The Man Running Amazon Games Talks His GTA Past, Failures, And Aspiring To Be The Disney Of The Future

With just months to go before Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel was due to release in October 2014, Christoph Hartmann–then the head of publisher 2K Games–still didn’t have a cover for the game. Pressure was mounting and 2K had a host of possibilities to choose from. So Hartmann came up with a plan, and that was to let his pug Sissi decide the cover.

Hartmann asked his marketing experts to put around 40 different mock-ups on the floor, and told staff that he would let his dog (named after the “Sissi” series of German films) choose which cover they would go with.

“We’re like, ‘What?’ We’ve been working so hard, our blood pressure is so high. We’re like, ‘Okay, funny joke, haha, now let’s get down to business.’ He’s like, ‘No, we’re doing this,'” Matt Gorman, one of 2K’s earliest employees, recalled. “And so we all just looked at each other, and we’re like, ‘Holy cow! We’ve all gone insane.'”

Sissi walked around the room and eventually plopped down on a cover she liked. This would be the cover for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel seen by millions of people. The marketing team was shocked at this out-there approach for such an important decision.

“Sissi walks out, she sits on one, and it wasn’t a bad one, but we were like, ‘Are we really choosing the key art for this next big brand by where this pug sits?'” Gorman recalled. “And we got to the point, and [Hartmann] goes, ‘That’s it!” And we all just said, ‘Okay,’ and we gathered up all the pieces and started toward the door, and [Hartmann] goes, ‘You know I’m f***ing with you guys, right?'”

Who is Christoph Hartmann? You may not know the name, but you have felt his influence. He worked on the original Grand Theft Auto, helped create the power-house publishing group 2K Games, and is now heading up Amazon’s relatively new video game division. Despite having so much experience in the gaming industry, there is surprisingly little sign of him online. He says he aims to underpromise and overdeliver, and generally avoid making the type of flashy, headline-grabbing statements that this industry is so well known for. But he does that sometimes, too, telling me he hopes to help Amazon create “the Disney of the future,” with gaming standing alongside TV, film, music, and retail.

I met with Hartmann in his Manhattan apartment on a steamy summer day in June to try to learn more about this man. He spoke candidly about his failures and, in equal measure, boasted about what he believes Amazon can achieve in the video game space. Before we even got started, Hartmann joked about the setup of our interview–he was sitting on a long couch, while I was in a small chair nearby. He asked if I was preparing to psychoanalyze him as a therapist might.

He is, as I found out, a jokester. He shared stories of clashing with BioShock writer-director Ken Levine, the cancellation of Amazon’s Lord of the Rings MMO, snapping up the next game from the heads of Rainbow Six Siege before Electronic Arts could make a deal, how he aims to be the Clive Davis of video games, and lots more. He also rarely believes anything he does is good enough. He is climbing a mountain that he may never summit, and he seems okay with that. While many of Hartmann’s peers have called it quits and pursued careers in other industries following their time in the gaming space, Hartmann is pressing on for what might be his tallest task yet–making Amazon into a household name for video games.

“Do I Really Want To Look Into Farmers’ Mouths For The Next 40 Years?”

So who is Christoph Hartmann? His story begins in small-town Germany. Hartmann was born in Rosenheim, a sleepy town about halfway between Munich and Salzburg. “Very Sound of Music country,” Hartmann says. He played basketball growing up, which was one of the first things that set him apart from his contemporaries who gravitated toward Europe’s more popular sport, soccer. Thanks in part to having an American basketball coach and other factors, Hartmann became enthralled with American culture. He applied for a high school exchange program, got it, and lived in Malone, New York, for one year when he was 18.

His parents were successful dentists, and townspeople wondered if he would follow in their footsteps. “I was like, ‘Why?’ Who says I have to be a dentist? Do I really want to look into farmers’ mouths for the next 40 years?” he said. At age 21, he took a trip to Costa Rica to try to figure out what to do with his life before attending university. He didn’t find all the answers, but Hartmann gained valuable experience and learned that he also didn’t want to spend his life sitting on the beach, smoking pot.

