Join Date: Jan 2004
LucasArts: Or how to screw over developers and destroy them
Link here: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/20...s-the-monsters
(I thought this might be interesting for the Ahto crowd in general; move to Outlander if necessary)
It's a bit of long article, so I'll be nice enough to pick out the juicy parts. Do read it in full though.
Jim Ward was then the president of LucasArts, and his strategy involved a 'reboot' of the company's own IP - hence titles like The Force Unleashed and the aborted Indiana Jones project. Another was Star Wars: Battlefront 3, and LucasArts wanted Free Radical to develop it.
"They had good but very ambitious ideas about technology," says Doak. "And they seemed like nice people. We were fairly disappointed with where we were with Haze, and so even though we thought we didn't want to do work for hire as a principle, the fact that the work for hire was Star Wars did make a difference - it's not a bad one. It was also a fantastic tonic for the troops at Free Radical, because you don't have to go very far in development to find someone with Star Wars **** on their desk. It looked like a marriage made in heaven."
Internal forces at LucasArts had lost faith in Ward's 'reboot', not helped by new IPs like Fracture failing to make an impact, and on 4 February 2008 he left the company. "That was worrying," Doak continues, "but it didn't seem like it would be a bad thing. We still thought we'd done the right thing. And then we went from talking to people who were passionate about making games to talking to psychopaths who insisted on having an unpleasant lawyer in the room."
The appointment of Darrell Rodriguez as president of LucasArts was announced on April 2nd 2008. He wasn't the only new face. LucasArts was making sweeping changes as part of a new strategy, the first step of which was cutting their outgoings in half. Huge numbers of staff were fired, an entire layer of management was removed, and countless projects were canned. "For a long time we talked of LucasArts as the best relationship we'd ever had with a publisher," says Ellis. "Then in 2008 that disappeared, they were all either fired or left. Then there was a new guy called Darrell Rodriguez, who had been brought in to do a job and it was more to do with cost control than making any games. And the games that we were making for them were costly."
The conversations with LucasArts became incredible, wars fought from different perspectives, and an internal video lampooned the attitude Free Radical was facing. Funny as that is, it's gallows humour - the effect on the studio would soon become no laughing matter. Any ally Free Radical had, like LucasArts' own UK producer, soon exited. Battlefront 3's development remained ongoing, and despite talks over the release date Free Radical was delivering on milestones.
But LucasArts began to press hard on other, less quantifiable, issues. "Stalling tactics," says Graeme Norgate. "If a publisher wants to find something that is wrong with a milestone, it's very easy for them to do so as there are so many grey areas within a deliverable. If the contract says, 'Graphics for level X to be release quality,' who can say what's release quality? And there you have it."
"LucasArts hadn't paid us for six months," says Norgate "and were refusing to pass a milestone so we would limp along until the money finally ran out. They knew what they were doing, and six months of free work to pass on to Rebellion wasn't to be sniffed at." Part of the eventual agreement between LucasArts and Free Radical saw certain assets passed on to Rebellion Studios. For a time LucasArts was tempted by the thought of a hastily put together Battlefront 3, but nothing came of it. When presented with the allegations put forth by this investigation, LucasArts said simply that it does not comment on rumour and speculation.
"We had a lot of good people," says Doak. "We'd got ourselves into this situation where we had staffed up to fulfill these contracts. And LucasArts said to us, 'Well we've got rid of our people, you get rid of your people.' No, because I'm attached to my people. Some people who work for them did terrible things to us."
"In many ways it was a depressing farce talking to them," says Doak. "They had an agenda motivated by purely financial considerations. Their goal was to stop doing it. And it didn't matter that we had a contract that protected us. If we wanted to fight about it they were quite happy to fight about it, but it would be on their terms, on their turf, and we would lose not because we were wrong, but because... well, we wouldn't be able to ante up."
LucasArts wanted to find an exit, and the balance of power swung firmly in its favour. "What we found out in 2008 is that your contract is only worth as much as how far you can pursue it in court," says Steve Ellis. "Say the contract is, 'If publisher wants out, they have to pay X million pounds to developer.' Well, what if they don't? What are you going to do about it?"
LucasArts presented Free Radical with a choice. "The amount of time [court] would take was more than the money we had left," says Ellis. "So in practice the publisher wants out, and what they do is offer a fraction of that amount. And you either accept a smaller payment and hope to pull through one way or another, or you don't accept the payment and go out of business quite quickly." Free Radical had no choice at all.