The holiday season may be behind us, but there seems to be one more stuffed turkey waiting to be picked apart and feasted upon. Beleaguered publisher THQ filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on December 19th and failed in their attempt to push through a quick sale of the company’s assets to Clearlake Capital Group. After some legal head-butting between Clearlake and THQ’s creditors, the US Trustee overseeing the bankruptcy proceedings has ordered that the publisher’s assets, including studios and game licenses, will be auctioned off one-by-one on January 22nd.
While THQ has been navigating dire financial straights for some time now, they still hold the rights to a number of well-known games that have a good deal of money making potential. As a result, publishers will be lined up to toss wads of cash at THQ is order to get their hands on some of these games. The big guns of the gaming industry, including Electronic Arts, Activision, Ubisoft, and Warner Brothers, have already been reported as potential bidders.
So, where should the games end up? Obviously, we’d love to see each title find a home with a publisher that can nurture its potential and bring it to fruition. While the aforementioned cash-flinging orgy may not promote that same sense of care and concern for each title, we can still hope. With that in mind, here’s my list of THQ’s games that are up for grabs and where I would like to see them end up. Keep in mind, this does not account for all of the various developers that may be attached to these projects. Rather, i’m just taking into consideration each project’s needs and which publisher could provide the best environment for it to blossom.
The Saints Row franchise will be one of the more tempting dishes on the buffet when the bidding begins. According to THQ, the last installment, Saints Row: The Third, sold over 5.5 million copies. Therefore, it will take a publisher with deep pockets to reel in this big fish. While Activision undoubtedly has the money to acquire Saints Row, is it really the best home for the franchise? Before you call me a moron and curse my name to the heavens, consider a few factors. First of all, Activision has tried and failed, on multiple occasions, to break into the open-world sandbox game market with the True Crime series. Saints Row provides immediate and viable competition to the Grand Theft Auto series and help Activision to get their fanancial cut of that particular gaming genre. Secondly, by also grabbing up Volition Studios, the developers behind the all three Saints Row games, they have a virtual cash cow. If they can remain hands-off and allow Volition to continue doing what they’ve done so well since 2006, their only real obligation will be funding more games that are all but guaranteed to make boatloads of cash.
Darksiders 2 received rather high praise from, well, just about everyone, including our own Nick Calandra. Unfortunately for THQ, that acclaim did not translate into sales figures, with Darksiders 2 performing beneath sales expectations. Regardless, Darksiders is the IP with perhaps the most gameplay promise for whoever manages to snaffle it up. We’re torn here between Capcom and Ubisoft. Capcom have shown their ability to publish a quality action RPG with this year’s release of Dragon’s Dogma, which pretty much came out from Capcom’s nethers and surprised everyone. The quality action RPG proved that Capcom had the mettle to produce strong third person combat and an interesting plot. The issue would be whether Capcom could repeat the successful action RPG formula of Darksiders, given their relative inexperience in the genre. Also, it would guarantee at least twelve million sequels. Ubisoft, on the other hand, have a proven track record with action RPGs, with their Assassin’s Creed series’ combat focus and Prince Of Persia’s exploration. A Darksiders title helmed by Ubisoft would undoubtedly be of the highest quality. The IP would be safe in Ubisoft’s hands. At least, until they decided to do a gritty reboot.
Buyer: Ubisoft/Square Enix
It’s no secret that we here at OnlySP love Metro 2033. The story and the world were both immersive and well-realised. The post-apocalyptic Moscow Metro system was a setting with a clear sense of place and presence, with an oppressive atmosphere that weighed heavily on players. We have two contenders here – Ubisoft and Square Enix. By way of shooters, Ubisoft have more experience with the Far Cry series, which also has a strong sense of place and at least some narrative. Additionally, Ubisoft were behind one of the better game worlds ever created – Beyond Good & Evil. With Ubi’s shooter experience and game world construction, they seem to be a good choice to back up 4A’s creative choices. Alternatively, Square Enix have very recently reinvented themselves, catering to a more story-driven game. Serious narrative-driven games are rapidly appearing from their studios, with titles such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot showing their capacity to work with established worlds. Metro‘s twisting, atmospheric tunnels could benefit from the respect Square Enix shows for environment.
