Olivier Wolff is the senior vice president for international games at Warner Bros and possibly the only person in the world who loves LEGO more than your eight year old cousin. With next-gen on the horizon and a LEGO feature film in the works GamesIndustry International sat down with him to find out how the company plans to handle Xbox One and PlayStation 4, discuss the danger of LEGO fatigue and to hear more about its new focus on mobile.
Q: What's important to Warner Bros as the new consoles launch?
Olivier Wolff: We are very excited by the arrival of next-gen and by the stimulation between both Microsoft and Sony. It's really great that it's coming now, the gamers have been expecting it for some time, and now it's happening.
It's always good to have such high quality platforms from a technological standpoint that just push us to expect an even higher level of quality from our franchises. So our focus is really all about the AAA quality that we want to deliver. We have already at the end of this year some titles, but early next year quite a lot of titles. All our line up for next year is going to be focused on next gen.
Q: Is it less important for big publishers to have a big presence on new hardware on day one?
Olivier Wolff: Rushing and having something that is irrelevant for consumers is not the right thing. And maybe you have big first month and a half sales but then sales fall as the offerings get wider. I think that on any single platform, as well as next-gen, the focus is having very good quality titles that really serve something new to the consumer.
Q: How important is mobile to your strategy compared to a few years ago?
Olivier Wolff: It is at the centre of our strategy. You may have seen that in March we announced a new mobile studio that we are creating in San Francisco that has already a lot of different projects. We are investing in mobile in different regions as well.
"Mobile is at the centre of our strategy"
I think that it's important to us very specifically because as a games studio and as a studio in itself with the movie aspect and all that we need to be present on our key IPs on every single platform that is relevant to the gamer and to the consumer. So mobile is a big element, online is a big element and console is a big element. We are really platform agnostic in that sense and it's all about not making sure that you deliver on every single platform but that you have a relevant offer for the audience.
So mobile for us is really really important and that's why we're making these investments. We see a very positive circle between our console business and the mobile business. We've tested that on LEGO already, we've got LEGO Chima, LEGO Speedorz before, which was free-to-play and had great traction.
It's all part of an environment and we make it in that way, you may have seen that with Injustice, we have an iOS game that was at the top of the charts for many weeks and which hasn't cannibalised at all the console business. On the contrary we see a positive interaction between the two.
Also you see the evolution of the console business with the DLC aspect and things that are able to extend the life cycle. Going back to your question about what's important in next-gen, it seems that the cloud aspects, the digital delivery aspect and DLC drops that we'll be able to do is going to give many more ways of playing with the IPs and satisfying the gamers.
Q: What advantages does being part of a bigger entertainment brand offer the games part of your business?
Olivier Wolff: Many. The first one is definitely on the IP front, because we have IPs which are global IPs, and locals IPs as well, which we own, and which we can develop in many different ways. The second aspect derived from that is the holistic approach we can have because we own the IP so we are not only playing with one game expression of an intellectual property, we can play with it in synergy with the movie division, the TV division, with the consumer product approach which is all integrated.
Also there's lots of synergies between what we can do on the home video front, and also on the digital delivery front. I used to run different countries for the home entertainment businesses with games but also with video and digital. It was really interesting the way we could create unique consumer propositions or retailer propositions by interacting with those things.
We express it as long terms plans for our franchises where the game is always standing alone, so we don't do movie games or movie based games, but we do a gaming expression of an IP which stands by itself. And then there is a movie maybe or a TV series or lots of different things that interact dynamically to enable us to sustain the franchises and also to have some really long term value approach. We are not pressed by time because a show is coming to an end, so we can focus on quality and therefore on enjoyment for the gamer.
I would say that the third key element is the structure and support that we get, because we've got a global footprint that is not reliant only on games. Therefore we have a steadiness and a long term commitment that might be different than others.
Q: So the different sectors of the business work closely together?
Olivier Wolff: Extremely. Per country you have one MD or one country manager, usually one of them, and you see all the different product flows coming and you can say 'OK, let's do an approach to that retailer' and we leverage it to the next level. Or 'there is such an event here which allows us to drive pre-orders here', but all these discussions always start with the consumer proposition.
You've got the movie proposition, you've got the television proposition, you've got the game, how can you play with it so that it is relevant to the end consumer? And we really have a competitive advantage here because we are the only movie studio that really does it.
Q: LEGO is one of your biggest IPs, how have you maintained that success over so many titles?
Olivier Wolff: I think that it is a really interesting blend of IPs. At the core of it you've got LEGO and the sustained success of LEGO as a family franchise in so many parts of the world year after year. We've played with it as kids, as parents now, so there is that element behind it.
But in parallel to that you've got the fact that LEGO has brought into toys great IPs, and therefore we can express it in games, and with the encounter of great IPs expressed in toys, you've got the magic of TT which has a unique sense of humour. Without the humour of TT there wouldn't be great LEGO games.
What has been interesting is that we were always concerned about is there a ceiling to that? And the reality is that there's absolutely no fatigue at all and there is actually a demand for different experiences. And that humour element that I mentioned, and also the innovation. Now you've got Chima Online which is a fantastic experience - and that's really not competing at all with the console products but really bringing a different type of experience and reinforcing engagement with the franchise.
Q: What percentage of games revenue does LEGO represent for you now?
Olivier Wolff: We are not dependent on it, if that's your question. It's one strong leg of the IPs that we have. It's really a steady base or a steady foundation for everything that we have, but we've got Batman, we've got Mortal Kombat, we've got all the DC expressions in different ways, on console but also online and in the mobile space. We've got the Lord Of The Rings, which is huge, we have the chance of having lots of different legs that can play together in a way that we can phase them in and out.
Our problem is really to make sure that whenever we launch a title we are building the franchise and not creating a deception that could have big long term consequences.
"There's absolutely no LEGO fatigue at all and there is actually a demand for different experiences"
Q: And what is the demographic for those LEGO titles? It must be vary compared to the more "hardcore" games significantly?
Olivier Wolff: LEGO Batman has quite a core following and we expect that from Marvel as well. Chima is a different type of world, it's much more family and kids. I think that when you've got a LEGO Marvel or a LEGO Lord Of The Rings, you add an extra layer. But the thing that is good with LEGO as a father of three myself is you know that you're in a safe environment, there are memories for you so it's fun to play with your old toys. It's really positive especially in Europe where LEGO was part of the culture. So there is a huge family ecosystem around it that is positive.