and the production teams. We bring in Lucasfilm’s story team to help us shape and build the stories we’re telling, so they fit in the continuity of all the other things we’re doing with the Star Wars universe. So yes, we’re very hands-on.”
That involved strategy has the two companies spending a lot of time together.
“In general, we’ll have weekly meetings between the production teams and the marketing teams, with either EA in Redwood Shores or the individual teams in Stockholm and Montreal and Vancouver, wherever they have studios,” said Reilly. “We have weekly meetings. Then we regularly go and visit in person, probably once a quarter, to sit with them, play builds of the games, walk through progress and where we’re going in the future. We’re constantly talking, meeting, and engaging with them in a very collaborative way.”
During those meetings, Lucasfilm would spend time giving feedback on unfinished versions of the game, or it might try to plan out the future with EA.
“Sometimes it’s, hey, where are we going with postlaunch content? Or a game that we haven’t even announced yet,” said Reilly. “Sometimes it’s big strategic thinking and sometimes it’s all the way down to tactical — ‘hey, we need reference for this particular vehicle or model’ — that kind of conversation. It runs the gamut all the way from the most truly mundane to the highest levels of, what kind of stories do we tell and how do we want to tell them?”
As for Battlefront II, Reilly sees the collaboration as the proud result of Lucasfilm and EA’s relationship.
“We’ve come together to create something that I think is a very unique, authentic, broad experience that allows you to have a story campaign, play in multiple planets across multiple eras, with a huge set of heroes and other characters,” he said. “I think it’s a testament, actually, to our ability to work together toward that vision, when you see the end product.”
I spoke with Reilly over the phone last week. Here is the full transcript of our conversation:
GamesBeat: How do you view your jobs when it comes to working with licensing partners like Electronic Arts?
Douglas Reilly: Telling stories is a crucial part of what we do across all of the businesses here at Lucasfilm. We have our franchise team that gets together on a regular basis to coordinate our efforts. It’s important that we tell stories that feel organic and are connected across multiple experiences.
GamesBeat: You’re still very hands-on with the brand even though it is at EA, right?
Douglas Reilly: Yeah, that’s very much true. We have a games team here that I run, that meets with all of our partners, and particularly we spend a lot of time with EA, both on the marketing side and the production teams. We bring in Lucasfilm’s story team to help us shape and build the stories we’re telling, so they fit in the continuity of all the other things we’re doing with the Star Wars universe. So yes, we’re very hands on.
GamesBeat: It seems like that goes deeper than just how the story fits into the Star Wars universe. When it comes to something like keeping the universe intact, what are some things that Lucasfilm and EA have to work on that you think might surprise people to find out?
Douglas Reilly: When you talk about story, what was great about this particular project was, the team at Motive came to us with a story they were excited about telling, and were very invested in. They spent a lot of time immersing themselves in some of the other stories we’ve been telling since the acquisition. We worked together, the story team and the games team and the EA teams, to shape a story that was suited for the interactive space, but connected to other things we were doing across the properties. We’ve also turned the origin story for Inferno Squad, who you meet in Battlefront, into a book that was published earlier this year. And so I think the difference, maybe, is that we’re really trying to think about how these things tell stories across multiple experiences. If you play a game and you enjoy Iden Versio, there’s other opportunities for you to engage with that character, or parts of the universe, if that interests you.
GamesBeat: The day-to-day of that, is it mostly just thinking about the characters and the stories and how they fit together? Or is it more technical than that?
Douglas Reilly: It’s both. It is absolutely story and maintaining continuity. We also spend a lot of time making sure they have access to reference, so that models and vehicles and environments are accurate to what you would see in the films. And making sure that not just the story is authentic, but that the experiences you have feel like they inhabit the Star Wars universe, and are true to the experiences you see on the screen.
GamesBeat: You have a team like DICE working on the game. They’re in Sweden, or spread all across the world, really. How often do you speak with them? How does that work?
Douglas Reilly: In general we’ll have weekly meetings between the production teams and the marketing teams, with either EA in Redwood Shores or the individual teams in Stockholm and Montreal and Vancouver, wherever they have studios. We have weekly meetings. Then we regularly go and visit in person, probably once a quarter, to sit with them, play builds of the games, walk through progress and where we’re going in the future. We’re constantly talking, meeting, and engaging with them in a very collaborative way.
