Now everyone wants to buy Warner Bros… with Microsoft the latest rumoured hat in the ring

And then there were four – and there’s probably a few more. Overnight a new rumour broke in the ongoing Warner Bros Interactive acquisition story. With high-end biz/tech site The Information stating that Microsoft has “expressed interest” according to “two people familiar with the situation.”

Yes, it’s an unsubstantiated rumour. But the Information sits behind a hefty paywall, with no trials or exceptions, and is targeted at silicon valley tech types. It’s a pretty trustworthy source in tech circles,and it doesn’t often write about gaming companies, and has no interest in clickbait, so it’s as reliable a source as you might come across.

Of course, it would be a bigger surprise if any major gaming publisher (who actually can raise the estimated $4bn – the cost according to CNBC) wasn’t thinking about picking up Warner Bros games division. The group has a wealth of talented studios plus exclusive access to some of the biggest IPs in the world for the foreseeable future. It’s the kind of juicy major gaming acquisition that we haven’t seen for many, many years – and the timing couldn’t be better with a next-gen of devices arriving now.

We’d be amazed if Google and Sony hadn’t at least thought about it too. With EA, Take-Two and Activision-Blizzard all having been tipped as potential buyers already.

Whoever ends up with Warner, the success of any such takeover will come down to the working relationship with its former owners, who will be understandably cautious in how their new partner works with its crown jewels, such as the DC Comics lineup, LEGO and Harry Potter, with the latter two having further rights holder who must be appeased for everything to carry on smoothly.

Which is why a Microsoft (or Google or Sony) purchase would not necessarily equate to platform exclusivity. As while that might serve the platform holder, it may not best serve the rights-holders, who usually want to spread their IPs as widely as possible. It’s impossible to know the contractual details between LEGO say and Warner on such matters, but I’d be very surprised if they allowed a new buyer to make all LEGO games exclusive to their platform without some negotiation with Lego itself.

It’s worth noting that a sale isn’t certain, the Information notes: “Warner’s parent, AT&T, hasn’t yet decided whether to sell the business. It is weighing the possibility as it looks at ways of paying down its $154 billion in debt, which stems partly from its 2018 acquisition of Time Warner, now known as WarnerMedia.”

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