With the upcoming May 16, 2002 release of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, the Lucasfilms licensing machine is gearing up for another assault on the pocketbooks of fans and collectors, creating another set of opportunities and merchandising issues for pop culture retailers. Games have been among the more successful products in pop culture stores, with a longstanding history before the release of Episode I. There's currently an interesting division of the game licenses, with Wizards of the Coast holding the license for RPGs and miniatures and Decipher holding the CCG license. This raises the question -- Is a behind the scenes battle taking place for the Episode II game licenses?
Over the last couple of years, WotC has become a Star Wars licensing powerhouse. It was granted the Star Wars RPG license formerly held by West End Games in 1999. In 2000, it bought the Star Wars Fan Club, which it currently operates, and Star Wars Insider, the official Star Wars fan magazine. In addition, WotC will be running Star Wars Celebration II, the official Star Wars convention scheduled for May 3-5, 2002 in Indianapolis as part of its fan club activities. It also operates the fan club online store. WotC also began publishing Star Wars Gamer magazine in November 2000 under license from Lucasfilms. And of course, WotC is a division of Hasbro, the primary toy licensee for Star Wars toys.
Decipher plays a similar role for the Star Trek property, operating the Star Trek fan club, producing the Star Trek RPG and CCG, and publishing the Star Trek Communicator magazine. This makes the Star Wars CCG license the lone exception to what otherwise would be a very neat division -- with Decipher the house of Star Trek and WotC of Star Wars. Lucasfilms' antipathy for the Star Trek property is well-known, so it would make sense if WotC were granted the Star Wars CCG license to line up the properties totally between the two companies.
There is no love lost between WotC and Decipher. WotC took a shot at the Star Trek RPG license last year, first purchasing Last Unicorn Games, which had held the license in the past, then attempting to secure the Star Trek RPG license. While WotC got Last Unicorn, Decipher got the Star Trek RPG license and hired a seven-person design staff from Last Unicorn (see 'Decipher Nabs Last Unicorn Developers').
Of course, there are at least two other plausible scenarios. First, things may continue as they are, with the licenses split between Decipher and WotC. Decipher has been a long-term client of Lucasfilms and has lengthy experience in producing and marketing the Star Wars CCG. Second, Decipher, which has shown an ability to run a large-scale fan club and produce RPGs, could be granted some or all of the Star Wars licenses currently held by Wizards of the Coast. As part of either of these scenarios, it's not inconceivable that WotC parent Hasbro could balk at increasing its guarantee to Lucasfilms beyond the mega-bucks its long-term toy license already requires. And from the recent Star Trek RPG experience, we know that Decipher is tough and savvy competitor in scraps of this sort.
With the release of the film barely six months away, we assume that an announcement will be coming soon.