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THQ's Farrell: 'See The Movie, Play The Game' Experiences No Longer Sell
THQ's Farrell: 'See The Movie, Play The Game' Experiences No Longer Sell Exclusive
February 2, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander

February 2, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Although it was once best-known for its kids' film license tie-in games, THQ has big changes underway, focused intently on upcoming core titles like Homefront and reducing the number of movie licenses with which it'll engage.

The publisher has seen a "slowdown in console titles aimed at children," as CEO Brian Farrell said on the investor call following its holiday quarter financial results, in which it reported a loss.

But although the company will still apply a portion of its focus to the children's audience, it wants to do so in a more careful way, says Farrell: "We have re-evaluated our kids movie-based licenses and have lowered our expectations for games in this segment."

A stand-out during the company's past quarter was its uDraw tablet, which shipped 1.2 million units through the end of the year since its release November 14.

Farrell believes this is an example of the kind of youth-oriented product that can still do well on the market, and said THQ will continue to support the peripheral with more games, notably a SpongeBob title, throughout the year.

Its colorful, family-friendly De Blob will get a sequel, and De Blob 2 "will be available for the first time on multiple platforms, including a 3D version on the [PS3]," said Farrell. The company also maintains its multi-year licensing deal with toymaker Mattel, through which it hopes to deliver "new patterns and gaming experiences" based on popular properties like Barbie and Hot Wheels.

"The single-player kids' games, particularly those based on movie licenses, were the ones that showed the most weakness," Farrell explained. "What we learned this holiday season is new stuff, innovative stuff... you do something new and consumers, especially kids, respond to that."

"The single-player, 'see the movie, play the game' experience is what seems, at this time, not to be working," he added.

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Tim Carter
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This might actually have something to do with the way games have evolved.

Movies live in a "dream-like space".

Games, on the other hand, put players through a "measured ordeal" that requires the audience to jump through a bunch of hoops. Something that can be far from the spontaneous dreamlike unfolding of a story.

One wonders if a new syntax could be built on the game side to match this...

(Something without quicktime events perhaps?...)

Steven An
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Heh...let's not over-think this. It's because most movie tie-in games suck.

Jamie Mann
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Wot Steven said ;)

If anything, it's become easier to "emulate" movies, now that we can get the original voice actors to reproduce their roles - and with modern 3D engines, we can generally produce a reasonable facimile of both the characters and the environment, both during the game and in cut-scenes.

I think it's a bit simpler: movie-games are generally developed in very short timescales, due to the need to tie in with the movie launch. They also tend to have very limited budgets - most of the money earmarked for the game goes on procuring the licence and are usually multi-platform, further restricting the developer's flexibility and increasing the amount of testing required.

Then too, the biggest market for kid-movie conversions are the DS and Wii platforms. The DS is heavily hit by piracy and the Wii isn't that far behind - plus, with so many games being released for the Wii, the shelf life in physical stores is low, as is the price of the actual game...

The end result is a low-budget game of generally low quality, with razor-thin profit margins, which appears on the shelves for only a short time before it's pushed out by the next batch of shovelware. Making money on this sort of proposition is chancy at best...

Brian Bartram
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Perhaps because licensed games became the shame of the industry. Much like Atari's hubris prior to their fall, purveyors of games based on movie and tv licenses were known to eschew quality for being out on the same date as the movie. I've worked on a Transformers title and felt like a mercenary - hired to do a mediocre job "quick and dirty" with a tiny budget and ridiculously short development schedule. The reasoning was that just putting "Transformers" on the box would sell more copies than bothering to make a game that is actually, you know... fun - as long as it's on the shelves the day the movie comes out.

I, for one, welcome this news.

Ben Pitseleh
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I totally agree. Except for one thing, movie licensed games typically sell well (at least initially). Forget that they are not good, parents who don't know any better see the name and buy them for their kids who don't really know any better either. If the movie does well, then the game does well. Sure, Percy Jackson may have just been a poof and then gone, but that Transformers game you worked on still sells to this day because the movies were hits. Sure, they may not be "successes" as you would normally define them, but since it was a quick and cheap (and dirty as you put it) game to put together, it's basically all profit and they are ready for the next one.

I do concede though that the games have basically gotten worse and worse, and that is probably affecting the long term sales, but I don't think that is the whole story.

Jamie Mann
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@Ben: you've obviously never played E.T., or the original Transformers game on the C64 and Spectrum. Awful doesn't come into it ;)

(actually: E.T. is pretty much the definitive case study on why movie-games generally don't work. Big licence cost, rushed out in six weeks, commercial failure...)

There were some genuinely good movie conversions back in the day - Ghostbusters was surprisingly entertaining and Ocean had a successful run with Robocop, Batman, The Untouchables, etc - but this was at least partly due to the fact that licencing costs were minimal and in most cases, the developers weren't as strongly tied to the movie release date. But the general trend since year dot is that film conversions suck!

Andrew Dovichi
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I felt the same way when I worked on Iron Man 2. Of course the reasoning was valid, that game sold around 1.6 million copies from what I heard.

sarah Drew
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Great Article, but I have to insist that THQ and other developers consider the idea, that kids can experience their favourite movies as a game, in more depth before dismissing movie-game projects.

