COMMENT: Warner toons into games

But having grown from its roots in filmmaking and Bugs Bunny cartoons to the enormous media empire it is today, Warner Bros is a company with as many smart ideas as its carrot-chomping figurehead.

And its latest move into video games may just turn out to be the brightest of the lot.

Having tried once before to crack the games market, it is back with the clear intention of becoming one of the big boys. And who can blame it? An unprecedented number of viable formats and a console lifecycle on its way up present more than enough reasons to get involved in the industry, and when you combine this with a struggling home video market, it’s almost a no-brainer.

And it’s not just Warner taking notice. Fellow US media giant Viacom this week revealed a former Take 2 executive as its new head of games, just days after its MTV subsidiary announced its intentions to spend $500 million on development, having already acquired Guitar Hero developer Harmonix for $175 million.

Warner’s return will certainly raise eyebrows. It has a rich seam of licences which have been farmed out to all manner of games publishers. But now it’s clear that it wants them back.

What Warner will bring to the market could prove to be a breath of fresh air. It intends to scoop the rights for games just as it does for movies to gain a foothold in the market, a prospect that will have many studios vying for its attention – with the possible pay-off of being acquired and funded by Warner full-time. And let’s not rule out a move for a publisher either; Warner’s resources could very easily fund a swoop for a top ten player.

It has already begun to snap up key industry talent – and the prospect of getting in at the beginning of something big is one sure to have yet more marketing and sales execs honing their CVs to perfection. If Warner’s predictions are right, those few key start-up staff could be sitting within a billion dollar publisher in five years’ time.

As a publisher, Warner will take several years to get fully up to speed, but current powerhouses like EA and Activision have never had to square up to a presence this big. Warner has sent out its warning shot – now it must prove that this time around, it has the know-how to last the pace.

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