A note: This editorial was run by Mixnmojo staff on March 3, 2004, the day it was announced that LucasArts had decided to cancel Sam & Max: Freelance Police.
LucasArts has made a gigantic mistake.
There, we've said it. Everyone else is already thinking it, and other people have probably already said it, but now we've said it too. The official Mixnmojo stance on Sam & Max 2 being cancelled is that LucasArts has seriously screwed up, just about as much as possible.
Production has stopped on the last original game --and the only game really-- anyone around here was genuinely interested in seeing. Cancelled. Why? From the sounds of it, the people in the Sales department spent the last three months winding themselves up about how impossible it would be for them to sell a quirky adventure game, eventually just snapped, and cancelled the title. Is that screwed up? Yes, that is screwed up.
LucasArts has made a lot of really bad moves in the last year. RTX Red Rock was allowed to ship. It tanked hard. Who really thought RTX would be marketable, would sell well, would really catch the attention of gamers? Full Throttle 2, despite a constant stream of negative to lukewarm receptions from magazines and fans, was allowed to live on in production far longer than anyone really wanted.
Armed & Dangerous, one of the few truly original gems LucasArts has dealt with in the last five or six years, was rushed out early by the suits, in hopes of grabbing some Christmas shoppers. This was decided despite Christmas being notorious for huge A-list titles like Lord of the Rings hogging the coverage and hype, and for mothers who know nothing about games being the ones doing the shopping. Not surprisingly, Armed & Dangerous had a poor holiday season. Who knows what might have happened if they'd let Planet Moon refine the game for a few months, and released A&D it in the nearly empty February, after everyone had exhausted their Christmas games and was looking for something new?
Recently, they shipped Wrath Unleashed. For more on Wrath, see RTX a few paragraphs up. And finally, today we receive word that Sam & Max Freelance Police has been axed.
Notice a trend here? Correct. Not one of the recent LucasArts bungles mentioned above contained the two magic words, Star Wars. If you give the suits at LucasArts a Star Wars game, they can sell it. Why? Because they don't have to try! No cleverness is needed. That's not to say it doesn't take any work, but for the most part you just need to get the screenshots out, buy a few ads on Gamespot, and tell the press "yep, it's basically like EA's The Two Towers game, but this time you play as characters from -- wait for it -- Star Wars!" WHOP, you've made the cover of EGM. (Of course it helps, but isn't essential, if the Star Wars game you're selling is actually good, like KOTOR)
LucasArts has more or less proven that they can sell the hell out of anything that says Star Wars on the box (again, because that takes no creativity and instead a few magic words, some money, and maybe a wave or two of the nostalgia wand, or possibly the soccer mom wand depending if it's a classic or prequel title), but more importantly they've proven that if they are handed anything without the Star Wars name to sell the game for them, they will just have absolutely no idea what to do.
Games that should be cancelled, or seriously retooled, end up shipping and doing poorly, or lingering in production for months draining company resources. Games that need more time are rushed out the door. And finally, when a game falls into their lap that has the gaming press of the Western world salivating like mad, they flip out and cancel it.
And let's be honest here. Even though it sounds a little insane if you look at it from the wrong perspective ("giant dog and rabbit who fight crime, what's the appeal in that?!"), LucasArts has no adventure game, short of making up Star Wars adventure games, that will ever be as marketable as Sam & Max. Not Monkey Island 5, not Day of the Tentacle 2. Even the Indiana Jones adventure game franchise has been muddled beyond recognition at this point. Sam & Max pack personality, edginess, and firearms in unmentionable places like no other LucasArts game series -- actually like no other game series at all, and they do it in a way that basically anybody can laugh at. There are very few people with any size sense of humor who, after hearing them utter just a few sentences, aren't sold on the quality of the characters and the humor. And on top of that, unlike basically any other sequel LucasArts could consider, Sam and Max have no back story, no possible way of alienating new players.
Sam and Max are weird, granted, but is there anybody out there who genuinely thinks they're less accessible than Wrath Unleashed? Less intriguing on a store shelf than RTX Red Rock? Yes, in fact, there is. The LucasArts sales department.
I can see where they're coming from, in a way. If every game without a Star Wars logo that came through your door ended up tanking, getting cancelled, or somehow cause you a huge amount of grief, you might be inclined to just kill the next one in line and get it over with. In a way, their behavior like that is understandable. However, it becomes entirely unacceptable when you remember, that's not their job! Their job is to actually think about things, figure out what's been going wrong, and how to fix it. Their job is to actually try, not to just throw the switch, or pass the title along 'till its out the door, and then attempt to absolve themselves of blame.
Today's an extremely sad day for LucasArts, and we hope they all know it. If they can't even figure that out, they're in far worse trouble than we could have imagined.
Want LucasArts to know what you think? For God's sake, don't start a petition! Tell them yourself! Email LucasArts PR, and let them know whats on your mind (in a constructive way, but don't hold back or anything)! Companies are pretty unlikely to un-cancel a game they've already given the axe, but they should at least know when they've made a mistake.