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E3: Warner Bros. wants to reinvent the movie-based video game

June 06, 2012|By Ben Fritz
  • "Lego Batman 2" is set to come out just a month before "The Dark Knight Rises," but has nothing to do with the film.
"Lego Batman 2" is set to come out just a month before "The… (WB Games )

It's no surprise that Warner Bros. has video games with "Batman" and "Middle Earth" in the titles coming out this year, since "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Hobbit" are the studio's two biggest remaining movie releases of 2012.

What is surprising is that the games have virtually nothing to do with the films beyond their titles.

Stung by poor sales across the industry for video games closely tied to movies -- including Warner's own "Green Lantern" and "Happy Feet Two" last year -- Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment is this year taking an entirely different approach.

"Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes" will be released June 19, a month ahead of "The Dark Knight Rises." Unlike the conclusion to director Christopher Nolan's dark trilogy, however, "Lego Batman 2" is a lighthearted game featuring Batman, his allies and villains, and other superheroes made out of Lego blocks.

"Guardians of Middle-Earth" will launch this fall, in advance of the Dec. 14 theatrical debut of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," but it has no connection to the story of Peter Jackson's film. It's an online combat game similar to the popular "League of Legends" that features characters from "The Hobbit" and the "Lord of the Rings" movies.

Both titles are designed to take advantages of trends in the video game industry rather than tie closely to what's on the big screen.

"The movie-based game doesn't really perform well anymore and we need to find where that business went," said Warner Interactive President Martin Tremblay in an interview at the E3 industry convention Tuesday. "We want to try out something different, and after we see how that does, we'll re-adjust ourselves."

Warner has already established itself as the most successful Hollywood studio making video games by investing in properties not closely tied to films. Its three biggest franchises are "Arkham," which features Batman in a story line different from the films or comic books; the Lego family series it acquired along with developer TT Games; and "Mortal Kombat," which came with its purchase of Midway Games.

Now, Tremblay said he wants to find a way to capitalize on the heightened attention and massive marketing campaigns surrounding high-profile movie releases while distinguishing the work his unit does creatively. "It's weird for a movie studio to be thinking this way," he acknowledged.

Warner Bros. had a significant presence at the E3 convention this year thanks to its close partnership with Nintendo on the Wii U console, set to launch later this year. The Burbank studio is releasing five games designed for the new device, a contrast with some other publishers like Acivision Blizzard and Electronic Arts that are moving more cautiously.

Tremblay said he sees the Wii U and expected new consoles from Sony and Microsoft coming in the next two years as opportunities for his mid-size game publishing company to increase its market share. Warner Interactive is investing in new video game properties, some featuring well-known Warner Bros. characters and others entirely original, to premiere in the next few years on new consoles, he said.

"When a new platform comes, it's up for grabs who will be most successful," he explained. "It's a good time to invest in new [intellectual property.]"

The economics can be advantageous, he added, because companies like Nintendo provide marketing support to publishers that release games early in the life of a new console.

At the same time, Tremblay added, Warner is increasing its investment in games for digital and mobile platforms in hopes of taking a share of those small but fast-growing markets.


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