It might be easy to dismiss the success of Warner Bros’ video games division.
Warner is an entertainment powerhouse with billion-dollar brands like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Batman. It can attract the biggest talent and spend significant sums of money to secure it. But that counts for nothing in video games.
Just ask Disney, or Paramount, or BBC, or Fox. These are four major entertainment businesses that have learnt the hard way that big brands and big budgets count for nothing in an industry as tricky as games.
Not even Warner has found it easy; there have been plenty of flops, poor movie tie-ins and several false dawns along the way.
But a few shrewd acquisitions, and the creation of a small but talented games team, have paid dividends, and last year Warner Bros emerged as the UK’s sixth largest games publisher.
2014 IN REVIEW
Not that last year got off to the best start.
Arkham Knight – the crown jewel in Warner’s line-up – suffered a significant delay until 2015, as did its ambitious action title Mad Max. That left the publisher with lesser-known Lord of the Rings spin-off Shadow of Mordor and a slate of LEGO titles to carry its 2014 ambitions.
Yet, despite the high-profile delays, Warner still delivered its best market share so far, accounting for more than
seven per cent of all boxed games sold last year in the UK.
The LEGO titles continued their relentless success, 10 years after LEGO Star Wars first launched.
In 2014, 42m was generated from the LEGO franchise thanks to three games – The LEGO Movie, LEGO The Hobbit and LEGO Batman 3. That’s more than 43 per cent up year-over-year.
For 2014, the LEGO games were the fourth most lucrative video game franchise behind FIFA, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto (all information courtesy of GfK Chart-Track).
Meanwhile, Shadow of Mordor was Warner Bros’ surprise package. Although the publisher will insist it was always quietly confident about its Middle-earth game, Lord of the Rings tie-ins (LEGO ones aside) had thus far been relatively niche successes.
Shadow of Mordor was both a commercial and critical darling. The game – regularly compared to Ubisoft’s mega-selling Assassin’s Creed series – won eight DICE awards and has been nominated for multiple BAFTAs. There will almost certainly be a sequel.
"In 2014, 42m was generated from the LEGO
franchise thanks to three games – The LEGO Movie,
LEGO The Hobbit and LEGO Batman 3. This was up
more than 43 per cent year-on-year."
Warner Bros’ next aim is to break into the Top Five publisher rankings and, barring any major delays, 2015 could well prove to be that year.
LEGO will, once again, play a pivotal role in this. Warner will publish two LEGO movie tie-ins; the first is around Jurassic World in June, with a LEGO Avengers title due at the end of the year.
It would make sense that Warner would look to create a new LEGO Star Wars around the upcoming seventh movie, too. But Warner does not always release LEGO games to coincide with a cinematic counterpart – the upcoming LEGO Avengers is scheduled for Autumn, while the film is out in April.
Although LEGO may play the largest role, whether Warner Bros can crack that Top Five will come down to its triple-A brands. The biggest one is Batman: Arkham Knight. The game’s predecessor, Batman: Arkham City, is Warner Bros’ second most successful game in its history, so a lot hinges on its follow-up. It’s already picked up numerous awards at the likes of E3, while UK retailers voted it the most anticipated game of 2015 in last year’s MCV retail survey. It’s due to arrive on June 2nd.
On top of this, there’s the Mad Max game, created by Just Cause developer Avalanche; new zombie IP Dying Light and the latest in the hit Mortal Kombat franchise, set for release in April.
If these titles can live up to their expectations, then it feels inevitable that Warner Bros will end the year amongst the biggest games publishers.
THE WARNER BROS TOP TEN
The first products under this publisher in the UK were Looney Tunes: ACME Arsenal and Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck, back in December 2007,” explains Chart-Track director Dorian Bloch. This is not including titles that were published prior to 2007 by other publishers – including Justice League Heroes, Eidos, 2006.
The first LEGO title published by Warner was LEGO Batman in October 2008, the year after Warner acquired [developer] Traveller’s Tales. This title was a huge success, as you can see from the chart (above).
In 2009 the Batman Arkham series debuted. The first title in the series was Batman: Arkham Asylum, which was published by Eidos. It has not been included in the Warner Top 10 all-time list.
The publisher’s all-time UK top-selling titles – the Top 10 units and revenue – are actually the same ten titles, the order differs slightly.”