Is Monkey Island dead?

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The question about the future of the most beloved adventure game series was first asked back at around 2002. Escape from Monkey Island had come out a couple of years before and despite having sold pretty well, LucasArts had kept quiet about any new games in the series. Not only that, it was the time of greatest relevance for Star Wars Episodes I-III wich LucasArts had to accommodate with a high amount of SW titles developed by them and other companies working under their banner. The writing seemed to be on the wall around 2004 when the remaining LucasArts adventure game developers left to form TellTale and LucasArts permanently halted the development of the sequels to their 1995 post-apocalyptic biker adventure Full Throttle and the cartoony Steve Purcell cop duo Sam & Max.

These developments were the result of serious changes in the PC gaming scene that took place around the late 90s. Sierra, LucasArts’ biggest competitor on the adventure gaming front, headed into financial trouble and turned to game distribution only (before folding pretty much completely after the Universal buy-out in 2008). This, LucasArts’ disinterest in the adventure games and smaller developers becoming scarce and/or unpopular with the big video-game distribution houses put adventure games under a rock for the first half of the ’00s.

Around this time, major debate was going on as to the reason Monkey Island had been seemingly left hung to dry. While Star Wars was partially to blame, the fact of the matter was that post-2004, no-one was left at LucasArts that would have pushed for a new Monkey Island game to be developed (even as an outsourced project). There were the optimists like myself, who kept on hoping that the day would come when Monkey Island 5 would finally be announced. Amongst the less sane half of this optimist crowd were the ardent Gilbertists, who believed the series creator Ron Gilbert (who left the company already back in 1993) would swoop in, buy the Monkey Island IP and make the mythical Monkey Island 3a, retconning the last two games of the series. This in spite of the fact that Gilbert himself admitted there was no way for him to acquire the licence.

I held out hope for the more realistic of option of LucasArts realising they were sitting on gold and finally getting out of their SW exclusivity mentality to jump on it. And it finally happened, thanks to a man named Darrell Rodriguez who became the President of LucasArts in 2008. The next year, they announced The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition and a new Monkey Island game developed by TellTale, Tales of Monkey Island. And the franchise was saved…

… I thought. Despite SMI:SE selling well and the positive reception of the fifth instalment, for some reason the Monkey Island, again, ran out of steam too quickly. And this, I would attribute to the fact that the very people on whom the franchise’s success relied on betrayed it: the fans. Like a chump, I assumed everyone was gonna be on board and excited for the new Monkey Island game. However, it seems years of waiting had embittered fans and Tales was the target of a lot of nitpicky and pointless criticism. We finally had the game everyone had waited for and suddenly the fans were tearing it up. I noticed something quite similar happen with TellTale’s Back to the Future game not long after. It was nearly enough to make me want to turn in my optimist hat.

Monkey Island 2: Special Edition also came and went and Mr. Rodriguez also quit his job that very same year. Just as quickly as Monkey Island seemed to have been coming back, it was under the rock again. One of LucasArts’ most popular IPs wasn’t enough to revive the adventure game genre. Ironically, that effort came from Tim Schafer (who had not even worked on a Monkey Island game since 1992) and his adventure game project which popularised the crowd funding route.

LucasArtsGrimFAnd then came the big one. Earlier this year, LucasArts bit the big one after George Lucas sold all his movie assets and his studio to Disney. The Disney buy-out was, once again, great news for the Star Wars crowd, thanks to the announcement of a new Star Wars movie in 2015 but bad news for the revival of the Monkey Island name. LucasArts was shut down. The outcome was not surprising in and of itself. Disney has always been about outsourcing the development of its games. But definitely, for MI fans thirsting for either a remake of the third game, The Curse of Monkey Island, or any new games in the series, this seemed like a slap in the face.

So the question stands: Is Monkey Island dead? LucasArts is technically still around, though only as the holder of the LucasArts owned properties. It would not be out of question that Disney would hire TellTale or someone else to make another Monkey Island game. However, it would seem very unlikely to me given Disney is the holder of another big Pirate(s of the Caribbean) franchise. For now, however, they haven’t shown any interest in reviving Monkey Island in any capacity and that definitely worries me.

LucasArts’ classic titles are under a rock right now anyway. It seems LucasArts’ division in Singapore was actually working on a remake of Day of the Tentacle before the studio shut down all game development. The only classic LucasArts adventure games out on download services are the Special Editions of the first two Monkey Island games. Even GOG.com hasn’t managed to penetrate LucasArts decision-making, despite Grim Fandango being consistently their most requested game for download. And the Disney buy-out hasn’t changed the situation it seems.

So what about the possibility of someone buying the Monkey Island IP? LucasArts never seemed too keen on letting go of the franchise even back when they weren’t really doing anything with it. This also begs the question, if a fanboy would offer an insane sum for the series, would Disney bite? Seems unlikely and Disney hasn’t shown any interest in selling the franchise off. The answer is as it was between 2004 and 2009: Practically yes but technically no. An IP is dead for as long as no-one is doing anything with it, but right now, we have no idea what plans, if any, does Disney have for the IPs owned by LucasArts. Sadly, the best MI fans can do is hope. Hope for one of the following:

  1. Disney starts re-releasing LucasArts titles though GOG and other services, thus regenerating interest for the series.
  2. Disney commissions TellTale (or someone else) to make another game.
  3. Disney does a deal with some interested party or other who is willing to purchase the IP.
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