Hartmann’s road to gaming started with music. While attending university at the Munich Business School, Hartmann paid part of his way by working in nightclubs as a professional DJ, and he was in demand enough to earn himself residence gigs. Born in 1970 and a lover of music his entire life, Hartmann cites bands like Queen, The Cure, AC/DC, New World Army, and The Smiths as formative, as were hip-hop groups like Run DMC and the Beastie Boys.

“Who says I have to be a dentist? Do I really want to look into farmers’ mouths for the next 40 years?”

His passion for music and an aspiration to work in the music industry pushed Hartmann to apply for an internship at BMG Music in Spain. He landed the gig and accumulated a fair share of experience and stories. His goal in the music industry was to become an A&R manager–someone who finds bands and artists and helps make them big, like iconic RCA founder and legendary A&R executive Clive Davis, whom Hartmann cites as one of his idols. Davis was known for his ability to connect with artists on a personal level–he is credited with playing a role in finding and signing now-legendary artists such as Janis Joplin, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Aerosmith, and Whitney Houston–and also for his business acumen.

During his internship at BMG, Hartmann found himself naturally palling around with a coworker–a man Hartmann had come to believe was the office’s janitor. They struck up a relationship, with the man dropping by Hartmann’s desk regularly for a chat. Hartmann’s natural charisma showed through, and he hammed it up, talking with the janitor freely about anything and everything. It was only later that Hartmann realized who he had been speaking to during all those lighthearted chats: the head of BMG. And when a permanent position opened up at a new division at the company called BMG Interactive, Hartmann’s relationship with the boss helped him land it.

The beginning of Rockstar Games

After moving to London in 1995 to work at BMG Interactive, the company’s new video game division, Hartmann quickly realized he had much more passion for video games than music. He gravitated towards gaming and interactive entertainment because he felt it was a more honest expression of art and personality.

When Hartmann started at BMG in the mid-’90s, Sam Houser–who would go on to create Rockstar Games with brother Dan Houser–was heading up BMG Interactive. Part of what made Hartmann excited about working with Sam Houser was his background, which had nothing to do with games. Sam Houser, whose father owned the London jazz club Ronnie Scott’s and mother Geraldine Moffat acted in the film Get Carter with Michael Caine, was a successful music video producer who started making games with fresh eyes. “I think that was influential in building a label like Rockstar, because the whole mission of Rockstar was to make gaming cool. It was seen like a toy by many people [at the time],” he said.

This was a turning point in Hartmann’s career. He remains passionate about music to this day, but he quit the business and shifted to games, where he saw more potential. “I felt it was a very honest industry because it’s entertainment, but it also has the technology component, which makes it actually real. There is something to believe in. There is an achievement which is a real black-and-white achievement; it’s not like music, where people tell each other how great it is,” Hartmann said.

A small upstart, BMG Interactive launched the first GTA in 1997. The game did just okay in the UK, where BMG Interactive had the publishing rights, Hartmann said, but publisher Take-Two Interactive–an upstart itself at the time–clearly saw the appeal and bought the company in 2000. The acquisition of BMG, and the GTA franchise, would go on to define and shape Take-Two to this day.

“I felt like the grim reaper. Anytime I showed up, people started sweating.”

After GTA 2 (1999) and GTA 3 (2001), Hartmann and the team began to prosper on a new level with “huge financial success,” as Hartmann put it. “More than we ever expected.” This was a marked change from the company’s early days, when Hartmann admits the outfit occasionally struggled to make payroll. Rockstar Games was formed as part of the Take-Two buyout. Rockstar and the GTA franchise also changed the political and personal dynamics within Take-Two, so much so that pressure began to build from investors to create more content outside of GTA. Rockstar also had Midnight Club and Smuggler’s Run, but the money people wanted more and gave the mandate that the company needed to become more than a one-trick pony.