GamesBeat: What are those conversations like? What are you looking for when you’re making those calls and visits?
Douglas Reilly: It varies. Sometimes it’s tactical. What builds do we have to review? What things are new in the build? What issues do we see in a particular build? Sometimes it’s, hey, where are we going with post-launch content? Or a game that we haven’t even announced yet. Sometimes it’s big strategic thinking and sometimes it’s all the way down to tactical—hey, we need reference for this particular vehicle or model, that kind of conversation. It runs the gamut all the way from the most truly mundane to the highest levels of, what kind of stories do we tell and how do we want to tell them?
GamesBeat: In those situations, what are the complications that come up? You’re meeting every week. What are the things where everyone’s pulling their hair out? Where does tension come from, I guess? I’m sure everyone has their goals. DICE is trying to make a game and do one thing. Lucasfilm wants them to make the best game possible, but—where do people butt heads the most?
Douglas Reilly: You know, I don’t know that I would call it butting heads. I think the reality of it is that making games, especially on console, is hard. We’re trying to make these very big, very expensive, very immersive experiences, being built in some cases by three studios on two continents. It’s just that there’s a lot of moving pieces. It’s more of, the challenge of trying to make all of that come together sometimes just doesn’t go the way anybody would like, if it were left up to their best efforts, so to speak. But I think after five years of working with them, we’ve got a pretty good rhythm of how to work with each other, how to address those kinds of challenges when they come up in a way that’s productive and collaborative.
GamesBeat: Do you ever feel like—maybe helpless isn’t the right word, but you’re trying to get something done and that’s why you’re having these meetings, because you have a distinct vision as well and you want to be involved? Did you feel like you were able to get the point across to DICE, and you guys are on the same page?
Douglas Reilly: Yeah. I think the proof will be in the pudding when you play Battlefront. We’ve come together to create something that I think is a very unique, authentic, broad experience that allows you to have a story campaign, play in multiple planets across multiple eras, with a huge set of heroes and other characters. I think it’s a testament, actually, to our ability to work together toward that vision, when you see the end product.
GamesBeat: It does seem like, right now, the biggest reaction to the game, from a loud subsection of fans—they’re preoccupied with the business model and the progression systems. People don’t like that you can buy multiplayer advantages, unlocking weapons and heroes and perks or whatever. Does Lucasfilm get involved in those kinds of decisions with EA and DICE?
Douglas Reilly: We have input and they take feedback from us across the whole spectrum. We work together very much to understand how those systems work and what they’re trying to achieve, how they touch the brand, and how they affect the consumer experience. I think the challenge, and it’s one that everybody’s facing in this industry—running live services requires tuning and tweaking, and sometimes you don’t get things right the first try, once you put it in the hands of hundreds or thousands or millions of players. You continue to learn how they interact with the things you’ve made, and you run into things you have to adjust along the way. That’s the unfortunate reality of making games with a live service component.
GamesBeat: What’s Lucasfilm’s primary concern when it comes to something like that? Is it brand management? Is there something where canon comes into play as far as loot boxes, what’s in a loot box? Or are there other factors, where it’s just about maintaining happy consumers?
Douglas Reilly: I can’t think of anything that would be a continuity concern, as much as it is—we just want to make sure people are having a great Star Wars experience, at the end of the day. To the extent that those systems affect the quality of the experience, we’re always going to have a point of view about how they get implemented.
GamesBeat: That reminds me—I think I was talking to someone who works at DICE while seeing Battlefront II at E3. They mentioned they were going to try to do something like an Overwatch mode, where the heroes would have different abilities, you’d have team composition and the like, and then the heroes would also have their own cosmetic items that players could get. As far as I could tell, based on playing the game, they didn’t have that. Do you remember anything about that? Is that something that happened?
Douglas Reilly: I don’t remember any specific conversations about trying to match any Overwatch features. The reality of it is, we’re always going to be constantly evolving, in live services, the kinds of things we offer to players. Assuming it stays within continuity and it’s on brand, we’re always going to try to bring new experiences to fans as part of the live services, but I can’t comment specifically anything like that.
GamesBeat: Of course, of course. In that first skirmish, it was startling to be seeing so many Rebels. I don’t remember seeing that in any other Star Wars game. Were there a lot of conversations about how to portray that, how players would perceive being what is ostensibly a bad guy, killing the Rebels in a game for one of the first times?