I think it is possible that childrens games featuring familiar elements from movies, toys, books or popular media enforces the child to perform more complex tasks and fully recieve the benefits of gaming in a familiar environment, participating in problem solving and cognitive tasks. I think the problem is the tasks are not difficult enough. Children are capable of more than people assume, so a movie-game should not just incorporate the familiar themes, characters or other conventions but also themeatically connect the complexity of the game mechanics to the situations of the characters.

The movie-games fail because it is commonly believed that movie games are a smaller budget cash grabs of the movies popularity and the quality of the game itself becomes tarnished before it even has a chance.

If movie-games for kids are to be successful they must be taken seriously as a way to tranform a childs awareness of themes and principles of morale such as childrens media demands and the developers must concentrate on that first and foremost. It might also be a good way to introduce new gameplay mechanics for kids, just another benefit of working with a familiar environment. Sales will boost when people become educated about the benifits of the movie-game!

Nonetheless I am excited to see what changes THQ's big titles are going to bring!

Jon Gregory
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Guess this means Activision's plethora of bad games that aren't Call of Duty will grow now. They don't directly preside over anything else that's remotely worth playing and Call of Duty is up for debate on whether or not it's worth it. They fund Blizzard... but they don't have much say over what they do... obviously. Or there would be a boatload of WoW titles floating around right now.

scott stevens
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The problem with movie-game tie in projects are that the movie studios do not want to start the game for the property until the movie is nearly finished, which leaves precious little time for developers to put a quality effort forward.

I've experienced this first-hand with my studio Tall Chair, Inc. when we worked with Warner Bros. for Sherlock Holmes Mysteries on the iPhone and iPad. I want to be clear that working with the team at Warner Bros. Digital Distribution was on the whole a great experience - they're a good bunch of people. The problems we had were all schedule related. The project did not even get green-lit until there was only two months before the movie came out, which of course meant two months of crazy shifts for me and my team.

If the movie industry wants to have quality interactive experiences based on properties that they would like to showcase, then they are going to have to bring the game developers in at an earlier stage of the project. A quality game cannot be an afterthought or an add-on.

Eric Carr
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I wonder if the downturn has something to do with the parents becoming more knowledgeable. I would assume that many of the sales came from the name on the box, which works great if the purchaser (ie - parent) doesn't know anything about the games themselves. Parents of the kids that would play these titles (5-9 years old, with parents that are 20-40) would have grown up playing games, and know that licensed games generally are not terribly good for a variety of reasons.

Joshua McDonald
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My thoughts exactly. The percent of parents who know nothing about video games is a lot smaller than it was 10-15 years ago.

I, for one, welcome the change.

Josh Foreman
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This is exactly what I was thinking. There have been several times where my kids have been looking for ways to spend their Christmas money and they see a movie game and are reaching for it, and I explain that all movie games suck.

Marc-Olivier Beaupre
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First, most of the movie games are shovelware that cost almost 60$.

Second, creating a movie and making a video game or vice versa has never been that successful. There is a difference between making a good(selling) video game from a movie character like Batman : Arkham Asylum when they created a brand new story unrelated to a movie.

Third, the future in 'movie games' is in social games because they are the one who usually go see the movie. A well made iPhone Avatar game could sell a ton or a Cars Facebook game could possibly attract millions of 'gamers'.

Samuel Fiunte Matarredona
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movie character? did I miss something lately?

comic-books guys...comic books. videogames owe big time to comc books, so give credit where it's due.

Sue Barbs
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I love the movie and I don't know if I would love the game too. I 'm so happy that the game makes are more advanced now and it made kids today more techie than we were their age.

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Love the pic, because if you look at it, you'll realize that's the summary of the article. That's all that I feel compelled to say :)/

Carlo Delallana
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I say it depends on the movie

Tadej Fius
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of course the concept no longer sells !!!! most of games made from movies suck big time, they are using 20 year old ideas of game play. Just making a game with some art from the movie, with game play of running and jumping around and giving a game the title of a movie (there are great example of fabulous movie and mind insulting games) is not really inventing and entertaining.

I agree, try to capture the idea of the story from the movie, and you'll be hitting your head against the concrete brick for quite some time, not an easy task at all, let alone to make it as good as the movie was.

Yet years have passed and none of the studios did anything inventing, just wasting resources into plagiatorism of gameplay.

Well, they got me at some titles, just because kids saw a familiar picture on the box.

But now they already say: "Eh, this is from the movie, it is probably the same as the other one's, rather boring"

There is more entertainment in a statement coming from 5 year old, than in the whole game.

I say, studios brought this onto themself. Wasted such great movies into such horrible games.

Rapeing the market with bad games and now ... its all turning back on them.


Mark Venturelli
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Costumers never get smarter, but they do get wiser!

Lo Pan
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I wonder if movie/cartoon based games are already labeled with a scarlet letter before they even come out? For kids games, it is obvious that a game targeted to a 6-12 year old can't be properly reviewed by a 21 year old reviewer on a steady diet of Warcraft and COD. Movie games do suck, but the suckage is not as bad as it was 3-5 years ago. I think there are teams out there doing their best to 'reverse' the trend of suck for movie games. I like what Marvel and DC is doing with their movie/comic games.

Also I think the license fee/charge makes a significant dent in the game budget.

Aaron Casillas
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Majority of the time the game becomes an extension of the marketing campaign for the movie versus an extension of the world. This leads to major game production problems like getting your hands on the screenplay, making a linear movie experience into an interactive experience etc...

Joe McGinn
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Yo THQ, 2009 called, it wants it's news back! About time THQ caught up with everyone else who knew this two years ago.