THQ has announced it will acquire Big Huge Games (Rise of Nations, Catan) for an undisclosed sum, making the Maryland-based studio a wholly-owned subsidiary.
In May of 2007, THQ and Big Huge Games announced a development agreement for an RPG led by Oblivion developer Ken Rolston, currently anticipated for a 2009 debut on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
So why bring Big Huge in-house? When Gamasutra spoke to THQ executive vice president of worldwide studios Jack Sorensen, he stated that getting to know the Big Huge team played a role in motivating the acquisition, as opposed to continuing a purely developer-publisher relationship.
Said Sorensen, "From THQ's perspective, I view this acquisition as a poster child for the way we like to approach things, which is that clearly we have a strategy of being in big genres on big, original IP, but we also have a very carefully constructed philosophy in how we look at internal developments, so working with a developer for an amount of time so we can get to know each other is a big prerequisite on internal versus external, so Big Huge Games hits all our strategy points."
Big Huge Games COO Tim Train agrees that plenty of common ground was an essential factor: "When we founded Big Huge Games, we wanted to make great games and also be a fun place to work," he said. "That was pretty much it. In talking to THQ, I think that they actually share our philosophy and have a studio system that can support that."
Continued Train, "We look at the world as dividing into two camps from a publisher perspective – first are the people who view game production as more of an assembly-line process, whereas THQ are a lot more focused on keeping developer culture intact -- they think it’s a big engine of creativity, especially when trying to develop original IP. Because they're not built on big, monolithic single-location studios, they've got a very worldwide studio system that was very attractive to us when we were talking to them."
We asked THQ's Sorensen if, when working with developers to publish a title, they regularly consider bringing those developers in-house. "We’re not unique there," he conceded, "but yeah, every external group that we work with, it’s always in the back of our minds."
He continued, "Rather than it being purely financially driven -- although that’s a big component -- it’s more about [finding] the next group of game developers that can really add a unique take on the studio system, either from a genre or platform perspective, but also fit in well so that we can continue the culture that we built."
Continued Sorensen, "We have 1700 or 1800 people in product development. Even if adding on another 100 people is not a huge percentage increase, I always view it as it can add a tremendous amount of knowledge and enthusiasm. But having something in-house can become a kind of cancer where a small group of people can really disrupt the culture of the rest, so it’s a carefully considered strategy for us."
Given Big Huge's reputation, will they focus on RPGs? Not so, says Sorensen. "The big RPG, we always felt [RPGs were] a big hole [in our portfolio]. When we signed it last year, we felt it was a relief to find something of this quality and innovation. But what sealed the deal was another game we can't talk about," he said. "At minimum, it adds to the idea that Big Huge is a big generator of original IP, and can offer something new and exciting for us."
We asked what else Big Huge is bringing to the table, given that one of THQ's stated goals in addition to increasing its internal development capabilities, is to expand its portfolio of owned IP.
He replied, "I would say that the RPG was enough, but what definitely sealed the deal for us on both sides is the next one. It's more innovative, more unique, and we just felt like it requires both long-term thinking from both sides. But also from THQ's perspective, it showed us that this is a studio that can gen some new concepts. Anything else coming out of Big Huge is icing on the cake."
When pressed for details on a new IP so compelling it sealed an acquisition deal, both THQ and Big Huge declined to provide any specifics, but seemed enormously enthusiastic about the game concept.
Big Huge Games will maintain its autonomy, continuing to work in-house without management changes. "We're going to fold into the worldwide studio system," Big Huge's Train explained. "We’re really excited. Since we started working with THQ, weve been impressed with the quality of their developer support on every level. It's rare to find a publisher who understands games on the level and depth that they do, and they share our position for quality in a great environment."