THQ's vision for core games

GDC 2011: EVP of core games Danny Bilson holds court with studio heads from Kaos, Volition, Relic, and Vigil; Saints Row coming to Facebook.

by

Who was there: A host of THQ developers, including Vigil Games general manager Dave Adams, Relic Entertainment GM Jonathan Dowdeswell, Kaos Studios lead designer Chris Cross, and Volition GM Mike Kulas. Overseeing the event was THQ executive vice president Danny Bilson.

It's a whole new THQ.

What they talked about: With the Game Developers Conference in full swing, THQ grabbed a handful of the gaming press for a roundtable discussion of its latest core gaming initiatives. The latest of these, the foundation of a new studio in Montreal, saw the Southern California-based publisher recruit Assassin's Creed creative director Patrice Desilets away from Ubisoft.

Desilets wasn't in attendance at today's event, but leading figures from such studios as Kaos (Homefront), Volition (Red Faction, Saints Row), Relic (Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine), and Vigil (Darksiders, Warhammer 40,000 Dark Millennium Online) were. Presiding over the affair was Bilson, who is charge of the publisher's core gaming initiative.

The event, which was a Q&A session format moderated by TechSavvy Global's Scott Steinberg, began with a question about inSane, the collaboration with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. When asked how the deal came about, Kulas said that del Toro came in with a pitch himself. Bilson then pitched the game to Volition, which was wrestling with another concept--one that was abruptly dropped once the studio's upper management heard what del Toro had to say.

When asked about the progress of inSane, Kulas said that del Toro has flown to Volition HQ in Champaign, Illinois, several times and is very collaborative. He meets with the development staff twice a week via video conference, and Kulas said del Toro is considered just another member of the team.

Responding to a Homefront question, Cross said his team struggled with how to incorporate civilians into the game. He said they tried various crazy things, including putting a baby in a dumpster that players had to use as a bullet shield. Eventually, they settled on a civilian-protection mechanic and mentioned a level involving a house full of noncombatants.

When asked why aren't game trilogies made all at once to save money like film trilogies like Lord of the Rings, Bilson joked "It's hard enough making just one." Then he grew serious, saying the comparison wasn't fair, since Rings was already a proven property. Games need to prove their success first before any trilogies move beyond the concept stage.

Bilson was then asked why didn't THQ work with Respawn, the studio formed from Infinity Ward defectors. He said it was important for THQ to own the new IPs it publishes, since building brands is his main responsibility. He said that while he is big on creative freedom, he draws the line on ownership, since it's THQ's money going into the games. However, he feels that once you give it enough creative control, a studio will feel creative ownership over a brand.

When asked about franchises, Bilson said THQ was very sensitive to "IP fatigue" and tries to make every title feel like a brand-new game. He said that while the company wants to build franchises, he is often very hesitant to take a series beyond trilogies. "If we get beyond a trilogy, that's great, but we don't want to tire people out," he summarized.

Bilson also said THQ's transmedia strategy is based on fan demand. He said that "It isn't a money play; it is a fan attention play." THQ doesn't get a lot of revenue from the deals it has struck, but it does get a lot of creative control. As an example of the level of that creative control, he used the Red Faction TV movie, an early version of which had a character from Red Faction: Guerilla in it. In the game, she was blond. In the TV movie's first draft of the script, she was a "raven-haired beauty." THQ developers complained, and her hair color was changed.

When asked about multiplayer versus single-player, Cross said that the game market has matured and that many people will buy games and skip the multiplayer altogether. He explained that when he was growing up, every game was a single-player experience. But for kids growing up now, it's about sharing the experience with others. So it's now important to address both aspects.

Later on, Bilson teased a Metro 2034 reveal at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, saying it will be playable on the show floor. He promised much more support in terms of marketing versus Metro 2033, which he termed a "cult classic."

In terms of downloadable content, THQ wants to get away from the 30-, 60-, and 90-day model and try new approaches. Bilson said the just-announced Saints Row: The Third has a very ambitious downloadable content plan that will be revealed at a later date.

Responding to a question about social games, Bilson said that THQ's core business has four Facebook titles in the works. One, UFC Undisputed Fight Nation, is already in beta on the social network. A Saints Row Facebook game is also coming later this year, presumably alongside the holiday launch of Saints Row: The Third.

