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Warner Interactive Aims for Better Film-Game Synergy

19 Jul, 2004 By: John Gaudiosi

Despite recent Hollywood-licensed video game successes like Electronic Arts' Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Activision's Spider-Man 2 and Shrek 2 and Vivendi Universal Games' Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, some consumers still perceive movie-based games as inferior products, according to Jason Hall, SVP, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (WBIE).

Hall hopes to change that over the next 18 to 24 months through a new policy that will require Warner Bros. and the licensee game publishers to up the ante in both the access to movie assets and an improved gaming experience.

The new policy, effective with game deals on new products (it does not include any previous deals, so many games shipping over the next 18 months will not be affected), contractually requires the game publisher and WBIE to sit down and talk about what went wrong, should a Hollywood-licensed game earn an aggregate review score of below 70 on Web sites like GameRankings.com (which tallies hundreds of Web and print game reviews for each title shipped).

“It's a two-way street,” Hall said. “There are a number of things we have to do on our end to ensure the quality of licensed games meets our standards. If Warner Bros. didn't deliver the script in time, then the royalty penalty won't be implemented. It will be done on a case-by-case basis.”

He said it's important for the future of Hollywood studios that all games that ship with a movie brand have the same type of quality as a “Mario” or “Half-Life” game. Warner Bros. is now working closely with its licensees to ensure that games have a full 18- to 24-month production schedule. When a licensed game is rushed out in nine to 10 months, it shows, and gamers feel burned.

“Warner Bros. can set an example in the industry and take responsibility for all the licensed games we approve,” Hall said.

“For the big film franchises, which can sustain multiple games over many years, like “James Bond,” quality constraint is a good idea because it brings more value to everyone in the food chain,” said John Taylor, video game analyst, Arcadia Research.

Over the past six months, Hall has been instrumental in bringing the video game industry to the forefront at Warner Bros. He said he's made great strides in establishing closer communication between the games, animation, TV, movie and home video groups and that a lot of barriers have been lifted. But he added that six months is not enough to fix everything; that will take time.

“We're participating in theatrical production meetings, animation production meetings and TV meetings,” Hall said. “We're talking about doing things that have never been done before.”

In addition to improving the quality of WBIE's games, Hall said he's looking at developing original games within the company. An original game that WBIE creates might be spun off to a straight-to-DVD release or become a full theatrical release, he said. In addition, WBIE will work with theatrical and home video to see if an unproven concept might be better suited for a game first, he said.

Hall currently has a team of 28 working internally at WBIE, overseeing externally developed games and maintaining relationships with game publishers who have licensed Warner Bros. properties.

“As we look for developers to produce premium licensed games, and given the current state of market consolidation within the games industry, it might make sense for us to acquire a developer to work on our top games in the future,” Hall said.

Hall also said he has the freedom to pursue deals with established game publishers, as well as seek out independent developers and deal directly with them, should their passion for the property seem a better fit.

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