Ever since the first trailer for Shadow of War was revealed back in March, publisher Warner Bros has been releasing new footage of the game at an increasingly frequent rate. At first, it was only once a month, but now as we approach the game’s launch date, there are only a couple of days separating each new announcement.
Add to that what was arguably the largest party at Gamescom, not to mention the huge Shadow of War banners decorating the whole of Cologne throughout the week of the show, and it’s clear the game is Warner Bros’ biggest title for 2017.
“The reception to the game is absolutely fabulous,” Warner Bros’ SVP international for games Olivier Wolff (pictured right) tells MCV. “We are obviously expecting a lot of uplift coming from Gamescom because we have been investing massively around the game. You’ve seen the posters, but there’s way more throughout the city and we’ve got big shows around it, too.”
Nothing is done by half measures as far as Shadow of War is concerned, and as a result Warner Bros isn’t short of words when it comes to sharing its expectations for the title.
“We’ve never had such an investment in one game and in a marketing campaign,” Wolff says. “And we believe that we have the right product in order to seduce a mass audience, so we have very high expectations. It’s definitely going to be our game of the year; there is strictly no doubt about that. We had a great start of the year with two big sellers – Injustice 2 and Lego Worlds – and both of them were really big successes, but Shadow of War is going to be even bigger and we believe it’s a true Q4 triple-A flagship title.”
We’ve never had such an investment in one marketing campaign.
Olivier Wolff, Warner Bros
When we ask about precise sales expectations for the title, Wolff just smiles and answers “massive,” before adding: “Top ten, top five massive.” He continues: “Pre-orders are pretty strong, they are above what we had for Batman Arkham Knight and we are very happy with what we have.”
RETURN OF THE KING
Not only does Warner Bros want to launch big with Shadow of War, but the publisher also has plans to support Monolith’s title long-term. “Shadow of War is a title that is going to last for a long time for us and there are live plans. So our campaign is going to be lasting for at least 18 months after launch. We have a very detailed roadmap with lots of events.”
Its predecessor, Shadow of Mordor, was also supported post-launch, but while its Lord of the Hunt expansion received mixed reviews, the title was successful enough to be considered as a game-as-a-service candidate – an approach that is becoming increasingly common in today’s market and sometimes even preferred to releasing sequels.
“The first game was such a success and such an innovation on the gaming market, and the comments from gamers and critics were so positive that it was kind of a no brainer to just continue thinking about how we could expand that in order to make new things,” he says.
“Our creative team already had in mind lots of ideas about the stories, the environment, and things that they couldn’t do for the first game, and now the technology has evolved, it was just natural to bring these new things [to Shadow of War].”
Wolff wants to make it clear that Shadow of War will be accessible to newcomers who haven’t necessarily played Shadow of Mordor. “It’s not a sequel in itself, but there are lots of innovations in it, in order to make gamers happy and passionate about this new game.
“You will see that the acclaimed Nemesis system is going to be expanded in a big way in this new game. Now you will be able to use the Nemesis system for followers and not only for enemies – it’s a new story of loyalty, betrayal and revenge.
Middle-earth is a broad franchise with lots of appeal.
Olivier Wolff, Warner Bros
You will also have dynamic fortresses that you will be able to build yourself, to expand as well as conquer and find the right strategies in order to go after them. So this is a totally different experience, building on what was very strong from the first game. This game has also been built for the next gen, meaning Xbox One X as well as PS4 Pro. That will be an amazing experience for those who loved the first game.”
“We want to be broad,” Wolff tells us. “Middle-earth is a broad franchise with lots of appeal. We think we just scratched the surface in a very nice, positive and successful way with the first game, but because it is Middle-earth – because there is so much intelligence in the gameplay – we believe we can seduce a lot of other players. And that’s what we are doing with this one. It’s longer, bigger, different. We want players to keep being surprised by all the innovations there is in it.”
If Shadow of War is Warner Bros’ biggest launch of the year, the publisher certainly isn’t putting all its eggs in the same basket, as its two new Lego titles – Lego Ninjago on October 6th and Lego Marvel Superheroes 2 on November 17th – are still key parts of its Q4 strategy.
“Lego Marvel Superheroes 2 is going to really impress a lot of people,” Wolff believes. “It’s really building on the first Lego Marvel Superheroes, taking the story from when the first one finished, [and featuring] lots of different mechanics in the game, including time travel that allows for a lot of new types of adventures. So that one is really exciting, but you’ve got Lego Ninjago as well which, for us, is one of the best.”
He continues: “Lego is one of the key pillars of WB Games. As you know, we acquired [developer] TT Games a long time ago and we are absolutely thrilled whenever they come with their great, fun, engaging games. We’ve got a strong Lego slate this year, and for us it’s all about expanding and delighting gamers with our Lego offering, but also innovating around it as a brand.”
The publisher is also bringing its Lego titles to Switch, with Lego Worlds and Lego City Undercover having released earlier this year and Lego Ninjago and Lego Marvel Superheroes coming later this year.
“Nintendo offers an amazing platform,” Wolff enthuses. “It always had a natural fit with our brand and especially with Lego, so we are very excited to bring all these titles to the Switch.”
Flagship toys-to-life franchise Lego Dimensions isn’t being left behind either, as a couple of new level packs hit shelves earlier this September. Wolff is very much a believer in the toys-to-life sector, too: “I think the segment has been evolving over time and it’s just a matter of finding your place in it. For Lego as a toy, having a toys-to-life offering is absolutely natural, so it’s a natural fit for us and it works really well.”
With such a strong portfolio for Q4 on the cards, not to mention the successes the publisher met earlier this year with Injustice 2, Warner Bros is looking at healthy growth over the coming year.
“We can’t share figures, but the important bit is we will be growing massively this year versus last year,” Wolff enthuses. “We’ve had a great year so far. I mean, Injustice 2 was the best-ever rated game of NetherRealm Studios, and Lego Worlds was a massive success in terms of penetration and it’s continuing to sell really well. So with the slate that we’ve got for this Q4, we are looking at a very strong growth this year.”
Once again, however, Wolff makes it clear that it’s Shadow of War that is Warner Bros’ flagship title this year, saying he’s “excited” about what they have in store for the rest of the year, but “especially” excited about Shadow of War, making it the “key pillar” of late 2017.