INTERVIEW: THQ

Ben Parfitt
INTERVIEW: THQ

Historically, THQ has been best known for licensed products, but how much success have you had with original IP in the last 12 months?

Jon Rooke:
Tons. We had Red Faction: Guerrilla last year. That’s an original IP that THQ had owned for a number of years, and despite a seven-year gap between Red Faction II and Guerilla, we brought that IP back to market and still managed to ship 1.3m units. And it was around the same time as UFC 2009, so we were almost competing with ourselves and still delivered great volume. So that was a great success.

We had Darksiders at the start of this year – again, 1.3m units shipped and it took No.1 positions in a lot of markets. To have a first-time developer achieve this in January just proves that we can engage consumers with new IP. Similarly, we saw great success with Metro 2033.

Looking forward, we have a great pipeline of new IPs. It’s a lot more balanced than it used to be. In previous years, we might have been a little over-reliant on licensed products but we certainly have great IP. There’ll be another Darksiders, another Saints Row, Homefront, we’ve got another Red Faction, not to mention de Blob. We’re building brands and franchises at THQ. Previously, we’d build one game and if it worked we’d build another, but now we have a more franchise-orientated plan.

You’ve mentioned that you have a six to seven year roadmap planned out for de Blob, and as much as 10 years for Homefront. Why is it important to look so far ahead?

Adam Roberts: If you’re prepared to invest in a franchise, you should do that. Don’t just do a fire-and-forget product before moving on to the next one. To me, the whole heart and soul of Homefront is because we’re thinking that way, and all of the work that has been done in advance – generating the scenario, coming up with the fictitious but plausible reality – gives it such substance and depth. And then we can just drop in sequels, spin-off titles, movies, books. It creates a whole universe that we can work with.

Jon Rooke: Gamers want to be engaged. Microsoft didn’t just make up Halo on a whim and roll another game out a couple of years later because the first one did well. They (and Bungie) created the Halo universe and engaged consumers in it. I think we’d be naive to ask consumers to engage with Homefront and that future history if we didn’t know what we wanted to do with that brand ourselves.

Adam Roberts: The parallel is Star Wars. It started off in 1977 with the first one, then the trilogy, and then they created the prequels and lots of stories in between. They created an entire universe full of characters and soul – that’s really the way forward.

And how does your new Licensing and Merchandise division fit into these plans?

Jon Rooke: We’ve always had that business there, but it hasn’t been as integrated with the franchise plans. There’s nothing we can talk about yet, but certainly Darksiders and other core IP will have merchandise roadmaps drawn up. I wouldn’t say the division is there as a revenue generator, it’s there to help us build brands and engage consumers. It’s part of the bigger mix.

WWE has always been a big part of THQ’s portfolio. How will your titles benefit from the direct relationship you now have with WWE?

Jon Rooke:
It benefits us massively. In previous years, we’ve effectively had to communicate with WWE via Jakks Pacific and that slowed communication, lost things in translation and challenged our ability to really maximise the potential of that licence. We now have what I call a ‘hotline to Vince [McMahon, WWE CEO]’.

Our goal is to be much more aligned with the brand itself, and we fully expect to deliver upon that within the next couple of products. You’ll be able to watch WWE programming in the UK and Smackdown vs Raw will be a part of that broadcast. Maybe the Holy Grail is to have a storyline about the box reveal, and wrestlers fight it out to see who will appear on the box. That’s the kind of stuff we want to do.

I’d liken it to having a relationship with your girlfriend through her mother. It’s not going to be the best relationship in the world and you’re not going to get everything you want from it.

You have three WWE products on the way: Smackdown vs Raw, WWE All-Stars and Korea’s WWE Smackdown vs Raw Online – plus UFC. How do you avoid oversaturating your own market?

Jon Rooke: All three of those WWE games exists for a specific reason, for a specific audience with a specific play pattern. Smackdown vs Raw is the authentic simulation product. It’s for the serious fans who live and breathe WWE. Other people want to have a more arcade kind of experience, so we have WWE All-Stars. Those two games are absolutely complementary. I don’t see any difficulty having both in the market.

Similarly, UFC appeals to different consumers. In fact, we’ve seen people tend to start with the WWE brand and migrate over to UFC and perhaps back to WWE later in life. Again, they’re very complementary and having both of them on our books is great for us.

Adam Roberts: It’s a bit like having StarCraft, Warcraft and World of Warcraft. You’ve got three completely distinct products, all serving slightly different communities. They’re all very similar, and there’s a lot of crossover, but they’re all different offerings.

UFC 2009 was a smash hit, but UFC 2010 doesn’t seem to have had the same impact. Is it fair to say the game didn’t meet expectations?

Jon Rooke: We’ve come out publicly and said that sales were softer than where we would have liked them to be. I don’t know if we’d say they didn’t meet expectations: the game was bigger, better, has a higher Metacritic score, and the campaign was fantastic.

I think there was a special set of circumstances with UFC 2009 and quite a separate set with UFC 2010. UFC 2009 was kind of a perfect storm. It was the first true next-gen MMA on the market, the product looked fantastic, we had a massively growing UFC fanbase, and we benefited from having a relatively quiet release window in terms of competing titles. UFC and MMA fans wanted that game, but also avid gamers who buy one title a month and wanted to buy the game everyone was talking about.

Fast forward to 2010. We know our UFC and MMA fans have bought it, but we maybe haven’t yet delivered the broader sales, and that’s largely down to Red Dead Redemption. That game is phenomenal, it’s new, it’s unique, it’s fresh, it’s novelty, and it has those kind of water-cooler talking point moments we had with UFC 2009 last year. Rockstar probably took a fair amount of our market share. They shipped 5m units, taking a lot of consumer dollars.

That’s not to say our sales are in any way disappointing. We still shipped 2.6 million units, which is a fantastic achievement and that figure is still growing. And we’ve got a long tail with that product. We know it sells consistently and will do so over a long period of time. Whatever our expectations were, we’re still very confident that we will match them.

Last year, we showed that May was a great month to launch titles and everyone has decided to launch theirs in the same window this year. There was Prince of Persia, Alan Wake, Blur, Split/Second – lots more than there was last year. We almost created the opportunity for everyone else, they’ve all piled in and it’s spread the money around because there was a lot of quality product there.

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