INTERVIEW: Spencer Crossley

Ben Parfitt
INTERVIEW: Spencer Crossley

It’s coming up to three years for the Warner UK games team. Are you happy with the progress so far?

We always strive to do better, which is why Warner Bros. is one of the largest entertainment companies in the world, and to maintain that position you need to continually improve.

Considering there were only two UK employees in March 2008, we’re extremely happy with how the team has grown into one of the strongest in the UK, which has been helped by being able to integrate into a multi-billion dollar operation.

At the same time, our drive to become a major UK publisher is very much on track with many notable commercial successes to-date – a fact recognised by our peers, retail partners and consumers.

In Chart-Track’s publisher rankings, you were No.13 in 2010. How long until you crack the Top 10? What do you need to do to get there?

Chart-Track is a great barometer but, in my opinion, for more the mature publishers. I’m more focused with profitability, which WBIE UK has experienced since inception. To achieve the top 10 you need consistently good, ground-breaking and innovative product, which in 2011 we have in abundance.

Retail has been under a lot of pressure lately. What’s your view on how the market has performed?

The market has been ‘challenging’, with certain platforms massively under performing in ratio to their install bases.
However, the PS3 and Xbox 360 have been in-line with or exceeded market expectations, which is great news for the industry overall – and more importantly for WBIE
as our 2011 slate is indicative of their growth.

It has obviously helped that our key selling point is that we have extremely successful and well established divisions within the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group that share the same customer base, allowing us as ‘one company’ to execute multi-product promotional campaigns.

Is there a need for Warner Games to build its own new and original IPs to grow the business?

Sitting within an organisation which has arguably the largest portfolio of entertainment intellectual property in the world means it’s not a real issue. However, we fully realise that ‘video game own IP’ is one of the instrumental pillars of success. Hence the reason we acquired various ‘own’ IP through acquisitions of our development studios, along with developing our own in the critically-acclaimed Scribblenauts.

Last time we talked you said Warner’s real strength was its cross-media muscle. How has this approach panned out?

Without doubt our USP, compared to our traditional games publisher competitors, is our cross-divisional depth, breadth and strength.

We’ve engaged in a number of successful campaigns, with a classic example being the Harry Potter franchise initiative with Tesco.

The latest phase of this has seen a fabulous in-store display which has featured cross-divisional and third-party licensed products, including LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4, Harry Potter DVD/Blu Ray box sets, and Harry Potter toys from LEGO and Tomy, across 150 key Tesco stores. This ran alongside a competition with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

You had your first No.1 last year – and LEGO Harry Potter has just kept selling.

We’re extremely happy with the results to date of LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4, and particularly pleased how certain platforms that have under performed from a market perspective have achieved great results, which shows that a quality game will sell despite general market conditions. LEGO titles with the right strategy will continually sell.

Does it help that it’s the best rated of all the Harry Potter games? Do review scores even matter to its target audience?

Without doubt, TT Games simply keep surpassing their previously unbelievably high standards. The game, irrelevant of the demographic, is a truly great video game, a fact which has been recognised by the gaming press and gamers of all ages and abilities. LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is by far the biggest and best LEGO game to-date and I do feel the review scores simply reiterate this and provide even more credibility, whilst adding to the value of the wider LEGO video game franchise.

What ways have you been able to tap into the recent Pottermania?

Just being simply part of the world’s No.1 entertainment brand, associated with the biggest UK movie box office opening weekend of all time, means that we have been able to take advantage at retail of the phenomenon which is Harry Potter.

In that time saw a huge volume uplift in sales in the two weeks prior to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 releasing. The following weeks leading up to Christmas then saw some of the best sales we’ve seen since the original release.

And what will be your second No.1?

Take your pick… 2011 is our ‘coming of age’ where our overall strategy including acquisitions has come to fruition with releases from hit franchises such as Mortal Kombat, F.E.A.R. and Batman.

Speaking of which, Arkham City is one of your biggest 2011 games. What are your expectations?

Simply to build on a marvellous franchise. The game looks amazing and with its new feature set it will become a truly mass-market release. It’s an absolute pleasure working with Rocksteady Studios and their world-class professionalism and passion to creating the highest quality game is second to none.

Are you happy with Super Scribblenauts’ performance so far? Will we see more from the series?

Considering the DS’ decline, we are extremely happy with this new IP. We’ve sold more in the first eight weeks than we did on the original release over the same time period. It is so satisfying to be behind one of the most innovative and unique IPs of the last few years, and it will play a pivotal role in our publishing plans for years to come.

Warner’s released one LOTR game last year and another is due next year – is this franchise still relevant?

The Lord Of The Rings is as relevant as ever. Turbine’s The Lord of the Rings Online has been very successful since adopting a free-to-play model. And with The Hobbit movie on the horizon, excitement for the franchise is just as strong as it’s ever been.

Lastly, what are the highlights for the year ahead?

2011 going to be a phenomenal year for WBIE. Every title is a highlight for us and the sum of all those parts is a consistently strong release schedule throughout the year, culminating in the eagerly-awaited sequel to the BAFTA Game of the Year.

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