Q&A: Warner Bros. IE's $500M game deal

What do you get when you cross a half-billion dollars and a growing game arm of multimedia multinational? WBIE SVP Samantha Ryan explains.

Earlier this month, Time magazine ran an article called "Welcome to Du-buy? " It outlined the cavalcade of multibillion dollar investments being made by various Persian Gulf states in Western companies such as Apple, Dell, Microsoft, and Yahoo.

One Gulf sheikdom, Abu Dhabi, recently announced it, too, was making a major investment in a major Western multinational, TimeWarner. Specifically, the deal was a "long-term, multi-faceted strategic alliance calling for the creation of a theme park and hotel, jointly owned multiplex cinemas [and] a co-finance agreement covering feature film production" between Abu Dhabi Media Company and Warner Bros. Entertainment.

The deal also provided financing to Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the "development and publication of video games." The amount of funds in question? $500 million, the same figure Viacom is pumping into its MTV Games unit and about two-thirds the amount Electronic Arts dropped to purchase BioWare/Pandemic.

So what does a growing publisher do with a half-billion dollars? Samantha Ryan, who became senior vice president of development and production of WBIE in February, sat down with GameSpot to explain her company's strategy for well-funded growth.

GameSpot: So when this deal was announced, it seemed like a more general agreement just geared toward Warner Bros. entertainment as a whole...

Samantha Ryan: This is a huge deal for Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, because $500 million of the fund is dedicated to games.

GS: Did it come with any strings attached? Did the Abu Dhabi Media Company want any specific games made?

SR: No, it's just for the development and publishing of games, period. It's going to fund a lot of products. We're madly looking for development partners, we're looking at acquisitions, and we're green-lighting projects. We've got theatrical projects like Speed Racer, which we've already announced, and we've got original IP in the works. So we're here to stay.

GS: Well, with that kind of bankroll I would hope so! This reminds me a lot of the announcement by Viacom, one of WBIE parent Time Warner's corporate rivals, that it is pumping $500 million into MTV Games, which is developing and publishing Rock Band. Will WBIE's focus be on original IP as well, or are you going to try and focus more on existing licenses?

SR: We're gonna do both. We're going to operate as any large publisher would, and any large publisher has a portfolio with both original and licensed games. So we'll be in both spaces across all platforms.

GS: Yeah, but you guys are in the enviable position of being part of a company which has dozens of properties that could translate into games, particularly in the case of Warner Bros. films. However, you're also in the unenviable position of having many of these licenses in the hands of other publishers, such as Electronic Arts owning the Batman film license. Are you guys planning to bring these properties back in-house as deals with external publishers expire?

SR: I think it's too early to say what the future will bring, but we're always going to be licensing some properties. We really like to operate on a product-by-product case. I don't think you can make a sweeping statement about any property--it's really on a case-by-case basis. There are great partnerships we have right now and those folks are doing great jobs making those games, and I say, "Let 'em go!" There are other properties where, in the future, we'll want to eventually take control.

GS: Now you said you're perfectly happy with the work some of your partners are doing. Give me an example of one of the best games based on a Warner Bros. film being made by an outside publisher.

SR: Well, I think Electronic Arts has been doing a great job with Harry Potter. It's a great franchise for Warner Bros., it's beloved around the world, and I think EA does a great job with it.

GS: It also sells OK too...

SR: [Laughing] Yeah, maybe two or three units here and there. But there's a great example of a partnership that works really well which we wouldn't want to change. As for the future, I wish I could tell you more. We've got 12 titles in development, and only two or three of which are public knowledge. We've got some great licenses and we also have some great IP which I can't wait to show folks next year.

GS: So what, specifically, are you spending this $500 million on?

SR: We're not just investing in the games I just mentioned. We're also investing in the infrastructure to bring these games to market. We're starting a new production studio in the Seattle area which will run all of these projects. So we'll have over 30 positions opening up in the next 12 months. We're hiring producers, artists, designers, to staff the huge infrastructure we have to build to house and run $500 million worth of product.

GS: So a lot of this will be spent on internal development as well?

SR: Absolutely. I'm very bullish on internal development. I strongly believe in acquisition, and would like to see Warner Bros. acquire more developers over time. I also believe strongly in building an internal support structure. Developers need care and attention from publishers in order to bring a good product to market. They need services like QA, they need localization help, they need marketing help. They also need design, art, and engineering help on occasion.

GS: Well, you come from an independent development background at Monolith, which Warner Bros. bought and made the backbone of WBIE's internal development structure...

