Warner Bros. leans in on mobile and free-to-play after Suicide Squads’ struggles

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Warner Bros. is shifting their focus away from a “volatile” AAA console market and toward mobile and free-to-play gaming, after the troubled development and underwhelming launch of Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League.

Speaking at a Morgan Stanley event (via GameSpot), Warner Bros. Discovery gaming boss J.B. Perrette explained this shift in direction. He said, “We’re doubling down on games as an area where we think there is a lot more growth opportunity that we can tap into with the IP that we have and some of the capabilities we have on the studio where we’re uniquely positioned as both a publisher and a developer of games.”

The overarching intent is to try and find a more steady form of revenue, compared to the peaks and troughs of more traditional game releases. Last year saw the runaway success of Hogwarts Legacy, which sold 22 million copies, but that has contrasted with the tepid response to Suicide Squad this year, which is going to have a huge impact on the year-on-year financials.

He continued, “Rather than just launching a one-and-done console game, how do we develop a game around, for example, a Hogwarts Legacy or Harry Potter, that is a live-service where people can live and work and build and play in that world in an ongoing basis?”

Naturally Warner Bros. Discovery has a large well of IP that they can lean upon, with gaming-first series like Mortal Kombat, or adaptations of film, TV and comics through Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and DC. He also noted the 11 internal studios that can fuel this new development drive, but did say that this change wouldn’t be felt until games can start coming out in 2025, 2026 and 2027.

While this is sure to gussy things up for investors, is it really the lesson that Warner Bros. should be learning? After all, just last year they had that massive success with Hogwarts Legacy, a game that, while it surely cost a lot to develop, sold millions upon millions of copies and didn’t push people away with excessive monetisation being stuffed in there. Meanwhile, having had a very successful trilogy of Batman games from Rocksteady, Suicide Squad then tried to lean in on live service model and looter shooter gameplay that went down like a lead balloon when it was fully revealed early last year. That compounded the issued faced by co-op focussed Gotham Knights in 2022.

Free-to-play will solve everything though, won’t it? Well, they already had a free-to-play hit on their hands with the open beta release of MultiVersus in 2022, but through a mixture of the game needing significant gameplay improvements and the live service content pipeline not having matured, interest was already waning by the end of the year, and they took the game offline to rework and relaunch it.

And then there’s all of the tough times and struggles being seen across the industry within both free-to-play and live service models. There’s plenty of live service and free-to-play games that have come and gone because you’re not just fighting for space in a genre, but you’re fighting for every gamer’s time in general. Fortnite and COD Warzone are both massively dominant thanks in part to their significant pull back through all of the time and money people have already invested in them. Gamers might latch onto the big new thing, but it’s not too long before heading back to an old favourite, especially if that’s where their friends still are. And even these types of game can stumble, so Destiny 2 has significantly underperformed this past year when having been thought to be an evergreen title.

So yeah, that sounds great to say you’re going all in on mobile and free-to-play, because those are the buzzy buzzwords to keep investors happy, but if and when you have a couple of flops there, what’s the plan after that?

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