THQ was going through a tough time a few years back, but you’ve turned things around. How have you managed that?
On the core side we focused everything on quality and we were much more selective about what we were making and how we were making it.
Also, about a year and a half ago we reorganised and closed something like eight studios – we almost reduced our capacity in half. This has allowed us to spend more on the studios left to get the quality right. To compete in games now you have to compete at the highest level. There is no room for an average game. That means fewer, better games, and you’d have seen that happen with THQ. Over the past year pretty much every core game from us was 80 or above on Metacritic.
How has the explosive growth in UFC helped in this turnaround?
It made our year last year. It outperformed our US expectations by almost double. We are really excited about UFC 2010 because it’s excellent and we know what the plans are for next year. We are growing UFC into the finest fighting game franchise in the world.
Are you concerned about EA launching its own MMA title? Does the licence give you an edge?
It is a lot more than that. I think it is the licence and the experience THQ has in building wrestling games. We’ve been creating them for 10 or 12 years. They are extremely difficult to make and we are constantly working on the tech, tools and engine. EA has a big challenge in terms of getting the quality up and doing it without a licence. There is no concern from us and from our partners at UFC about what they are doing.
WWE is a brand in decline at the moment. Are you still confident in this licence?
We can only really control the game side of it. What you are going to see coming out of us is a lot of innovation and we are going to be announcing some new games under the licence that are really exciting. We are doing a lot on our side of the relationship to progress the brand for the fans of WWE. You are going to see some neat WWE stuff at E3.
Old THQ was largely known for its licensed games. You still have many licensed properties, but is it your aim to move away from your association with them?
Licensed games is important to a segment of THQ. In my group it is really important to the fighting category with WWE and UFC. But in core our primary initiative is original IP and building new franchises. We will be unveiling a new title at E3 and you’ll see incredible things we are doing with existing brands, too.
One of the big new IPs you’ve invested heavily in is your FPS Homefront. What are your expectations for this title?
We expect it to be one of the games the shooter fans look forward to and talk about every time it ships. It is a very deep shooter in that we touch on elements of social science fiction, speculative fiction and a lot of emotion – there are places we go with that game that the our rivals don’t. I am proud of what the team is doing with Homefront.
Do you feel it will become the benchmark of what THQ has to make?
I don’t think there is such thing as a benchmark in a business where every time I turn around the other guy is blowing me away with a trailer for Black Ops or with the experiences I am having in Red Dead Redemption.
I have to deal with what our amazing competitors are doing. They keep raising the bar. What Homefront was two months ago and what I am asking it to be two months from now are different because of what our rivals are doing. It is a very exciting time in the blockbuster games space because of the amazing innovation in the art form. We fully expect our teams to compete with that and we drive them very hard. The bar is moving all the time. I hope we can set some of them, but then we expect the other guy to push it up after that.
How do you feel the THQ of today differs from THQ two years ago?
The building I walked into two and a half years ago is not the building I sit in today. It’s dramatically different. The people who are still here after the transition are people who were smart and agile enough to change and buy into new plans.
Something like half the people we have at THQ now were here before the change and they are smiling a lot these days.
We also changed the organisation completely a year ago. Brian [Farrell, CEO] restructured us into business units and gave us independence and focus. The big thing for me was being able to handle marketing and product development together as one team. We have seen tremendous uptake in productivity and creativity as a result.
We have motivated people who had scary experiences in the past, but everybody pulled together and gathered around quality and good creativity. All of my team are all gamers. That is one big difference between us and some of the competition, even at the highest levels we are playing games – not watching TV. Gamers make great games and gamers make great game companies.
What is THQ’s strategy in digital?
We converted two of our developers in January into digital studios. One of them is taking one of our biggest brands – MX vs ATV – and turning it into a digital title. It will have a lower price-point but the ability to buy as much of it as you want. Also the studio in Warrington is a digital developer and they are going to be building a series of games for Xbox Live and PSN. Our Facebook games are happening externally right now.
In the future what you will see is us building games and digital content and giving a lot of it away to our consumers, that way we can get them more involved in the brand in-between the big launches. We will have a lot of involvement for the community both before and after a game comes out.
Everyone seems to be rushing towards digital at the moment. Are you worried there’s not enough room for everybody?
I am really concerned about that. Our strategy is based on the fact that Taco Bell has games on Facebook. It seems every commercial venture has a game on Facebook now. We are not where Zynga was two years ago and therefore we are being very selective about the brands we break out in digital and making sure they are super high quality games. The only way we can compete coming in now is with a brand we believe in and that helps us with marketing and driving revenue. But like everything else in our group it is about quality. If when we put a game out it is a very high quality then we stay out of the exploitation business.
What about iPod and iPad. How are they influencing your digital strategy?
What you are going to see with us is our ‘connect everything’ strategy. You might see an iPod/iPad game based on one of our biggest brands that when you play it will unlock things in the other games based on that brand. I cannot emphasise how important the ‘connect everything’ strategy is to our digital plans. Even our biggest console games are going to unlock things in smaller iPad games.
What’s the thinking behind your deal with SyFy, which will see Red Faction and De Blob come to TV?
Some of us in the business have been working on the transmedia dream for almost 15 years. At THQ we have the support, ability and creative partnerships to realise that vision. We are going to be rolling out some huge announcements this summer around transmedia. They will be the most substantive transmedia plans seen from a games company. It is not just a licensing deal or ‘brand X’ is in development. These announcements will have dates and products and details on how the roll out goes. Some of the transmedia pieces we will announce will have talent attached to them that will open some eyes. We are only beginning to talk about it and you are probably the first person I’ve told this much too.
Is it that important to THQ’s future?
It’s a brave new world out there, and I think engaging people with your content in exciting ways across different media is the way to sell games in the future. I believe in that and our team is becoming more dedicated towards that. When we fully announce this stuff it will be eye-opening and it goes beyond SyFy.