SR: Yes, currently Monolith is the only internal studio we have, and Monolith is awesome in the first-person shooter space. But I need other developers as well. I need great Wii developers, I need great Kids' developers, I need great developers that work on licenses, I need great DS...well, gosh, what don't I need! So our goal over the next few years is to either acquire or partner long-term to fill all the other niches we need as well.

GS: Well I know Monolith so far has released games on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. Do you plan on ramping up your Wii and DS development?

SR: Absolutely. Warner Bros intends on being a true, full-fledged publisher. If you look at EA and Activision, they're in all the genres, they're on all the platforms. That's where we want to be. I want Monolith to keep doing what they're doing, but I also want to get someone that can make a game for a 10-year-old girl looking for a DS game.

GS: Do you think TimeWarner's massive corporate structure will hinder your attempts to acquire and expand development talent quickly?

SR: Well $500 million is a lot of cash to throw around. Just since I came on board eight months ago, we've put 12 products in the pipeline. I'd say that's pretty darn fast! So so far, Warner Bros. has proven pretty nimble, and they've naturally proven to be an asset. We're doing things with their other departments like film, TV, animation, and direct-to-video. I don't think I could do all that at another publisher.

GS: OK, one of those 12 products in development we know of is Project Origin--aka the game formerly known as F.E.A.R. 2. I know Vivendi Games owns the name, but other than that, how will it be different from F.E.A.R.?

SR: It won't. The stories the same, we still own all the assets. We didn't have to deviate at all beyond the name change.

GS: But Monolith is also developing Condemned 2, correct?

SR: Yes, they are.

GS: So, other than the fact your main internal developer is making the game, what is WBIE's involvement in the game?

SR: We have none.

GS: OK. And as far as Speed Racer goes, how involved are Larry and Andy Wachowski, the directors?

SR: The Wachowskis have been awesome. They've lent us many of the art assets from the film, and...well, I can't really say anymore.

GS: So earlier you mentioned genre. Besides the shooters that Monolith makes and the kids' DS games you expressed a desire to make, what genres are you interested in?

SR: Everything.

GS: Does that include massively multiplayer online role-playing games? I know Monolith's sole MMORPG, the Matrix Online, didn't go as well as planned...

SR: Well, you never know what the future will bring, but it's not a high priority for me right now. There are so many other high priorities. The Wii is hot, handhelds are huge. So it's not a big priority for me right now.

GS: Well, the reason I ask is because one of the main reasons EA bought BioWare was to get the rights to its still-unnamed MMORPG. So WBIE has no similar interests or plans down the line?

SR: [Pause] I doubt it, but I understand why they're excited about it. Let me just say I'm a very product-oriented woman and if it was the right product, I would go there.

Written By

Want the latest news about The Matrix Online?

The Matrix Online

The Matrix Online

Follow

Discussion

45 comments
The_Cutthroat
The_Cutthroat

It doesn't matter how much they're spending .. I just wanna see a game that worth playing and wasting time.

Wildboy124
Wildboy124

At first I was skeptical of Warner Bros. buying Monolith, but I think this might be a great idea. And what makes it even better is that this Half-Billion dollar investment is it is being made by, yes, a rather attractive woman, but also an old pair of hands from Monolith as well, so Project Origin will remain on what Monolith wants to do with it, not WB

TeamR
TeamR

whoooooooo wee! she's kinda hot!

sw_and_wet
sw_and_wet

I don't really care how much they put into the project, this is their business. As long as I am getting good quality game, then it's fine with me. And I think this sequel is gonna be big, check out the 18min offical movie, the garphic is so good, the dialogs are shape, and it still have the creepy environment that FEAR had. The physics and explosion looks cool, and now we can interact with other object to use as cover. It just tops.

Joshua6609
Joshua6609

Make a No One Lives Forever 3 please!

wiidominance
wiidominance

500 million from the UAE ... seems those arab Shieks have tooooo much money they don't have any clue where to throw it ... "Hey, games are hot these days Shiek!",........... " yeah? ... sure why not... throw in some half a billion there and see what happens, gimme a ring in 2 years ye ?" .........lol xD

SimuLord
SimuLord

A couple of folks have said variations on this already, but I'd hit it---she's a product-oriented woman and I'm a man who can deliver a product. Hell, I'll even bring some friends along, so she can have "two or three units here and there"...and everywhere.

kori911
kori911

Nice interview Tor. Please make the fine, ultra smart, and good looking Gamespot execs bring back The Last Word. You and Brendon could do it!

bernieberry
bernieberry

Sounds like jobs will be created and lets hope some good games will come out of this. Time will tell !!!!

Devvy01
Devvy01

Can I have a job please?