Homefront is not one of THQ’s bigger performers, instead preferring to plod away at the fringes, quietly experimenting with its rather clever premise. EA have also been relatively quiet on the shooter front – well, not really quiet, but their flagship FPS series Medal Of Honor has been neglected as of late. But that’s okay, since EA’s other shooter franchises have their own unique niches down-pat. Crysis has arguably been the forerunner in blockbuster open-world shooters (at least until Far Cry 3 was released), and Battlefield has been a major force in multiplayer (yuck). An open-world reimagining of Homefront, developed perhaps by Crytek, or Crytek and Dice, in conjunction with the remnants of the defunct Kaos studios, could be just enough of a new direction to reinvigorate the IP, while still allowing for a strong game setting. EA tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to create a shooter with an emotional backdrop in the most recent Medal of Honor. Homefront provides an established foundation for such a project and with EA’s resources to back it, the next installment could get the level of polish that it deserves. The game would look and play fantastically on either CryEngine 3 or EA’s newest fetish Frostbite 2. As with the aforementioned Activision acquisitions, Homefront represents a sort of white whale that EA has been chasing for some time. With that in mind, we can hope that this series would find the creative and financial resources to reach its potential under EA’s care.
Company of Heroes
The undisputed king of RTS games, Company Of Heroes will be a hot property to acquire. With the stellar critical reception, Company Of Heroes should demand a premium price, however the fact that it is an RTS and that the sequel is in the later stages of production may mean a lower price is demanded. Ideally, a publisher with extensive experience with RTS games should get this property, however I have a different idea – 2K games. 2K seem to have a knack for investing in risky properties that push the creative boundaries. It took a lot of guts to take a financial risk and back XCOM: Enemy Unknown, considering how loved the original is by fans, as well as the challenges of producing a complex and full-featured strategy game in an era of shooters – and for consoles, too. Games like XCOM, The Darkness 2, and Spec Ops: The Line, show a willingness to support creative vision. Any future teams (especially Relic) working on a Company Of Heroes game would benefit from the creative freedom and support of 2K, while perhaps allowing for some development and innovation into the RTS genre.
Buyer: Warner Brothers
This is an interesting one, given that it’s a highly anticipated unreleased title. It’s an unknown quantity – nobody knows how well it will sell. That uncertainty makes it a financial risk, although everything that has been shown has been very promising. There could be a lot of interest in the South Park property, due to its success as a show, as well as a possible future beyond Stick Of Truth. One publisher has shown an ability to work with well-established IP’s from a different medium – Warner Brothers. They have a background in creating successful licensed properties, adapting Batman into a highly profitable and fun game, as well as The Lord Of The Rings games, and handling many of the later entries in the Lego franchise. Oh, and Warner Brothers also backed the Sesame Street games. Notably, the Batman: Arkham series showed that Warner Brothers can deliver an entertaining gameplay experience while maintaining the integrity of the original property. If WB can maintain their track record of producing quality adaptations of existing properties, then Warner may prove the safest bet for the future of the South Park franchise.
Warhammer has a lot of history behind it. Games Workshop’s massive tabletop property is a potential big earner for whoever manages to land it. Warhammer and 40K’s venerable history as turn-based strategy and real-time strategy would suggest a publisher familiar with these genres. Currently, 2K are doing rather well with TBS and RTS games, with both XCOM: Enemy Unknown (loved by Damien) and Civilization in their stables. A solid head for strategy with a respect for creative integrity found at 2K would allow the Warhammer series to flourish – and perhaps even grow in new and innovative directions. Warhammer may just need some newer blood in it to help rejuvenate the series in preparation for the release of the almost six-year-in-the-making Dark Millennium. The weakness for 2K would be in the third person action area, which may spell doom for the Space Marine series. Alternatively, 2K could take a gamble with a third person action Space Marine sequel, and it may just surprise everyone. Maybe.
Yes, Activision again. Arguably, Red Faction‘s biggest asset is its environmental destruction premise. Couple that with the solid tech of the Geo-Mod engine and you have a good, blasty experience. Unfortunately, the newest Red Faction games suffered from rather boring gunplay, which severely hurt the end product. One thing Activision does well is tight gunplay. No matter how much you hate (or pretend to hate) Call Of Duty, it’s impossible to deny how streamlined the shooting is. I’m not saying turn Red Faction into Call Of Duty, because nobody wants more modern military shooters, however there are some very real lessons Volition could learn from the Call Of Duty teams. On top of that, Activision’s pockets are effectively bottomless, meaning a great deal of funding could be sunk into a new Red Faction game, if management are willing to take a risk or two. Solely on a technical level, I’d love to see the next iteration of Geo-Mod developed with those financial resources in hand. If supported correctly, Activision and Red Faction could be an ideal match.
These are just my opinion, of course. Unfortunately for me, I am not the CEO of any of those publishers. Yet.
On a serious note, it’s rarely good news when a company goes under. Hopefully, those in a position to do something will be able to save as many properties – and peoples’ jobs – as possible. We love games, and we want them to succeed. So take heed, publishers – do what’s best for the games and the players, and it will also be what’s best for your bottom line.