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Warner Bros plans penalties for poor quality licensed titles

A new scheme being championed by Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment boss Jason Hall would see publishers whose games are reviewed poorly being penalised by higher royalty payments to the license holder.

A new scheme being championed by Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment boss Jason Hall would see publishers whose games are reviewed poorly being penalised by higher royalty payments to the license holder.

Under the terms of Warner Bros' new contracts, the company will charge publishers a fluctuating royalty rate based on review scores for games - with titles which score under 70 per cent on aggregate being subject to higher royalty payments.

The scheme, according to Hall, is designed to protect the company's valuable intellectual property from being damaged by publishers making bad licensed games. He plans to use sites such as GameRankings and MetaCritic, which aggregate review scores from a wide range of media sources, as the basis for the system.

"The game industry has had its time to exploit movie studios all day long and to get away with producing inferior products," Hall is quoted as saying in the Hollywood Reporter. "But, with Warner Brothers, no more. Those days are over. And we mean it. This isn't just lip service. Honestly, the bad games are over."

Although it's not unusual for publishers to pay close attention to sites like MetaCritic in forming their marketing and development plans, this is the first time that a company such as Warner Bros has proposed using the system as an empirical measurement of game quality.

"An escalating royalty rate kicks in to help compensate us for the brand damage that's taking place," explained Hall. "The further away from 70 per cent 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."

Reaction from some parts of the industry to Hall's proposition has been furious - with Atari chairman Bruno Bonnell quoted in the Hollywoood Reporter article as saying that the agreement "effectively insults our business."

Then again, Atari is exactly the type of company which Hall is targeting. Last year, the firm sold some 4 million units of Enter The Matrix, a tie-in to Warner Bros' The Matrix Reloaded movie - but the game was a critical disaster, filled with bugs and generally considered to be an extremely shoddy and rushed product.

Hall's reasoning is that products like Enter The Matrix do immeasurable damage to the franchise which spawns them, and indeed, there's a general feeling that The Matrix franchise may well now be a goner as far as videogames are concerned. Bonnell counters by pointing out that Enter The Matrix took $250 million in revenues worldwide.

"That's what a big major motion picture makes," he protests. "And Warner Bros would penalise us because we didn't achieve 70 per cent? Are they joking?" Hall responds that "sales don't equal quality" - a mantra which many of the industry's businessmen don't want to hear, but one which perhaps needs to be driven home.

Of course, the real problem with Hall's approach is that videogame reviews aren't always as objective as they should be. The practice of PR and marketing teams "buying" reviews with exclusive covers and advertising deals for magazines continues to influence review scores massively, while others would argue that many reviewers working for large websites and magazines are simply uninformed or unprofessional.

If Hall's plan goes ahead, it will cast the spotlight not only on publishers who churn out low-quality shovelware based on movie franchises, but also on the entire industry of game reviewing. Right now, it's unlikely that either aspect of the games market is ready for such scrutiny.

Author
Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey

Contributing Editor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.