-Raiden-
-Raiden-

Finally someone who can make the gaming world better:-)) YES i welcome them with my heart:-))

slickr
slickr

Yeah right. If WB don't acquire development studios they will fail big time. As if any guy that knows little about graphic design can design game art, Same goes for programing, developing, story etc...

darendt69
darendt69

Wow, from the sound of that interview, that lady has no clue what she is talking about. Sounds to me like she is thinking in the now, and not long term. We will see how they do, I dont think they will do very well. Thats a lot of money just flushed down the drain

MarcoSnow06
MarcoSnow06

What's with all the developer buyout news this week? Sure it puts more cash in the hands of newly acquired game development companies, but there must be some kind of caveat in their contracts.

dn3datomiced
dn3datomiced

WBIE seems to be taking a gentle hand with their accquisitions, unlike EA... Go WBIE!

wazzup987
wazzup987

if this is the future i may stop playing game it getting monoplized and nolonger about the exp.

HK-47-M4
HK-47-M4

I think a smart move for Warner Brothers (The Movie Studio) would be to tell the Blu-Ray camp and HD DVD camp that whoever pays them more they will side with. They would get a ton of money.

majin_vegeta300
majin_vegeta300

Wow, they wanna be like EA....greeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaat........

snake_6483
snake_6483

Project Origin is gonna kick ass!!!!!!

DrDazzle
DrDazzle

Not really. Independent game developers will always exist. After all, Microsoft or Warner Brothers doesn't make the games personally, they hire development teams to do so, usually after buying and independent developer. Someone will always start their own Dev. team because if the big name companies make all the games, I am sure they will start to get boring.

V-Nine
V-Nine

Caution: Not all ventures that have alot of money thrown at it end up with good results. Hope they did their homework.

andrewhateme
andrewhateme

Another prime example of a soon to be monopolistic world. Pretty soon there will only be 2 or 3 video game developers in the world. All owned by MS, EA, and Wb.

joe11king
joe11king

-Gamer082009-- What do you mean movie art can't translate into gaming art? Have you ever played fear? its like watching a movie!

matt_dangelo
matt_dangelo

tihs is pretyt good, WB makes kick butt movies so, as long as EA doesnt buy them out, then they will b epretty good..lol :)

gamer082009
gamer082009

I guess we'll see more movie execs trying to get into the gaming business realizing that the money can be made here. But I don't think their movie art can translate well into gaming art...and because of that it'll probably be a failure. Who knows though!

damion_10_7
damion_10_7

How is somone dumping 500 million dollars into GAME developement (which, since this is a game site, i presume youre interested in) boring?

supernova777
supernova777

Well looks like the Middle east is buy even more stock in the USA. Good for them. I mean what won't we sell?

SilvrDog
SilvrDog

Whats that sound...oh, its money blowing away in the wind. I don't know what Abu Dhabi Media was thinking when they gave them that $500,000,000. Just read how that she thought EA did a good job on the Harry Potter games. *Whack* Somebody wake that lady up, those games where terrible. I think the Harry Potter: Goblet of Fire game got a 7.3 and that was it. I see a lot of disappointments coming from WB. For these people to succeed, they need to sit down, come up with some solid game ideas. Then go hire talent and make their own studio. I don't know this move seems to be kind of foolish.

SirSpudly
SirSpudly

On one side, I can see Monolith really paying attention to making an FPS work on the Wii and DS, on the other hand, i see that it will not be F.E.A.R. (or Project Origin). A sequel to No One Lives Forever would work fine for girls 10-14 because it gives us that tongue-in-cheek heroine the oversexed female market needs. A gem in the making? you decide.

AngelsongCA
AngelsongCA

Sounds like we're in store for a lot of shovelware, and terribly rated games. The fact that they're looking for all manner of outside help pretty much says they are lacking in talent. In addition to lacking the means of recruiting more talent, and organizing a quality game studio of their own. It seems they don't have the time to. They want to aquire game studios that have already done all of the work for them. Pretty desperate air floating about her, like she has too much on her plate.

ADPJFC
ADPJFC

somehow i doubt WB can really get any good games worth playing out... at most it'll be tie-ins for their movies.... and we all know how most of those games are...

Bgrngod
Bgrngod

Sounds like somebody just screwed up with a really big check. MTV Games Unit? lol much? I am really looking forward to the Nepolean Dynamite and Real World games. (sarcasm)

rykh
rykh

Im smelling a big waste of money, but I could be wrong.

darkchaostitan
darkchaostitan

It looks like all the big money holders are jumping on the ball. This can either go well or poorly for developers, depending on the head of developer and the publisher. Otherwise developers and most importantly their games can be ruined.