Zynga has cut a multiyear deal with Disney to make a future Star Wars game, giving the publisher access to one of the biggest licenses in the gaming industry.
As part of the non-exclusive licensing deal, Zynga will take over live operations for the existing mobile tower defense game Star Wars: Commander, a 2014 release. And Zynga’s NaturalMotion studio in the United Kingdom will develop future Star Wars titles, with an option for a second. That’s quite a victory for Zynga, which makes the likes of Zynga Poker, Words With Friends, and racing game CSR2. It’s not clear whether that is bad news for rival Electronic Arts, which makes Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes (a turn-based mobile team fighting game developed by EA Capital Games and published by EA in 2015).
Zynga CEO Frank Gibeau played a significant role in securing the Star Wars PC and console game license for Electronic Arts in 2013. He switched over to Zynga, becoming its CEO in March 2016, but he clearly still has close ties with Disney. And Disney has made a move to get out of internal production of games, and it is cutting deals with a variety of external developers in the mobile sector.
“Star Wars is one of the most iconic franchises in the world and has engaged generations of fans for decades. As game makers and moviegoers, we’re huge fans of Star Wars and are excited to create new experiences for players that bring this beloved brand to life,” said Gibeau in a statement. “We look forward to extending the reach of the Star Wars universe and developing a new mobile game that entertains players for years to come and has the potential to be a future forever franchise for Zynga.”
Research firm Sensor Tower estimates that App Store and Google Play users worldwide have spent more than $80 million in Star Wars: Commander to date, with about 60 percent of that coming from the United States. Star Wars: Commander was ranked No. 863 for global mobile game revenue in July across both stores. The game has been installed more than 32 million times since its 2014 release.
Zynga’s NaturalMotion studio is a good candidate to make the Star Wars games. It has made hardcore games like Dawn of Titans and CSR2. The racer has been a big hit that continues to generate a lot of revenues for Zynga on an ongoing basis. Zynga hopes to improve the performance of Star Wars: Commander, another game that Disney Interactive developed. NaturalMotion will also handle live operations for Star Wars: Commander.
Star Wars: Commander hasn’t been as big a hit as Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes. EA will continue to operate that game, but it’s not clear who will make the lion’s share of Star Wars mobile games in the future. As mentioned, Zynga’s license is non-exclusive.
Sensor Tower said Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes has grossed more than $640 million to date across both stores and was the No. 49 ranked mobile game by revenue last month. It has been installed more than 63 million times since launching in late 2015.
“The opportunity with Zynga is the latest step in our mobile games licensing strategy, which pairs Disney characters and stories with proven partners to create unique games for our fans,” said Kyle Laughlin, senior vice president of games and interactive experiences at Disney, in a statement. “Zynga’s expertise in developing successful games and running live services makes them an ideal partner and we look forward to further extending the Star Wars universe through these new experiences.”