For all its focus on core gaming, THQ still has a very successful and growing kids, family and casual business. Christopher Dring quizzes the division’s executive vice president Martin Good
It is easy to forget with all the Homefront hype, Saints Row momentum and endless Danny Bilson interviews that there is another half to THQ.
While Bilson (he’s the boss of THQ’s core games business) is busy attracting publicity for the firm’s big budget, triple-A blockbusters, his counterpart over in the kids, family and casual business has been keeping a lower profile.
Only a few years ago, kids games were how THQ made its fortune. WWE aside, the publisher was best known for its licensed Nickelodeon and Pixar titles. That has changed.
“If you go back a number of years we were really strong with the kids category, and I still believe we are now,” insists Martin Good, EVP of THQ’s kids, family and casual business.
“But it was really important for THQ to expand into core audiences and start creating games that truly are compelling. I don’t think we were that good at core games many years ago and you only have to look at the proof today to see how strong we are.”
That’s not to say THQ’s family division has been idly sitting by as Bilson and his team hog the limelight. Earlier this year the firm smashed its sales target for its uDraw Wii drawing tablet and is now preparing to launch the device on Xbox 360 and PS3.
And one of the division’s key focuses has been away from packaged goods altogether. As family and casual software sales continue to decline on traditional formats, THQ has been reaching the more mainstream and younger audiences through social networks and mobile.
“Facebook and iPhone are going to be a key part of our kids, family and casual business strategy moving forward,” continues Good. “We are looking at new gameplay patterns to reach a broader market.
“Kids are gravitating towards these platforms. Anyone who has kids can see that. And what we are focusing on is making sure that we are well poised in these areas. We are already there with our brands.
“We have to make sure we are taking the right brands and have the right compelling gameplay to make sure we’re competing in these spaces.”
QUICK ON THE DRAW
With over 1.7m units shipped in just three months, uDraw has been one of the few third party Wii success stories in recent times. We quiz THQ’s Martin Good about the device’s future.
You have been making use of big kids licences for uDraw, from SpongeBob to Mickey Mouse. Why?
uDraw is our IP and underpinning our IP is a lot of other licensed brands. One example is our new deal with Disney to create an animation game [Disney Animator] that brings those famous characters to life. It really is a step forward.
Have you ever considered letting third party publishers create games for uDraw?
We are open to that. We’ve had some discussions with publishers that have expressed interest. Our focus is on our brand, and if someone wants to do come to us and do something with us, then we will see what we can do.
Why bring uDraw to Xbox 360 and PS3?
The critical mass that we expect Microsoft and Sony to achieve in the coming two years makes them ideal platforms. Microsoft’s E3 announcements shows very clearly they are going straight for that broader demographic with Kinect Disneyland Adventures and so on. We are seeing a whole new audience on these platforms and that plays beautifully into our hands and our strategy.
Wii U incorporates its own tablet controller. Is this a setback for uDraw?
THQ created uDraw merely as a vehicle to bring software to enable greater drawing and learning. We are a software company not a hardware company. Seeing the likes of Nintendo coming out with Wii U and that tablet system is a breath of fresh air for us, as it will let us capitalise on the brand of uDraw and exploit it with these new partnerships we’re pursuing now, such as the one with Disney. It doesn’t really matter whether it is on the uDraw or someone else’s device.
What’s next for uDraw?
The potential is limitless. We can bring in other gameplay mechanics. uDraw would work beautifully with RTS titles, and it can do some of the things Nintendo wants to do with Wii U. It was as if we were anticipating Wii U and we came out with a device somewhat earlier.
So Nintendo stole this idea?
(laughs) I wouldn’t say that. Obviously we’re working closely with Nintendo with uDraw and they’ve been a great supporter
KINECT, MOVE AND NEW TYPES OF GAMES
Good says one of his most important tasks is developing ‘new gameplay patterns’ to help broaden the market. And the division is developing a number of innovative products for both Kinect and Move in-order to do just that.
For its fitness range, it has teamed up with Adidas to create the personal trainer game MiCoach. But perhaps most interesting is its partnership with spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra to create the ‘experience’ Leela.
“With the Deepak Chopra game we are looking at entirely new gameplay patterns,” says Good.
“This game is not for the gamer looking for their hardcore shooter. But it is something that my wife got excited about when I told her about it. It will let her work out where her chakras are and get her mind, body and soul in balance and learn more about Deepak Chopra’s teachings. That’s a Kinect experience and again we are experimenting and broadening the potential audience.
“Internally everyone is very excited about miCoach, and externally it looks like we’ve gained a lot of momentum from our announcement.
“Adidas is really involved. They are working with the talent we want to bring in. They are helping us secure the people we want. Adidas has mentored the programme and endorsed everything we do, as they do with their own athletes.
“Both Kinect and Move are two products we are attracted to. And our games for them are how we’re making sure we are at the forefront of those.”
THQ declared in a financial call earlier this year that it has re-evaluated its kids movie licensed business and has lowered its expectations for these games.
But Good says the company isn’t giving up on movie licences altogether.
“The days of ‘go see the movie, now go buy the game’ is limited and the cost of these licences is very expensive,” admits Good. “We are starting to see that change.
“We are not necessarily moving away from movie properties, but we are limiting what we are currently doing.
“You saw that with Disney’s Toy Story 3 compared to what we did with Cars years ago. They had a good game and we had a good game. But the numbers were significantly different between those two – Cars being much more successful first time round.
“We’re seeing people falling off from that category, and it’s up to us to find new gameplay patterns through Facebook and so on. One thing we do know is that there are now more gamers than ever. That keeps us stimulated.”
THQ currently publishes video games based on DreamWorks’ properties. The firm is working on a game based on the Puss In Boots movie.