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EA executive responds to shutdown of fan-made Star Wars game

Points out the publisher has a big exclusive license with Lucasarts

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

A top Electronic Arts executive gave an interview to Game Informer in which he acknowledged EA's awareness of "Galaxy In Turmoil," a fan project working off the canceled Star Wars: Battlefront 3, and obliquely referenced the exclusive licensing arrangement Lucasarts cited in shutting it down.

Patrick Soderlund, the senior executive overseeing EA's development, professed support for mod culture but drew a distinction between that and what Frontwire Studios, a fan collective of developers, were up to. That, he pointed out, was an original work using Star Wars' name, characters, canon and other symbols — all of it without a license.

To no one's surprise, Lucasfilm stepped in back in June and put an end to this use.

Fan-made works such as games and films pop up all the time, usually distributed over mod channels and YouTube for free. What set "Galaxy in Turmoil" apart was the fact it had a deal to be distributed over Steam. At the time, Frontwire's lead developer believed the project was a fair use of the Star Wars intellectual property because "Technically we'd be classified as a parody." He later backed off that claim.

EA pays an undisclosed but believed to be huge amount for an exclusive license to make and publish Star Wars video games (excepting the Lego series of games published by Warner Bros.). In November, it launched a reboot of Star Wars Battlefront and has rolled out two of four planned premium expansions for it already. A sequel also is in the works. "Galaxy in Turmoil," which was to be released free, would have competed with all of that.

"When it comes to something as big and well-known as Star Wars, there are so many other parts that come into play," Soderlund said to Game Informer. "What is considered canon? What can you do within the brand? It becomes very complicated. On top of that, between Disney and EA is a substantial business deal where one partner has paid the other a lot of money to gain exclusivity. Without knowing details of exactly what happened, that's kind of how I look at it in general."

Officially, Lucasfilm told Frontwire Studios, a fan collective of developers, to stop developing their game with assets based on anything from Star Wars. But when Frontwire related a conversation it had with the owner of the Star Wars franchise about three weeks ago, the license Lucasfilm had with EA was said to be the breaking point.

Soderlund either didn't say, or wasn't asked what, if anything EA said to Lucasfilm after "Galaxy in Turmoil" came to light in early June. Frontwire Studios' head said he asked for and received a phone conference with Lucasarts in which the arrangement with EA was said to be the nonstarter that brought in Lucasarts to put its foot down.

"Galaxy in Turmoil" will proceed as a generic science-fiction shooter, without using anything from the Star Wars universe, its makers said. They plan to develop a multiplayer shooter evoking the gameplay of the first Battlefront series, including matches supporting up to 64 players, and then release it all for free over Steam.

Soderlund recalled his own start in development, noting that "Battlefield 1942 came about because we were playing a lot of Doom at the time." Modders' passion "should not be chilled by any company," he said. The difference is "Galaxy in Turmoil" was not a mod, but a work from scratch.