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Warner Expands Video Game Footprint

19 Dec, 2006 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Seeking to capitalize on internal global synergies and offset a stagnant DVD market, Warner Home Video and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (WBIE) have partnered for the second of two separate video game distribution deals in a week.

Under the guise of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, WHV and WBIE inked a distribution and sales agreement with publisher Codemasters Inc., slated to begin in April 2007.

On Dec. 15, WBIE announced a licensing and distribution deal with SCi Entertainment Group, parent of London-based video game publisher Eidos Interactive Ltd.

Through May 2008, WBHEG is scheduled to release both proprietary games and Codemasters titles, including Dirt: Colin McRae Off-Road, Overlord, Clive Barker's Jericho and Turning Point: Fall of Liberty, among others.

Codemasters, based in Southam, Warwickshire in the United Kingdom, other notable brands include TOCA Race Driver, LMA Manager, Brian Lara Cricket and Operation Flashpoint.

“This partnership allows the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group divisions to combine strengths to distribute Codemasters' games,” said Kevin Tsujihara, president, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group. “Employing the expertise of our gaming division and our home video distribution services, we will bring Codemasters' products to consumers within the ever-growing gaming marketplace.”

SCi's Edios properties include Tomb Raider, Hitman, Deus Ex, Championship Manager, Carmageddon, the “Conflict” series and Just Cause. The publisher is currently developing titles: Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, Crossfire, Battlestations: Midway, Chili Con Carnage and Highlander.

In conjunction with the deal, WBHEG parent, Warner Bros. Entertainment, made an investment in SCi representing 10.3% of the company's shares.

In a slight variation from the Codemasters' pact, WBHEG would provide Edios warehousing, logistics, merchandising and media buying services in the United States, while the London-based publisher continued to operate all other aspects of its U.S. operations, including manufacturing, sales, marketing and PR.

Eidos will develop games based on the comic book versions of Batman, Looney Tunes, select titles from the Hanna-Barbera catalog and TV properties “The OC,” “Loonatics Unleashed” and “Legion of Super Heroes.”

In addition, Eidos would develop largely handheld games for Looney Tunes characters Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Road Runner and Speedy Gonzales, among others.

The publisher plans create about 12 games based on popular Hanna-Barbera characters such as Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, Wacky Races, Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound.

John Quinn, EVP, worldwide supply chain management for WHV, said the home video unit had previously distributed video games based on the “Friends” TV show and was now involved primarily for sales and physical distribution, shipping and in-store merchandising.

“WBIE focuses more on the publishing of [video] games and we'll focus more on the distribution of those games,” said Quinn.

He said while the industry is ensnarled in a flat period on the video side, it was reasoned the studio's worldwide sales and distribution infrastructure would be suitable for ancillary products.

“Games are very complimentary to the businesses we are in,” said Quinn. “There is a significant overlap on the customer side and there are a lot of similarities in selling. It is a natural use of our resources to move into this space.”

He said the release of new game systems from Sony and Nintendo added to the spark in global video game interest.

“It is probably as exciting a time as it has ever been in gaming,” Quinn said.

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