While game reviews often have an effect on a publisher's bottom line, that effect has never been quantifiable. However, now, Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment has begun directly tying royalty payments from licensees to ratings from game-review sites.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter last week, WBIE senior vice president Jason Hall revealed that his company is now using review-aggregation sites such as GameRankings.com to determine royalty rates from publishers licensing properties based on Warner Bros. movie, television, or other media. If the game does not achieve an average 70-percent rating, the publisher will have to pay a penalty in the form of higher royalties.
"An escalating royalty rate kicks in to help compensate us for the brand damage that's taking place," Hall told the Reporter. "The further away from 70 percent it gets, the more expensive the royalty rate becomes. So, frankly, if the publisher delivers on what they promised--to produce a great game--it's not even an issue."
However, Warner Bros.' pricing scheme would have been a huge issue with Enter the Matrix, the best-selling game of 2003 based on a Warner Bros. title. Buoyed by prerelease enthusiasm for The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, the cross-platform Enter the Matrix sold four million copies worldwide.
But those good sales were in spite of the game getting middling ratings: On GameRankings.com, the PC and PS2 editions have an average score of 66.8 and 66.9 percent, while the GameCube and Xbox versions earned 70.6 percent and 71.5 percent. Combined, all four rankings leave an average of 68.95 percent--just short of Warner Bros.' benchmark.
Unsurprisingly, Warner's concrete benchmark is not sitting well with Bruno Bonnell, CEO and president of Atari. "[Enter the Matrix] sold $250 million worldwide," he told the Reporter, "That's what a big major motion picture makes. And Warner Bros. would penalize us because we didn't achieve 70 percent? Are they joking?"
However, Hall is adamant in his belief that WBIE's new system will help ensure quality licensed games--like Electronic Arts' The Lord of the Rings and James Bond-based titles--and prevent misfires such as Ubisoft's Charlie's Angels.
"The game industry has had its time to exploit movie studios all day long and to get away with producing inferior products," said Hall. "But, with Warner Brothers, no more...the bad games are over."