So, in the early 2000s, Take-Two acquired Gathering of Developers and established a publishing outfit called Gotham Games. Hartmann came in as the senior vice president of publishing at this newly formed group, which would eventually become 2K Games, to “do games that are not Rockstar games.” The aim was to create complementary, rather than competitive, publishing labels, in part to keep Rockstar–the golden goose at the time–happy. In these early days, Hartmann had to make some tough decisions about what to keep and what to cut as he audited the books.

“I felt like the grim reaper. Anytime I showed up, people started sweating,” he said.

Hartmann’s first major deal was to acquire the publishing rights for the Civilization series and buy out developer Firaxis Games in 2005. At the time, the group also made a handful of deals for licensed games in franchises such as Dora the Explorer and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, among others. The ambition was to build a “critical mass” for the company’s bottom line to fill its coffers and make a “real business.” But the real aim and the holy grail, as Hartmann put it, was to create wholly owned franchises made by internal studios. Making these distribution deals with third-party content was a way to get there.

“We were an off-shoot, side-business for Take-Two, who needed to diversify away from GTA. They were trying to build a business and add more to that. And Christoph had a vision,” said Sarah Anderson, a 12-year 2K Games veteran who was there at the beginning and has since moved to Amazon with Hartmann. “He always has amazing vision for the industry for what is going to be coming and what’s going to happen. We were a very small team, across the street from the Take-Two office, in our own scrappy little space. It was not a great space. We were all crammed in there.”

2K’s first big hit: BioShock

Released in 2007 by Irrational Games and led by writer-director Ken Levine, BioShock was a standout success that would spawn multiple sequels. It was also one of Hartmann’s first major struggles in heading up 2K.

“The original pitch was an RPG,” he said. “We thought, do we call it a genre-mix? But it didn’t resonate with the press or users during testing, so we positioned it as a first-person shooter with deep storytelling. [Levine] and I argued a lot. He’s a very opinionated person. I was young and under a lot of pressure to get something done.”

Hartmann and Levine had what Hartmann called a “healthy fight” about BioShock, and this back-and-forth is what Hartmann believes contributed to BioShock becoming a beloved game.

“If I would have not pushed, [Levine] would probably still be working on BioShock,” Hartmann said, laughing. “If he wouldn’t have been so strong-minded, he wouldn’t have [been able to] take BioShock to a 96 [Metacritic] average-rated level. That’s where I learned in gaming… [there needs to be] a system of checks and balances. Head of creative and head of production: One has the job to make it the best game ever, one has the job of getting it done. And then we’ll have some debates. I’d rather have a fight about it, but not let it get to a point where you regret what you said the day before.”

BioShock was one of 2K's first big successes
BioShock was one of 2K’s first big successes

Anderson, one of the earliest big hires at 2K, said there was “a lot of pushing and pulling” to get BioShock out the door. She credited Hartmann with having a long view of the business and prioritizing quality above all else.

“He really respects development and he understands how hard it is, and he also generally really connects with creative people,” Anderson said. “He has this magical ability to encourage people to be creative and help them explore that while also trying to keep some reins on it and get the game out at some point.”

Bold bets

As one of the founders of 2K, Hartmann had the responsibility of helping to select the edgy cover for the original Borderlands and for greenlighting the call to dramatically change the art style of the game just nine months before launch. The cover art designs submitted to Hartmann for Borderlands left him unimpressed. The team had less than a week to submit a cover. A eureka moment followed.

“I wasn’t very happy with the very first Borderlands image. We had three days to submit… so I looked through all the images, and I also talked a lot with [Gearbox founder Randy Pitchford] about it. And there was one image, a guy–he’s not even a main character–kind of holding a finger [to his head], which could look like a suicide. It’s not. But I said, let’s do that. Everyone said, ‘Oh my god, what will people think?!’ And I said, that’s perfect, that’s what people will think. I think it was a very strong image. Sometimes you don’t go for the logical one. Sometimes with entertainment, you have to go for the iconic one.”

