Between my family's yearly spring break vacation (skiing at Tahoe) and catching up after the trip, it's been tough to find time to write an entry here, so just a quick one for now while longer articles continue to brew while I find the time.
I just got my copy of MCV, an industry weekly written in the UK. (Strangely, in the much bigger US market, I'm not aware of an trade weekly.) The lead story for the March 5th issue is headlined, "Warner draws its sword." It's about Warner's new games division, and how it plans to successfully produce games. What we have here is another mega media monster peering hungrily at the games market. Even though many multi-media studios like Universal, 20th Century Fox & Dreamworks, have come before, this one is more interesting for two reasons:
 Warner has been here before. In fact they were the first major media studio to recognize the growing importance of the game industry. In 1976 they paid $28 million for one of the industry's crown jewels: Atari. It should have been easy to predict failure, though, because rarely do company mergers succeed, unless they involved two very similar businesses. When two unique businesses merge, management focus strains, budgets compete, strategies conflict, and the overall company suffers. (And yet, not having learned this lesson, Warner later merged with AOL, which was an obvious blunder from day one.)
Well, looks like Warner has a short memory and wants to give it another shot. The end result will be no different, despite point number two...
 Warner hired an honest-to-goodness developer to run the show. Jason Hall founded, and was CEO of Monolith Productions (Blood, No One Lives Forever, Tron 2.0) for several years. I've known him almost the entire time and I know he's smart, and he's a true gamer -- how many execs can you say that about? Warner did the right thing by hiring Jason, but still, it won't be enough.
The two insurmountable problems Warner faces:
o Focused publishers will always lead us in making the best games. EA, Activision, Take-Two (a.k.a. Rockstar), THQ, Konomi, Capcom, Nintendo, etc. are our future. The reason specialized companies will lead us is that they have everything to lose by failing. We rarely see an non-industry specialist, like Warner, succeed in the games industry, because if they fail in the games industry, they still succeed in their primary industries (movies and TV). It's just not as important for a company like Warner to really try hard in a area that, in the end, doesn't mean life or death to their company.
o Mega-media companies like Warner rely too much on their non-interactive born IP. In the MCV article, for example, there's a sidebar box that lists Warner Bros' stable of "impressive" franchises. See if you think these have hit potential as games: Eight Legged Freaks, Ocean's 11, The Last Samurai, Troy, Friends, ER, and Smallville? My opinion is that you can make 100 games with these IPs, and maybe five will be hits. If you're lucky.
Other Warner brands include Batman, Superman, Terminator, and The Matrix. All of these have been made as games, and with generally dismal results. Enter the Matrix was the most successful of these, despite the game being strongly panned by critics. Yet it sold well because it was released at the same time as the super-anticipated second movie, a tactic that can save a horrible game.
Jason says he knows the track-record of previous media studios turned game developer, and has ideas on how to fix the problems. But, I think the inherent problems are beyond repair. Jason also plans to create original brands within Warner, which I think is the best approach to succeed, but I doubt Warner will give him much of a chance, because it only takes 2-3 non-hits to become highly risk-adverse to making original games.
Most of us remember when LucasArts used to make original games, but all they do nowadays is make Star Wars and Indiana Jones games. Like Warner, LucasArts has a company focus problem, being part of a much larger company. In fact, LucasArts now outsources most of their projects, letting specialized companies handle development. But they've all but given up on original brands.
Warner will give up, too. And I bet they eventually regret their second attempt to play in our industry.