Rest in Peace, THQ. What a year it could have been for them; Company of Heroes 2, Metro: Last Light, Saints Row 4 and South Park: The Stick of Truth. I am still not convinced if it was the best decision to sell off studios and IPs the way THQ did, but that can be an unending discussion. The sad part though is that even though the management advocated a higher value realization through this move, it seems that the garage sale has only been able to raise roughly $100 million now that Darksiders, Red Faction, MX Vs. ATV and Homeworld etc have found new homes. Here’s a brief summary of things you might already be aware of.
The good news is some of the more anticipated games are still up for release soon and some previously unknown IPs seem to have surfaced such as Evolve by Turtle Rock Studios (Left 4 Dead 2, Counter-Strike Source), 1666 (that just sounds so cool) and Underdog. One IP may never see the light of day at all - Vigil Games’ Crawler which was mentioned for the first time in THQ’s Chapter 11 filing. What was surprising though was the absence of the two big gaming behemoths from the sale - EA and Activision Blizzard. Instead some of the more established franchises changed hands with some rather unanticipated companies.
Biggest issue with the sale for me would be Sega buying Relic Entertainment!!! This just felt disappointing not because Sega is a bad company but their track record of late isn’t the best in terms of games they’ve put out, the most recent being the not so great Aliens: Colonial Marines. Relic is one of the better studios in the industry with a strong foundation in the Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre with Company of Heroes and Warhammer 40K, two of the best franchises in the industry. The evolution of Warhammer 40K franchise from Dawn of War to Dawn of War II could put Blizzard’s beloved StarCraft to shame. I say that not because of any “special” love for Warhammer 40K, I love StarCraft just as much; but strategy games can inherently be a little too unwieldy as you progress, and you realize you aren’t using all the units available to you just as much. I finished Heart of the Swarm recently, but never really used the Mutalisk, the Swarm Host or the Infestor units nearly as much. Dawn of War II really was a step forward in RTS wherein the game-play was all about alternate approaches with each unit type available and letting players truly experiment. It brought focus to the crucial nature of each of the available units in a game as compared to the first Dawn of War as well. Company of Heroes needs no introduction. Space Marine may sound like a misstep for the studio but personally I feel it was borne out of THQ’s need to expand the franchise beyond the PC and the popularity of Third Person Games. Given that THQ’s problems had started to manifest by the time Space Marine released, it was by no means a bad game but probably more about competing in a genre which has its own fair share of well established titles.
If only Zenimax would have bid slightly higher, losing only by $300,000 while bidding for Relic, the world would have been a better place hopefully (atleast in my opinion). The only advice I can think of, as far as Sega is concerned - leave Relic alone at least as far as game development goes. Let them do their thing and you provide the marketing that this beloved studio requires and they will prove their worth. Does Sega need a studio like Relic? Most definitely yes but I don’t know how much Sega historically interferes with its studios’ game development process. Company of Heroes 2 is only months away from release, and the only marketing I’ve seen is the pre-purchase and beta access on Steam (which is a great move by the way). People are loving it already but Sega needs to up their game from just pre-purchase rewards and build on marketing activities such as the beta access.
The other big shocker was Koch Media (Deep Silver) buying Volition as well as the Saints Row and Metro franchises. Surprisingly, Ubisoft bid way too low for the studio at around $5.4 Million against Koch Media’s $22.3 Million, meanwhile their bid for Metro was still within range with Koch Media. Koch Media can be happy about acquiring two great franchises, but did they overpay is yet to be seen. Metro: Last Light has the opportunity to take the mantle for survivor horror game of the year since Resident Evil 6 and Dead Space 3 seem to be mediocre entries at least from a critic’s standpoint. Saints Row has bigger concerns since this would be the first time it would compete directly with the big daddy of sandbox franchises, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto Series. Here’s my issue though, how deep are Koch Media’s pockets to support these two AAA titles for development and marketing now that they’ve bought them? It would be shameful to see Saints Row IV underperform this year, given its close release date to the new GTA V. If historical sales are something to go by, everyone knows what consumers would be shelling out their dollars for. What I am curious about though is how much Koch Media supports these two franchises now that it’s almost the time of release. How about what’s next for these studios? AAA titles require big budgets, something Koch Media should consider now going forward.
The only other $10 Million+ transaction that took place was Take-Two buying Evolve. This is good news. Take Two owns two of the best game development teams, Rockstar and 2K which seem to have a sort of Midas Touch. With BioShock Infinite, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Borderlands 2 and even The Darkness II to a certain degree, the track record speaks for itself for both 2K Games and Rockstar. It’s only a matter of time to find out what Evolve aka Metamorphosis is all about.
Ubisoft seemed like the only company which was interested in purchasing more than a couple of studios and IPs. If their bids are anything to go by, they were prepared to spend around $17 Million. Losing out to Koch Media for Saints Row and Metro series, Ubisoft was smart to pick up South Park: The Stick of Truth which no one else was interested in surprisingly. It received a lot of praise last year when it was revealed and I’m curious to see what the final outcome is like. More than that, I am curious about Ubisoft’s other acquisitions namely THQ Montreal and the IPs 1666 and Underdog.
Crytek got Homefront but again it’s a genre dominated primarily by Call of Duty and the Battlefield series. It would also be interesting to see what Crytek can do with the series given their prowess with prior ventures in First Person Shooters (FPS) with the original Far Cry and the entire Crysis series. Can it also mean EA shutting Medal of Honor down for good and instead we get Battlefield and Homefront every alternate year. The only other notable acquisition would be Nordic Games’ move to acquire the Darksiders and Red Faction licenses, among others. It seems like a good move from a business standpoint since they want to outsource development to interested parties, but the sad part is they don’t intend to develop either of the franchise internally. So till the time someone raises their hand and agrees to pay licensing fees or split revenues with Nordic Games, the future of Darksiders and Red Faction is in infinite limbo.
It’s always sad to hear about companies closing down and people losing their jobs but in this particular case the future of the different IPs and studios is still uncertain now that they’ve migrated to new homes. THQ was a phenomenal company in its own right which gave us a lot of solid games but its demise was anything but honorable wherein there were no knights in shining armor who came to rescue this company from the garage sale it ended up being.