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Star Wars: Galaxy in Turmoil, Intellectual Property, and Fair Use

Around two weeks ago, Frontwire Studios' Star Wars: Galaxy in Turmoil had its production shut down after Lucasfilm handed the developers a Cease & Desist on the grounds that it would take attention away from EA's Battlefront. For those that don't know, Galaxy in Turmoil was planned to be a fanmade and independently funded addition to the many Star Wars games that are out there. EA caught wind of this and asked Lucasfilm to shut it down, and legally, Lucasfilm had to oblige. Despite Frontwire arguing that it fell under Fair Use as a parody, the general consensus over at EA was that this claim was ludicrous and it went ignored. Frontwire is still developing the game as simply Galaxy in Turmoil, and all Star Wars assets will be removed from the final product. Now it's just going to seem like a game that's really, really like a Star Wars title but definitely isn't, you guys. No way.

The internet, in its usual, rational state, obviously responded with explosive rage and criticisms towards EA for being "money-grubbing" and "jealous" that they are incapable of producing a quality Star Wars game. I have seen some people actually claim that EA shut it down solely so that the fans wouldn't have a good Star Wars game, if you can believe that. I'll be the first to admit that EA is a terrible, greedy company that has no respect for the consumers and only want to make money. I cannot stand EA. But, unfortunately, I'm going to have to defend them here, because they are completely within their legal rights to shut this production down. EA isn't as nefarious a company as everyone seems to think they are. Sure, they care about only money and not the consumer, but they aren't trying to actively hinder the player's experience. EA doesn't want to create bad material, they just tend to half-heart their products so they can get some quick and easy cash out of it. They aren't a villain in a poorly-made Disney Channel spinoff of a popular Disney Movie; they are simply your uncle who is in the most successful get-rich-quick scheme of all time.

I don't think you can fathom how much EA paid Lucasfilm to have the rights to Star Wars assets. I really don't think you do. Probably a lot more than the Kickstarter budget that Galaxy in Turmoil was given. Star Wars intellectual property isn't fair game for anyone to pick up and use in their product. The rights have to be attained in a slow, expensive process. This is put in place for many reasons, the main being so that other companies don't rip assets for free and then make a profit off of someone else's intellectual property. Lucasfilm gave EA the right to use these properties and be able to make money off of them, and nobody else. EA paid a lot of money for those rights in the hopes that Battlefront would make more money and turn a profit for them. That's kind of how the use of intellectual property works. A lot of people that are angry that this game was given the axe, though, and are pointing the finger at the big-name companies that are just defending the intellectual properties they legally possess.

A lot of people are arguing that this is "bullying" because of the fact that Galaxy in Turmoil was going to be released for free on Steam. There are a few problems behind this kind of mindset, however. First, the game isn't a totally free endeavor. Sure, the release was going to be free, but it's being funded through Kickstarter, which means everybody else is paying for it. Frontwire is doing this so that they themselves don't turn a financial loss and can freely take Star Wars intellectual property without losing a dime. Other people's money is being used to create this project, not theirs. So, sure, it's technically "free," but is it really? On the other hand, EA's concerns that this game would take attention away from Battlefront is a pretty legitimate one. This game was intended to be a spiritual successor to Battlefront, even though Frontwire has no rights to that property. Frontwire doesn't have much of a concern about finances; they aren't turning a profit or a loss, so what is it to them if people decide to play Battlefront instead of Galaxy in Turmoil? EA, however, paid loads of money to attain the Star Wars IP, so there is an immense problem for them if Galaxy in Turmoil attracts more players than Battlefront (which it absolutely would, a small independent game beating out an EA titan is an indie fanboy's wet dream). Picture a game you bought on Steam for a pretty hefty price. Now picture your friend pirating it and telling you all about how great the game is and how much he's enjoying it. Wouldn't you feel angry that the product you paid for was acquired by your cheap friend for free? This is how EA feels, but on an exponentially higher scale.

The backlash to this decision, however, is immense and hilarious. I can't actually share any pictures of things I've found because they are riddled with swearing and censoring those beauties would just murder the effect, but essentially, people are complaining that Disney, EA, and Lucasfilm are all greedy and just want money. I don't understand how people tend to forget that gaming is, at heart, a business, and all of the video games you cherish are products. Sure, there are a lot of people who release games for free, but most of those are independently funded or funded through Kickstarter. Some people really do make games out of the goodness of their hearts and self-fund games that they release for free. But, as a whole, gaming is a business, with legal rights, intellectual properties, and other fun paperwork that's involved in a regular business. No matter how personal or great a game is to you, it was still created with the primary intent of making money. Unless your favorite game is a Click the Clown ripoff created in Game Maker 7 in about twelve seconds. If someone made you pay for that, it's time to sue.

The most baffling thing about this whole situation was that Frontwire tried to claim Fair Use on this product, calling it a "parody" and comparing it to a Weird Al song or an SNL sketch. The purpose of a parody is to imitate or emulate a particular property, usually in an exaggerated fashion, for comedic or critical effect (or both). From the looks of, well, anything, Galaxy in Turmoil is not intended to produce this. It just looks like another Star Wars game, albeit profoundly less professional-looking. It doesn't appear to be parodying Star Wars in any fashion, so this just looks like a really poor last-resort attempt by Frontwire to keep the use of the IP. Nobody was having any of their shenanigans, though, and EA just laughed off the claim, understandably so. Fair Use protects properties that take an already-existing product and shape it into something else or give it another meaning. Most YouTubers are protected by this sort of thing. To put this into perspective, take a YouTube sketch parodying The Force Awakens in some way, transforming the material and giving a new perspective. The sketch doesn't have to be any good or particularly funny, as long as there is some creativity put into the video and it's transformative. Adversely, picture the entirety of The Force Awakens uploaded to YouTube, but the speed of the video is altered by 1.1x. Although that example is profoundly more exaggerated than a Star Wars fangame, they are protected by Fair Use the exact same amount: None.

Fanmade games are basically doomed from the start. It doesn't matter if they're free, paid, or whatever. Intellectual properties that are paid for and have their rights securely held by a company are a death sentence to any indie developer that wants to create a spinoff on the cheap. If you own the rights to Star Wars itself, one of the most commercially valuable and milked properties of all time, wouldn't you want to hold onto that for dear life and wouldn't let anyone try to take that away from you. Say what you will and claim to be as generous as you like, but if you were making the all the money EA is making out of the Battlefront properties, you would be pretty upset if you saw someone was trying to capitalize on that success in their own modest way. This isn't a case of big corporations shutting down independent development for the sake of some sinister agenda, this is a company trying to hold on to the legal properties they paid more money for then you will ever see in your lifetime if you live to be 200 years old.

Galaxy in Turmoil is still being released on Steam for free, just without any Star Wars intellectual property.
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