Sony plays ‘Matrix’

WB sells off rights to online videogame

With its first vidgame effort struggling, WB is looking to an unlikely savior: Sony.

Studio has sold the rights to operate its first internally developed vidgame, “The Matrix Online,” to Sony Pictures’ Internet vidgame division. Deal also includes the rights to create an online videogame based on DC Comics superheroes.

Sony Online Entertainment will take over operations for the game in which players interact with each other on the Net as part of an ongoing storyline designed by the Wachowski brothers to continue the “Matrix” trilogy.

“The Matrix Online” was the first game produced and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, a unit WB launched last year to manage its assets in the vidgame world.

Studio hasn’t released the number of players paying $15 per month to take part in the game, but according to industry analyst NPD Group, “The Matrix Online” sold just 43,000 copies in the U.S. from its March 22 debut through the end of April.

Mediocre sales have undoubtedly caused some headaches at Warner, which is believed to have spent close to $20 million on its first vidgame project.

Studio is hoping that Sony Online Entertainment, which publishes the mega-hit online game “Everquest” and is one of just a handful of companies successful in the online vidgame space, can better market the title and also reduce costs by integrating technical and customer operations into its existing infrastructure. It already plays a similar role for LucasArts’ “Star Wars Galaxies.”

“This is a dynamic space, and we’re still beginning in it, so we have to remain flexible in our approach,” Warner Bros. Interactive topper Jason Hall said of the move. “Ultimately, it made more sense for us to create the content and them to handle operations.”

Sony plans to market the games to subscribers of its other titles as part of a package that includes a comprehensive subscription to all of its properties for one price. It’s also aiming to expand “The Matrix Online” beyond the U.S. and Europe, where WB and partner Sega launched it, into Asia, where online gaming is particularly popular.

Financial details weren’t disclosed, but it’s believed WB will receive some share of future profits, giving it the chance to earn back more of its investment if Sony turns the game into a success.

Sony Online Entertainment is expected to recruit some of the staff operating the game for Monolith, as well as writer Paul Chadwick, who is creating its ongoing story.

Also, company is immediately starting work on a multiplayer online game that lets players interact in the DC Universe with the full range of the WB-owned publisher’s characters, including Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Warner Bros. Interactive will oversee the game for the studio, including coordinating the input of execs and creators at corporate sibling DC.

Game likely will take Sony Online Entertainment about two years to create, making a 2007 launch likely.

Sony Online Entertainment is a division of Sony Pictures Digital, which oversees the Imageworks f/x house and other tech products for Sony Picture Entertainment. Deal marks the first time two film studios have pacted to work together in the vidgame space.

Sony Online Entertainment is talking to its parent company about making games based on Sony Pictures properties.

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