Wizards of the Coast has announced that it has acquired an exclusive, multi-year, worldwide license for trading card games based on the entire Star Wars saga. This license had been held by Decipher for the last six years. The first Star Wars release will include content from Episode II and will be available in stores in April 2002. According to WotC's announcement, the game will be designed by Magic designer Richard Garfield. Presumably this work was done on a consulting basis, since Garfield left full-time work with the company last spring (see 'Magic Creator Steps Back').
The game will have some unique characteristics. First, it will be done in two versions, an easy-to-learn starter game for novices, and a more complex version of the same game for more advanced players. Second, the game will incorporate dice for conflict resolution.
Readers of ICv2 will not be shocked at this announcement; we reported in November that things were moving in this direction (see 'Star Wars Game Licenses: Will They Stay Split?' for a full analysis of the reasons why this move made sense). This lines up the Star Wars fan club, fan magazine, online store, official convention, Star Wars RPG, and Star Wars CCG at Hasbro subsidiary Wizards of the Coast.
Decipher CEO Warren Holland posted a q & a on the Decipher site to explain Decipher's position regarding the Star Wars license and to provide some information on how it would be handling the transition. It's clear from his remarks that Decipher didn't want to lose the license and worked hard to retain it. Holland said, 'I don't believe this decision is a very wise one on the part of Lucasfilm....Decipher offered Lucasfilm more money to continue this license than we've ever offered for any license in our history....It was more than George Lucas spent to make the original Star Wars movie and it was six times what we paid for Episode I.'
Holland speculated as to the reasons that Lucasfilm awarded the license to WotC. He said, '...it seems Hasbro used Pokemon as an example and convinced Lucasfilm that they could double the Star Wars sales and build it into this phenomenon and address a younger audience. We told Lucasfilm honestly that that was not going to happen.'
The Wizards game will use all new game mechanics, meaning that gamers will be starting over with the WotC game, and that there will be no new products supporting the old Decipher games. According to Holland, Lucasfilm had the right to license the Decipher mechanics for its new licensee but chose not to do so. Holland did not think this was a wise decision either. He said, 'There will now be a fourth Star Wars trading card game to come to market. A game that will be totally incompatible with any of our existing games. It also comes at a very weak time for the Star Wars license, so the logic of this move kind of escapes me....[W]e told Lucasfilm, and we have repeated this mantra for two years now, that moving this license would be disrespectful to their and our customers who have invested one quarter of a billion dollars into our Star Wars game.' According to Holland, Decipher will continue to support its existing Star Wars game activities as a 'private citizen' with player participation.
Holland also spoke of difficulties in the relationship with Lucasfilm over the past few years, dating the beginning of problems to Hasbro's acquisition of Wizards of the Coast. He listed a number of new product lines, including virtual cards and a Star Wars second edition, that were not approved by Lucasfilm, as well as a number of marketing and product initiatives that were not approved.
According to Holland, Decipher's expansion into the fan club business, RPGs, and its acquisition of the Lord of the Rings license amply insulate it from negative financial effects of losing the Star Wars license.