Douglas Reilly: Obviously–this is one of the parts I think we’re most excited about, the opportunity to tell the story from the perspective of the Imperial side. It’s important to view this through the lens of, if you’re an Imperial in that universe, you don’t think of yourself as the bad guy. You think of the Rebellion as essentially terrorists trying to undo order in the galaxy. It was interesting to explore that in a way that felt like it was true to what it would be for an Imperial who didn’t view themselves as “the bad guy.” We spent a long time, between the Motive team and the story and games teams here, fleshing out what that meant and how that was going to be portrayed.
GamesBeat: Was that a balancing act, trying to figure out—I remember in Terminator 2, the Terminator turns out to be the good guy, so if you pay close attention he doesn’t actually kill anyone in the beginning of the movie. Was that ever a concern? We don’t want to make her seem like she’s so willing to kill so many people. Or were you confident that this is just how she would be, and players would come to accept her once they played through the entirety of the story?
Douglas Reilly: For us it was really more about portraying her as she really would be, if you viewed it from that perspective. It was important, one, not to make her overtly a bad guy. We wanted to create some—sympathy is probably not the right word, but at least you could empathize with her point of view, even if it’s not necessarily the right one at the end of the day? We were trying to tell something that felt like it was a true portrayal of what it would be like to be a special forces commando for the Empire.
GamesBeat: Speaking of the hero, Iden, she seems very cool. I’ve really enjoyed the missions I’ve spent with her. I love that there are so many women heroes in the Star Wars universe now. Was this another time where it was difficult to make it believable that she could rise through the ranks of what’s essentially a misogynist organization?
Douglas Reilly: That’s an interesting way of framing that question? I don’t know I would necessarily view the Empire as misogynist. What was interesting about it was just telling a story that was fresh and new. What if there was a woman who worked her way through the Imperial ranks? Her dad’s an admiral, so maybe she has a slight advantage over someone else who might have wanted to join the cause. It was an opportunity to tell an interesting story. Again, that was something that was very important to the writers on the EA side, to have this unique perspective. I think she helps bring that to the story.
GamesBeat: I get the sense that it really is about—no, she’s super-competent, everyone around her appreciates that, and that’s what they care about. That does come through.
Douglas Reilly: Once you get to know Iden, it’s not a surprise who she is, right?
GamesBeat: Right. I know the movie’s coming up. Does this story tie in, beyond the book that directly involves Inferno Squad—does it tie into any other stories from Chuck Wendig’s novels or anything like that?
Douglas Reilly: Specifically to the novels, no. Obviously the connection is to the book we have for Inferno Squad. Like everything, it connects in to the continuity and the timeline and the events that are either in the films or the books. But there isn’t an overt connection to specific other book, beyond the Inferno Squad novel.
GamesBeat: It has to be a long road. You worked with EA. You work with mobile studios. You have your own games. But this seems like the biggest Star Wars game yet. Does that feel like a huge milestone? We got our game out, now we can let the rest of Lucasfilm worry about the movie. Is that where you’re at?
Douglas Reilly: We’ve obviously lost a very exciting—a lot of people have spent the better part of the last two-plus years working on this, bringing it to life. We’re super proud of the end result. I don’t think there’s ever a moment in a world where live services exist that you get to put your feet up anymore on launch day and relax. Which is unfortunate. Obviously we’ll find time to have a celebration, but the reality of it is we go right back to work. We’ve been going back to work for weeks now on the first season drop of DLC and so on. We’re looking forward to continuing to grow the Battlefront product over the next couple years in the live service as well. So there’s no rest for the weary, in the current world.
GamesBeat: About live services, what is your big day-to-day concern right now? Is it just about finding the right balance that keeps the game interesting, keeps the game feeling like it’s vibrant and dynamic, where people can come back and there’s always something new to accomplish or do? And with the outcry from so many fans, are there aspects of the live services that you’re concerned about?
Douglas Reilly: Obviously there’s always that. You want to keep people engaged with content that’s meaningful and exciting and additive to the experience. We’re always looking to tie in to other things we’re doing in the franchise. As you know, we’re going to have some content related to Last Jedi, when it comes out in December, and then obviously we continue to look forward to bringing those kinds of experiences to Battlefront in live service as it makes sense for the game going forward. We’re really excited about the content that’s coming out around Last Jedi. I think people are really going to enjoy it.