The Borderlands box art
The Borderlands box art

Another bold bet with the original Borderlands was its art style. Less than a year before release, Borderlands looked like any other shooter made with the Unreal engine, Hartmann said. To help it stand apart amid a growing tide of shooter games, Gearbox art director Brian Martel pitched the idea of making it cel-shaded. Hartmann latched onto the idea but needed to take the decision all the way to the top for approval from Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick.

“I thought about it and said, ‘Yeah, it looks like it’d be great, but if we go and look like anyone else, we’d be screwed, so might as well take the risk.’ I talked with Strauss Zelnick, who said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Yeah, we gotta go for it.’ It turned out to be [a success] and three years later, there’s three other games that look like that.”

Gorman, one of 2K’s earliest hires on the marketing side and who worked alongside Hartmann for years, said he appreciates how Hartmann can approach a given “problem” and come up with a unique and unexpected solution. Letting Hartmann’s dog Sissi “choose” the cover for The Pre-Sequel was an example of this, Gorman now understands.

“When it comes to high-pressure business situations where everyone around is flipping out, he just decided to misdirect everything with this episode of nonsense on us; that just deflated the tension and the atmosphere,” Gorman said. “He said, ‘Of course, we’re going to go with this one,’ and it was the one we had been pitching all along. But it was the strangest, most surreal moment in time because for a good 10 minutes, we were like, ‘Oh my god, we have become that weird company that has that captain that is just on another plane of existence?’ So there was 10 minutes of an out-of-body experience, but then ultimately Sissi walked away, and he said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going with X,’ and we went with that….”

“I Could Screw It All Up”

Under Hartmann’s leadership, 2K wasn’t just successful; it became a beast of a publisher. But for all of 2K’s successes, Hartmann said he didn’t get everything right. He admits to making safer and more conventional decisions in the final years of his time at 2K, driven in part by pressure to deliver, and they didn’t all work out.

“Life gets more complicated when you get older; it’s all great when you’re in the ‘building’ mode where everything is an opportunity. And then you build a company that is much bigger than you expected you ever would build. You know what kicks in? ‘I could screw it all up.’ And then you start making bad decisions,” he said.

Hartmann cited Left 4 Dead developer Turtle Rock’s asymmetric shooter Evolve and Gearbox’s hero shooter Battleborn as examples of missteps.

Hartmann and 2K acquired the game that would become Evolve from THQ’s bankruptcy auction. Developed by Turtle Rock, the team that made the popular cooperative multiplayer Left 4 Dead series, Evolve, a game that played into Turtle Rock’s multiplayer strengths with an asymmetrical “team of humans versus a player-controlled monster” formula, appeared on paper to be yet another smart decision from Hartmann–but it didn’t land. Hartmann said there was “clearly” something there, given the title had won awards at E3 and Gamescom. Similar games, such as Dead by Daylight, have since exploded on the market as well. However, Hartmann said he felt pressure from above that Evolve wouldn’t be a sales success, so he pushed for a non-multiplayer PvE element, and it didn’t work. Hartmann also says he believes Evolve should have launched with a free-to-play business model from the start, rather than its premium price tag.

“The game was just PvP, and I felt like we had to add PvE to it because I felt pressure from everyone that we can’t sell it. Titanfall tried to sell only PvP and it kind of didn’t work. So what I hoped was that Titanfall was going to prove that you can sell a PvP-only game on console. It kind of did the opposite. So we did a cheap PvE version, which we should have never done,” Hartmann said. “The right thing would have been for the game to go free-to-play from the beginning. It would have been a bold decision. I didn’t have–given I looked at the [profit and loss statement] and thought we had to hit a number…I didn’t do it. It would have been the right bold decision.”

As for Battleborn, Hartmann said Gearbox announced the game too early. It debuted at E3 2014 and launched in 2016, around the same time as Blizzard’s own hero shooter, Overwatch. Hartmann recalls that 2K made critical mistakes in marketing and releasing Battleborn, showing its hand early and then falling short to Blizzard’s game in the end.

