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A galaxy far, far away… Why Star Wars: Hunters took six years to hit the target

Upon the games release, we get the inside story on the long awaited game from Zynga’s executive vice president Yaron Leyvand
A galaxy far, far away… Why Star Wars: Hunters took six years to hit the target
  • Star Wars: Hunters was initially heard of in 2018 then soft launched in 2021 the game has now finally made it to global launch six years later
  • This is the first game from Zynga to be developed for Nintendo Switch alongside mobile devices

Games giant Zynga, known for its extended catalogue of mobile games, are no stranger to working with big IP names, from the wizarding world of Harry Potter to Game of Thrones' Westeros. 

So, in 2018, news broke that Zynga had entered a partnership with Disney to create a mobile Star Wars game, it seemed that a hit was cards. And when Zynga charged its subsidiary NaturalMotion, which it acquired back in 2014 for $527 million, with developing the game, it felt like success was in the bag.

But it hasn’t always been plain sailing for NaturalMotion under Zynga’s tenure. While the NaturalMotion team had had - and continues to enjoy - great racing success via its CSR franchise, Zynga and NaturalMotions first major title, action strategy Dawn of Titans would soon head off the rails.

In 2017, Zynga closed NatrualMotion’s Oxford office, resulting in staff being either laid off or moving to other studios in Brighton and London, as Zynga wound down its commercial technology licensing business.

Meanwhile Dawn of Titans would spend a tortuous 21 months in soft launch as its Zynga paymasters tweaked and perfected. However, as the game cooked and overcooked, the game market moved on.

Subsequently, in September 2021, despite all the time, effort and money the game was shuttered.

The big reveal

But always looking forward, and with the responsibility of building Star Wars: Hunters on the NaturalMotion team, work continued. Zynga’s executive vice president Yaron Leyvand picks up the story.

“Star Wars: Hunters was and is a labour of love by an international team across our studios in Brighton, London, and Austin. During development, the team evolved as they continued to add and expand content in the game," he says.

At one point the company had as many as 300 staff working on the game, PocketGamer.biz understands.

It was ready to break cover at Nintendo Direct in 2021, where the first official teaser was shown. The reveal made Star Wars: Hunters the first game from Zynga to be developed for Nintendo Switch alongside mobile.

“We’ve always been committed to bringing this game to Star Wars fans around the globe.”
Yaron Leyvand

The big wait

However, while the game was expected to launch later that same year; a global launch didn’t happen.

Instead, Hunters was soft launched across Android devices in New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and Zynga announced in 2022 that the full release would be delayed until 2023. 

Many wondered if the game would make it to a global launch, but as Leyvand told us, "we’ve always been committed to bringing this game to Star Wars fans around the globe".

With years in soft launch, the team was able to expand the game significantly from its initial announcement.

“We saw great engagement and input from players in our soft launch phase and worked to incorporate that into the version you see now”, says Leyvand.

He adds that soft launch phase proved invaluable for the NaturalMotion team to “introduce new gameplay modes, characters, and mechanics that truly make Star Wars: Hunters a best-in-class competitive arena shooter".

Going global

And it’s finally here. Despite fan fears, Star Wars: Hunters launched globally yesterday, on June 4th, 2024.

Not only had the game survived what appeared to be a rocky and prolonged development, but it launched cross-platform. It represents “a huge step forward for Zynga as our first cross-platform competitive shooter,” according to Leyvand.

He notes that the game's cross-platform capabilities are a standout feature.

"With the ability to jump back and forth between the Nintendo Switch and mobile versions seamlessly and with crossplay functionality, the game is every bit as fun and competitive no matter which platform you’re on," he explains.

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However, the Nintendo Switch was released back in 2017, meaning it's coming toward the end of its cycle, with rumours already floating that a new Switch could be on the market as early as Q1 2025.

Then there’s the mobile market, which moves incredibly fast and has faced numerous challenges for the last couple of years. Has Star Wars: Hunters - like Dawn of Titans before it - spent too long in gestation?

Leyvand teases that the team has "a tremendous amount of exciting updates that we want to bring to players and fans in the future".

So, could there be a possibility that the team will bring the game over to the next-generation Switch and other formats whenever they land? 

In a galaxy far away

Working with a big-name IP is always a lot of pressure because it comes with a fan base with high expectations, and companies as high profile as Lucasfilm and Disney bring with them their own expectations.

Nonetheless Leyvand claims that team and right-holders worked “hand-in-hand” on Hunters and were “incredibly supportive throughout the entire process”.

"It’s great to have LucasFilm's expertise as a resource to ensure we can both innovate on our vision while also getting valuable feedback on how our game fits into the overall Star Wars universe," he says.

Star Wars: Hunters is available now on iOS, Android, and Nintendo Switch. With Star Wars Acolyte on Disney Plus releasing at the same time, there may be even more reason for franchise fans to download the game. Time will tell if the development period, delays and extended soft launch given to Star Wars: Hunters ultimately pays off.