Wrapping up, Bilson discussed Kinect and the PlayStation Move. He said that, personally, as a core gamer, he prefers to just kick back on the couch with a controller. While UFC Personal Trainer will be a "best in class" Move and Kinect game, he feels what is best for the gamer should determine what control scheme a game gets. Cross said that while the technology is appealing to developers, in the core market, it can cause many complications, since it goes from simple button combinations to taking into consideration the physicality of the player.

Takeaway: Once known for its licensed and kids' properties, THQ is jumping into the core market with both feet.

Discussion

56 comments
Andy9Beans
Andy9Beans

THQ are paying Gamespot to promote Homefront. Don't believe anything any of the "journalists" working for Gamespot say about Homefront, it's all hype to justify the money THQ are giving them. If you want your games to be all hype and fancy trailers, all mouth but no trousers, then go ahead and preorder this!

Tokinblckgie
Tokinblckgie

"When asked about franchises, Bilson said THQ was very sensitive to "IP fatigue" and tries to make every title feel like a brand-new game. He said that while the company wants to build franchises, he is often very hesitant to take a series beyond trilogies. "If we get beyond a trilogy, that's great, but we don't want to tire people out," he summarized." ____ Now I'm about as cynical as it gets when it comes to video game publishers and big business in general, but I was actually impressed by that bit. Saints Row 2 is one of my top 5 games this gen and that kind of statement makes me look foward to new info on Saints Row 3 even more. This Bilson guy sounds like the Anti-Kotick right about now.

Rhatik
Rhatik

saints row three!!1

NeonNinja
NeonNinja

@another-drew Way to stay classy. Screw anyone who doesn't agree with you? Good to know you're open to feedback, criticism and other people's opinions. :roll:

NeonNinja
NeonNinja

Hm.... I wish he would have talked up Devil's Third a bit more. But I like what he's saying. How some gamers will skip the multiplayer which is true if it isn't anything good, franchise fatigue (DUR-HUR, teh Modern Duty comes out this year.....), how games need to prove themselves before being set up for trilogies (just look at how Too Human and Advent Rising ended up....), the importance of owning IPs (MS doesn't own Gears for instance, so they can't control it down the line). It's good to hear these things and hopefully we'll see some awesome games coming from THQ. Like Devil's Third. That game had better be released this year. :P

PixelAddict
PixelAddict

MY Takeaway: THQ is TRYING to jump into the core market. @jespel2013 Black Ops on Veteran is impossible to beat in 4-5 hours.

another_drew
another_drew

"He said that while he is big on creative freedom, he draws the line on ownership, since it's THQ's money going into the games. However, he feels that once you give it enough creative control, a studio will feel creative ownership over a brand." What they don't seem to understand is that is the exact situation they got out of when they left IW. They created the MW franchise and watched as Acti. ran it into the toilet by milking the cash cow. Why in the hell would they jump from one frying pan to another. I commend them for making the choice they made and screw anyone else who disaggrees.

organbank
organbank

Yay yet more crap about generic shooters. AWESOME....

stEElyDaN909
stEElyDaN909

@jespel2013 'Plus, Black Ops is 4-5 hours on Hardcore and everyone bought that game.' Nobody bought that game for the campaign. In my understanding, COD is all about multiplayer.

jespel2013
jespel2013

@inaka rob There are only 2 FPS's releasing this month on xbox. Crysis 2 and Homefront. Homefront is a new IP so of course it will sell less.

jespel2013
jespel2013

@pszone The game is 5 hours on easy, that is what difficulty reviewers usually use. 8 otherwise...it was confirmed by THQ that it is 8 hours long. Plus, Black Ops is 4-5 hours on Hardcore and everyone bought that game. I'm buying it on day one.

inaka_rob
inaka_rob

I think Homefront will be the LOWEST selling FPS game released this month. if you dont think saw then reply and name 1 game that will sell fewer copies! I am not saying it will be a bad game, but of all the stuff coming out this year. brink, killzone, duke. homefront doesnt bring ANYTHING new to the table. I am excited about saints row 3. just hope it comes out this year. red faction too!!! cant wait for those. two of my favorite IPs!!! i am fine with DLC, just dont charge an arm and a leg for it. PLEASE!!! have the stuff is already made! please give us some for free! I have started to become picker about my DLC becuase half of it is just a waste of cash, the other half is stealing money from us. Maps that are already on the disc. or content that is simply unlocked. or maps that were held back from open day release. thats just lame.

wildcat4
wildcat4

a nother metro iv been watein

Bangerman15
Bangerman15

I like how THQ is finally starting to make new ip's and they are trying, lets see how homefront is because metro 2033 was neat, it mustve done good enough to deserve a sequel though thats good, hopefully its alot more optimized too haha :P

Nightrain50
Nightrain50

@MJ12-Conspiracy I agree, soon as I read about "ambitious dlc plan" I decided I didn't want Saints Row 3. I hate DLC unless it's a full expansion pack like Undead Nightmare or Shivering Isles.

