The development team working to bring to life a game based on the canceled Star Wars: Battlefront 3 says it has a publishing agreement with Steam, despite what would seem to be obvious concerns that rights-holders at Disney and/or Electronic Arts would notice and shut the whole thing down.
The game, called Galaxy in Turmoil, will launch for free over Steam said Tampa, Fla.-based Frontwire Studios, the developers behind the release. A launch date was not given. Frontwire's president, Tony Romanelli, told Polygon they had sought advice from two different law firms about the risk involved in their project and are reasonably sure they have a work that is permissible under fair use provisions of U.S. law.
That is mainly because Galaxy in Turmoil will not be sold and its developers have not raised any money to cover its cost of development. "Technically we'd be classified as a parody," Romanelli told Polygon. His team, which numbers about 50 volunteers from all over the world, all work full-time day jobs elsewhere and build Galaxy in Turmoil in their spare time, he said.
Romanelli said that Disney has not sent the dreaded cease-and-desist letter to any fan-created Star Wars work since it took over ownership it in late 2012 (Polygon is unable to completely verify that, but it appears to be substantially accurate at least). What he and his comrades are banking on is a grass-roots support large enough that, if lawyers were to step in, the disappointment would be so great as to alienate large numbers of Star Wars fans at a time when Disney is trying to herd them to theaters for films like Rogue One.
"It's not a good time for them to want to go and do something that could affect their community," reasoned Romanelli, who acknowledged Frontwire has no permission or consent from anyone holding rights to Star Wars or the making of its video games.
Romanelli confirmed that Galaxy in Turmoil will use vehicles, characters and concepts from the Star Wars Universe, even if it won't use the film franchise's music or have "Star Wars" in its title. A trailer playing on Galaxy in Turmoil's official site does use John Williams' score; Romanelli said that trailer is in the process of being replaced by a more current work-in-progress reel.
Distribution through Steam, therefore, is important because of the larger numbers the game can reach. However, Romanelli noted that getting listed in the digital marketplace, even with a free game, was impossible through Steam Greenlight, which requires developers to own or have declared rights to all of the intellectual property used in their games. Romanelli said he reached out to an unnamed Steam representative and, after a short conversation, was given assurances that Galaxy in Turmoil could be distributed.
Polygon reached out to a Valve representative for comment earlier this afternoon. No reply was received at the time of publication.
As for the game itself, Romanelli insisted that it does not use any assets or code from any Star Wars: Battlefront 3 builds that have leaked out, following the game's abrupt and inexplicable cancellation in 2008. These builds were made by the defunct Free Radical Designs, which was bought by Crytek, and may be owned by Crytek or its spinoff, Dambuster Studios, now owned by Deep Silver. Either way, Romanelli said none of it is present in Galaxy in Turmoil going forward, and that prior materials had used Battlefront 3 assets only as placeholders.
"Tomorrow, you could wake up and find out everything is for naught."
Galaxy in Turmoil is being built in Unreal Engine 4, Romanelli said — which, of course, is offered free to developers, with royalty terms for profit-generating work.
"People have been expressed their concern as of late, saying they expect us to get a cease and desist [letter] from Disney. I'll be honest — I've had mild concerns myself from time to time," Romanelli said in a statement announcing the Steam deal. "However, Valve clearly lacks that same concern. By agreeing to publish Galaxy in Turmoil, Valve is assisting us in growing and ensuring the longevity of the Galaxy in Turmoil project and community as a whole."
Romanelli could not give a launch date for Galaxy in Turmoil, but said he expected in six to nine months a public beta will be offered. Galaxy in Turmoil, though a from-scratch game, will feature the multiplayer types that distinguished the first two Battlefronts, Romanelli said, including Conquest, Instant Action, ground-to-space combat and, importantly, a single-player campaign, which Electronic Arts' current Battlefront noticeably lacks.
Still, Romanelli and his cohort understand that if a large corporation wanted to wipe out everything they've done, they would have little means of stopping it. "We could fight it, and Disney would have to outlast us, legal-fee wise," Romanelli said. "I'm sure they can. Every time we interview people to bring them in, we tell them 'Tomorrow, you could wake up and find out everything is for naught.'"
That has formed a bond among the developers, Romanelli said, who consider one another friends; the work they are doing for Galaxy in Turmoil is mainly a labor of love, but also an opportunity to showcase game design skills that perhaps could lead to work for the studio or its members on something else. The company's website said it is also working on a mobile title and "a brand-new AAA game that has yet to be announced."
Star Wars: Battlefront 3 was to have been the successor to the very popular Star Wars: Battlefront 2, which launched in 2005. In 2012, a Free Radical developer said the game was in QA testing when LucasArts ordered its termination, which he blamed on LucasArts' lack of commitment to a proper marketing budget.