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Matrix Online rights sold to SOE; WBIE jacks out of MMO biz

[UPDATE] Warner Bros. unloads The Matrix Online; licenses property to Sony Online Entertainment in deal that includes rights for SOE to create next-gen MMO game based on DC Comics superheroes.


The bad times ended today for Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. The game development and publishing arm of the giant entertainment enterprise has cut its losses and relinquished control of a property it had touted as a game that would become emblematic of what can be done when Hollywood muscle meets the heart and soul of a hardcore gamer.

WBIE senior vice president Jason Hall effectively bet his nascent career at Warner Bros. on the game, The Matrix Online. Hall once told GameSpot, "We're going to do the right things [with The Matrix Online] ... to be a studio that makes the right decisions for the product and for the consumer."

Instead of getting a chance to see TMO through its infancy, however, the property, which was being copublished by Sega, has been sold to EverQuest developer and publisher Sony Online Entertainment for an undisclosed sum--less than three months after its delayed launch in March. However, WBIE, as well as the Wachowski Brothers, will still have input as far as the content of the game goes, a WBIE staffer told GameSpot.

Variety said today, "Mediocre sales have undoubtedly caused some headaches at Warner, which is believed to have spent close to $20 million on its first video game project." Variety reports NPD Group numbers record US sales of just 43,000 units sold through April.

The deal announced today also includes the right for SOE to produce a single MMO, next-gen superheroes game based on the Warner-owned DC Comics character library.

Rumors have circulated, claiming that fallout from the sale includes the laying off of all but a skeleton crew at The Matrix Online's developer, Seattle-based and now-WBIE-owned Monolith.

Commenting on layoffs and impact to other Monolith titles in development, VU Games said today's shake-up will have no effect on the status of F.E.A.R., a VUG title also in development at Monolith. A WBIE staffer told GameSpot that "Monolith's Action Division is not affected by any of the changes in the MMO business." The source said the teams at Monolith are still "hard at work" on both F.E.A.R. (for the PC) and Condemned (for the XBox 360).

"SOE has extended job offers to several members of the Monolith team to come to SOE," the WBIE staffer further explained.

This latest chapter in The Matrix Online extends the game's rocky past even further. In early 2004, WBIE and French publisher Ubisoft broke off a copublishing agreement that was to have supported the development and publishing of the property. Swapped into Ubisoft's place was Sega. And what followed the launch were mostly tepid reviews.

The departure of The Matrix Online does not deplete WBIE of its game library, however. It will attempt to prove its mettle once more with Batman Begins, a game it's copublishing with Electronic Arts. That title--for the Game Boy Advance, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube--shipped to stores this week.

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