“We were stupid enough to announce [Battleborn too early]. We announced it at E3, far too early, like three years out. We explained to the whole world what we were going to do, and then we couldn’t deliver forever… Activision Blizzard outspent us 10:1 on marketing. We did something [sales and impact-wise], but clearly not what they did with Overwatch.”

Battleborn, which represented Gearbox’s biggest monetary investment in the company’s history up until that point, officially shut down its servers in January 2021 after about five years of support.

Another struggle for 2K was Spec Ops: The Line. Released in 2012 from German developer Yager, Spec Ops was 2K’s attempt at making a play for a piece of Call of Duty’s pie. Despite strong reviews and an enduring legacy, in part for its story that showed the horrors of war, Spec Ops didn’t sell as well as 2K wanted. “I gave in to the company. It was an IP that Take-Two owned and they didn’t want to write it off. We did a game along the lines of Call of Duty and talked ourselves into saying, ‘Hey, that does so much, so all I need to do is 10% of that…” he said.

A scene from Spec Ops: The Line
A scene from Spec Ops: The Line

But that’s not how it worked out. Spec Ops had a shoehorned multiplayer mode developed by a separate studio that, to some, felt antithetical to what Spec Ops’s spirit and tone was all about–not to mention that people simply didn’t enjoy it.

“The winner takes it all in games and that’s it. When you look at how much EA put into having [Battlefield] fighting Call of Duty, I don’t know how the maths works or not, but it sounds like a battle that…why would you even fight it?”

Leaving 2K for Amazon

In 2017, 2K had settled into a groove. It released Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, XCOM 2, Civilization V, another NBA 2K game, and more sequels. Hartmann had helped establish the company and some huge properties, but the higher-ups were pushing for better performance from the same IPs year after year. Meanwhile, AAA development was becoming bigger, tougher, more expensive, and less interesting each year. Gone were the days when Hartmann might discover a new winner in BioShock or lead the acquisition of a maverick like Firaxis. “By the time I’m 60, I’m going to have done two more BioShocks and three more Borderlands. That can’t be it? That’s my life? Forget it. I’m done.”

So Hartmann left 2K, the company he co-founded more than a decade prior.

Hartmann was out of games entirely. Then he got an unlikely call–from Amazon. At first, he thought the idea was ridiculous. “Doing games at Amazon, really?’ The thrill you have with putting a game out… it’s a little bit addictive. That’s the reason why people go skydiving and do other stupid things,” he said about feeling the call to return to games again.

Amazon Games was founded in 2012, and at the beginning, it developed and published social games for mobile and Facebook. The company also made big swings with high-profile hires such as Kim Swift (Portal) and Clint Hocking (Far Cry 2). But Swift and Hocking would later leave, Amazon would lay off or reassign dozens of developers in 2019, and a 2021 report from Bloomberg detailed the tumultuous times at Amazon’s games division. Amazon Games boss Mike Frazzini left the company in 2022 in the wake of the report.

What might help explain Amazon’s early struggles in the gaming space was how it had no centralized publishing division. From 2012 to 2018, each individual game that Amazon released was treated like its own business, Amazon Games San Diego boss John Smedley said, and he credits Hartmann with turning Amazon Games into a bonafide gaming company with its own publishing house.

Right now, the Amazon Games division is not ruled by financial deadlines and other pressures that more traditional companies in the space are connected to, according to Hartmann and others I spoke to for this story. That may set Amazon Games apart from its competitors, but the company is going all-in on one of the most popular business models in games today: live-service.

“All games will be live-service games. There is no better way.”

When Hartmann joined Amazon in 2018, he became vice president of game studios and was charged with leading the games and marketing teams. At Amazon, Hartmann saw an opportunity to not repeat what he did at 2K–he has a new goal in mind.

“I wanted to do a different type of game. I’m done with that popcorn event of single-player game with a big story and having to ship in the fall,” Hartmann said. “I wanted to do live-service games because I think that’s the future. All games will be live-service games. There is no better way.”

