Aug 25, 2022 - Technology

Warner Bros. gaming division is on a well-timed hot streak

Photo illustration of David Haddad, a still from Multiversus and abstract shapes.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: courtesy of WB Games

The longtime head of Warner Bros. Games, David Haddad, is feeling good at a particularly pivotal time for his 11-studio team.

Why it matters: WB Games is having a banner year after an uncharacteristically fallow stretch devoid of major in-house releases since 2020.

  • It’s also doing so amid high-profile job and project cuts at other divisions of the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery conglomerate.
  • Haddad tells Axios his division is profitable, and his teams have been well-supported, with no layoffs and no projects cut by the new owners.

Details: WB Games’ run of 2022 hits began with April’s Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, which has outsold everything this side of Bandai Namco’s Elden Ring. Then came July’s externally developed MultiVersus, that month's best-selling game in the U.S. and a title that just passed the 20 million player mark.

  • Expected blockbusters still to come include the Batman-themed Gotham Knights (October), Hogwarts Legacy (February) and Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League (TBD 2023).
  • It also has a big Harry Potter mobile game co-published with Netease on the way this year.

What they’re saying: “One of our superpowers is the strength of those 11 studios,” Haddad told Axios during a video call from his corner office overlooking the Warner Bros. lot.

  • Developers at those studios worked on games throughout WB Games’ quiet period, Haddad said, as he repeatedly emphasized a division-wide push for game quality.
  • He attributed the cancellation of versions of Gotham Knights for older consoles as well as a recent nine-week delay for Hogwarts Legacy as part of the division’s strategy to give “the right amount of time to deliver the best experiences.”

The Discovery factor: Haddad has held on to his position while other Warner leaders have been cleared out following the Discovery deal. He exudes confidence that his team won’t be kneecapped.

  • “I do believe, especially moving forward, that we have a critically important role to play inside the company,” he said, describing a division-wide opportunity to bring company franchises to people who prefer games to other media.
  • Asked if the division would be there for the long haul, he said: “Warner Bros. Discovery leadership has expressed a strong belief in the growth of the games business and being part of that overall company strategy.”
  • Bloomberg and CNBC reported that previous owner AT&T had tried selling the studios for $4 billion in 2020.

The big picture: WB has far more in-house development muscle than media rivals Disney, which shed its studios in 2016, and Netflix, which only recently began purchasing some small teams.

Notes on three of WB Games' biggest games:

  • Haddad frames the free-to-play MultiVersus as proof of the division’s potential with long-lasting games that are run as services. With plans for a continuously expanding roster, it could be another crossover-filled Fortnite, though Haddad said the team’s “attention and focus” for roster growth will be on WB Discovery’s existing intellectual property.
  • The release of the well-received Lego Star Wars raised questions about the future of the Lego license with WB Games. “We've been a long, long partner with Lego and we're excited for that to continue,” Haddad said. It also put a microscope on work conditions at WB’s TT Games studios, which the company says it is committed to getting right.
  • Trailers for Hogwarts Legacy have been popular, but some potential players called for a boycott of the game, considering Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s comments about transgender people. Bloomberg has reported that the game’s developers have pushed to include trans characters in the game, and WB Games has previously said Rowling was not “directly involved” with the game. Asked about people who might avoid the game to avoid supporting Rowling, Haddad said: “We're going to stay very focused on the game that we built and the great job that the Avalanche studio has done.” He added: “We want everybody that loves this world and loves these stories and loves these characters.”

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to fix a transcription error that introduced a reference to Avalanche Studios that we've now removed. Haddad was referring to Avalanche Software.

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