Warner Bros. is seemingly planning to invest more resources into developing live service games based on its major properties, with CEO David Zaslav enthusing about “always on gameplay” and “live services” in a recent investor call.
“Our focus is on transforming our biggest franchises from largely console and PC based with three-four year release schedules to include more always on gameplay through live services, multiplatform and free-to-play extensions, with the goal to have more players spending more time on more platforms,” Zaslav reportedly said.
Further, he noted that the company’s largest franchises, including Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Batman, and Mortal Kombat were $1 billion gaming properties, with plenty of opportunity for growth.
“Ultimately we want to drive engagement and monetisation of longer cycles and at higher levels,” Zaslav said. “We are currently under scale and see significant opportunity to generate greater post purchase revenue.”
Zaslav’s comments about the importance of live service and free-to-play titles arrive at an interesting time for the company – particularly given the recent response to Warner Bros. Games’ Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League.
When the Suicide Squad game was first unveiled, there was burbling excitement for its unique hook, and chosen cast of characters. But with the subsequent reveal of its live service elements, which included microtransactions for gear and cosmetics, and a tacked-on battle pass system, public sentiment turned rapidly. On social media, many decried its monetisation and always-online gameplay, labelling it a missed opportunity ahead of release.
There is a rabid hunger for more single-player gaming experiences after years of experimentation (and a string of failures) within the live service scene. Warner Bros. Games itself has seemingly proven this, with its most popular title of the year – Hogwarts Legacy, with 15 million copies sold worldwide– being a single-player experience with no overt microtransactions or live service elements.
On the matter of timing, it feels like Zaslav’s comments arrive slightly too late in a games industry that is rapidly shifting. In 2023, dozens of live service games have dealt with a changing tide of opinion, as players turn back towards single player, linear gaming experiences.
In fact, several relatively new live service titles have been forced to shutter in 2023 due to a lack of engagement, including Final Fantasy 7: The First Soldier, Knockout City, CrossfireX, Apex Legends Mobile, Rumbleverse, Gundam Evolution, Evil Dead: The Game, Call of Duty: Warzone Caldera, and more.
Other popular live service games, including the blockbuster Destiny 2, are struggling to maintain player interest and enthusiasm. Recently, this led to studio Bungie initiating significant developer layoffs.
For now, it appears Warner Bros. remains enthusiastic about live service games and their growth potential – but given the state of the games industry, there will likely be a long road ahead to enthral players in the live service ecosystem once again.