Hartmann is enthusiastic and mostly optimistic about the future of gaming, but he also has concerns about where this industry is headed. In particular, Hartmann said he worries about how games today are not just a game–they’re a lifestyle, a hobby. Amazon Games is directly involved in this business with Hartmann’s stated goal of being the western world’s biggest provider of live-service games.

“So you invest hundreds and hundreds of hours in one game, so you’re not going to quickly move on to something else. So it’s becoming… fewer and fewer games. Which leaves less and less room for new games. It also kills creativity because you start to do one thing,” he said, “I’m scared we’re moving in a direction like where the film industry was in the ’90s when everything turned to big action movies where everything was bigger budget, going from Terminator and this and that,” Hartmann said.

“If someone comes to me with the next BioShock, I’m probably not going to push it away. If Ken Levine calls me tomorrow and says, ‘I’m fed up, I have a great idea, it’s twice as good as BioShock, can we figure something out?’ Maybe it’s not going to be live-service game, but maybe there is a way to do episodic content and figure something out,” he said.

Crucible’s “brutal” launch

One of Hartmann’s first big decisions as head of Amazon Games was what to do with the studio’s team-based shooter, Crucible. (Amazon’s team-based multiplayer brawler Breakaway pre-dates Hartmann’s time at the company, so he had no comment on what happened there.) Crucible was a free-to-play multiplayer shooter that was Amazon’s first big play in games beyond its mobile/social offerings. Development on it began before Hartmann joined the team, and he had a crucial call to make right out of the gate. The game launched in May 2020, but after just one month, Amazon made the unusual move of returning it to beta.

Hartmann said he considered straight-up canceling it, but opted to release the title, even though the odds were stacked against it as it competed with titles like Fortnite and PUBG. Even though the game went nowhere and quickly shut down, Hartmann said it was a valuable learning experience.

“Sometimes you just have to start shipping,” he said. “If you want to play in the Champions League, you gotta play some games. Look at [Paris Saint-Germain]; they buy the best players and still don’t win. Did I think Crucible had a big chance? Not really. But we were fighting a 10,000-pound gorilla coming out at the peak of Fortnite and PUBG and doing a similar game. You’re kidding yourself. What are your chances?”

For her part, Sarah Anderson was on Crucible’s launch team and admitted the game’s release was “brutal.”

“We were having war room meetings every morning at 8 AM, talking about the status of things, where we were, what we should do, and how we should communicate with customers, and how can we make this better for customers, what do we need to do here,” she said. “But it was also very much about, ‘What is our learning? What can we do now to fix it for customers, and what have we learned from this and how do we do this differently going forward?’ There was nothing punitive or anything like that. It helped us understand that we can take some risks; we can try things. We need to be doing better at making sure we’re putting something out that customers like, and that it’s ready for them, but that it’s okay to take those risks and learn from them.”

More recently, Amazon Games has had success more recently with the MMOs Lost Ark (which Amazon publishes) and New World (which Amazon’s team in Orange County developed). Hartmann said these success stories are noteworthy within the wider gaming landscape where another deep-pocketed technology giant, Google, fizzled out with its own gaming projects already. In 2021, Google announced it was closing its games studios, impacting 150 people, including Assassin’s Creed producer Jade Raymond, who has since started a new studio now owned by PlayStation.

A tranquil scene from Lost Ark
A tranquil scene from Lost Ark

“It’s pretty good given that everybody thought we would never ship a game,” Hartmann said. “Other people tried it. Google threw in the towel after like, what, a year? Not very long,” he said. “[Google] had lots of big announcements, lots of plans… I am more in the world of underpromise and overdeliver. I try to keep it quiet and let the results speak for themselves.”

And while the player bases for New World and Lost Ark may have dropped off–that’s not uncommon for any game–Hartmann said he is proud of Amazon’s ongoing efforts to continue to support and improve them.

“That’s the beauty of Amazon. [Lost Ark and New World] did really well at the beginning, the numbers dropped. Other traditional publishers could say, ‘Uhh, I’m done,'” Hartmann said. “The truth is, when you look at Final Fantasy [XIV], you had the same thing. Elder Scrolls [Online] had the same thing. Lost Ark in Korea lost 90% of the installed base. But then they came back.”

Amazon’s next games

In terms of upcoming projects in the works at Amazon Games that have been publicly disclosed so far, these include Smedley’s new live-service game from Amazon Games San Diego, as well as a new title from Amazon Games’ team in Montreal from members of the team that made Rainbow Six Siege. Additionally, Amazon Games will publish a new game from UK studio Glowmade, which is composed of people who used to work at Fable studio Lionhead. Then there is a new project from Disruptive Games, which will be an online multiplayer action-adventure game based on a new IP.

For Smedley’s new game, he recalled pitching three games to Hartmann for what Amazon San Diego could create and was surprised when Hartmann selected what Smedley said was his team’s most out-there and difficult concept.

“He picked the hardest one, but he also picked the one that is going to stand out from anything else out there because there is nothing like it,” Smedley said. “Seeing someone pick the hard one? That was like, ‘Wow.’ This one has something that really stands out about it, and he spotted that right away.”

Looking beyond that, I asked Hartmann if any MGM properties might be on the table for a game adaptation now that Amazon’s $8.5 billion acquisition of the James Bond studio has been finalized. Hartmann teased that MGM’s “insane pool of IP” could one day be made into video games, citing franchises like The Addams Family and Pink Panther as IP that are potentially suited for mobile game adaptations (though no plans are in the works). But Amazon doesn’t plan to touch the James Bond series, as Hartmann says it would be silly to try to compete with Hitman developer IO’s own upcoming 007 game.

Another possibility with the MGM deal is for some of Amazon’s games to be spun into TV shows or movies. In fact, Hartmann mentioned that Amazon’s new Global Media and Entertainment division–Prime Video, Amazon Music, Audible, Twitch, and Amazon Games–has opportunities to work together to elevate each individual unit.

“Ideally, [we become] the Disney of the future. I don’t know if we get there, but it’s a good approach,” he said of Amazon’s synergistic ambitions. “In general, I believe games are going to be the new Marvel… It could [also] be the other way–maybe one day MGM likes one of our games to turn into a movie. There are no plans. Is there going to be a New World TV show one day? Why not?”

“The Worst Thing Is Having A Successful Title”

Despite launching 2K, successfully moving to Amazon, and getting the ship off the ground with New World and Lost Ark, Hartmann refuses to relax.

“I put more pressure on myself than anyone else can put on me. When we have a success, and people are like, ‘Oh, let’s celebrate.’ I can’t,” he said. “I’m like, first of all, I am upset for all the things we could have done better. Because there is always something. The other is, I am shitting my pants for the next title because you’re only as good as your next title. The worst thing for me is having a successful title because I put so much pressure on myself. When I came to Amazon, I said I had a decent career in gaming, I don’t feel like I have to go out to prove a lot to other people or myself–if I have two or three more hits, then I’m going to go sit in my rocking chair and tell my grandchildren about it. Now we’ve had two okay hits and now I’m just hungrier. I want to be the biggest live-service games publisher in the world.”

Hartmann still takes time for himself, and he goes on vacations and spends time with his family. In fact, Hartmann had to stop our interview at one point so he could get on the phone and sing his son’s favorite lullaby to help him get to sleep thousands of miles away in Europe.

“I will always put family first over work,” he said. “I do not always put myself higher than work. It’s always family first, work second, myself third. It’s really my own ghost haunting me to do the next thing. I wish I could shut it off sometimes. I don’t see myself as a complete failure. I always have been that guy who thought I would be a bit lucky, so if an airplane comes down I’m probably going to be the one guy sitting with a newspaper on the toilet. That’s kind of more my approach to life. While I’ve had my share of bad experiences, somehow I always turn out lucky.”


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