SephirothEX
SephirothEX

Bilson's point of retaining IP ownership regarding Respawn is rubbish. Respawn is partnering with EA's EA Partners label, which isn't exactly like a traditional publishing agreement. A lot of their partners finance their own development and let the publisher handle distribution and marketing; in a case like that, the publisher really doesn't have any claim to the IP. Respawn's agreement with EA isn't public, but given Respawn's history I have no doubt that they could come up with their own venture capital and finance their own development. If THQ keeps that attitude, then they're going to end up being like a far-less-lucky Activision: unable to partner with creative studios (Bungie being an exception... somebody was smoking crack when they signed that deal with the devil), and with their entire existence based on just a few key properties; one could argue that's already the case.

Solamon
Solamon

I understand Bilson's point of retaining ownership of the IPs it pays for, but it always bothers me when someone tries to imply that giving someone creative control is the same as giving them ownership of what they create. - On another point, I really do enjoy what THQ is trying to do these days. Metro 2033 was one of the best games last year (and one of my personal favorites) and Darksiders entertained me for quite some time (I actually completed all the achievements). And I'm expecting some really good things from Homefront too. - @remysola: I buy Homefront for only the singleplayer. I have no interest what so ever of playing most FPSs online. I don't want to sound haughty, but I just don't like the class of people I usually run into in these games (namely young kids with filthy mouths).

dreamforager
dreamforager

BattleOfGrace Sad but true. Sucks that Vince has a monopoly on wrestling and THQ has a monopoly on him. Since THQ sucks, our best bet is Sony publishing an Aki developed wrestling game under the Play, Create, Share theme and leave it up to the community to make it a WWE game. Thats one way around these stupid monopolies. I hope THQ actually reads these threads.

BattleOfGrace
BattleOfGrace

dreamforager We all want that....but it will not happen....sadly

MJ12-Conspiracy
MJ12-Conspiracy

ambitious downloadable content plan? I just want complete games with no frackin' gimmicks. Start talking DLC a month or two after the game launches not before.

so_hai
so_hai

"He said that, personally, as a core gamer, he prefers to just kick back on the couch with a controller." Microsoft and Sony just added this guy to their hit-list.

Alex_09
Alex_09

great saints row three is going to include barely any of the game at launch.

dreamforager
dreamforager

"THQ was very sensitive to "IP fatigue" and tries to make every title feel like a brand new game". Hey Bilson I'm suffering from "Smackdown vs. Raw fatigue". Please scrap Yukes for AKI and give us WWE No Mercy 2!

Albenuova
Albenuova

@CrimsonMaher "Personally", I get the same feeling when I see a Sonic game. When I see it I just think unpolished and rehash

remysola
remysola

Who buys Homefront only for SP?

Dynamo11
Dynamo11

Bring us CoH Russian or Battle of France expansions please

SuperMessy
SuperMessy

@pszone Homefront is only 5 hours!? That sucks.

Dizzzyness
Dizzzyness

i wont buy this game because i heard that if its a used copy then you pay more money for online play for the game and also would anyone actually buy a game on a consule like the 360 to pay for online play inside of the game itself

alexLmx6
alexLmx6

I shudder when I hear the words "ambitious downloadable content plan."

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

@pszone Personally, I'm not too concerned with the number of hours that should be played, as long as they are able to provide decent or epic entertainment, FPS and 3rd PS require wide environment & cutting-edge graphic so their games tend to be shorter :roll: while the RPG / Action Adventure / Adventure genre requires more hours because it focuses on the story, looting, puzzle, etc, same goes with Strategy genre It's emphasis more on tactical, levelling your unit, etc. if you want infinite game-play, go play MMO(s) instead. :/

XboxGuy1537
XboxGuy1537

I'm going to wait til Homefront is cheap.

bornej
bornej

@Rocker6 Hopefully it's nothing crazy like that. Let's pray it's episodic or car / gun / motorcycle / clothes packs, etc.

sleepnsurf
sleepnsurf

Spending my last 60 on homefront. You better not disappoint!

Rocker6
Rocker6

Saints Row: The Third has a very ambitious downloadable content plan!? OH NOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Just what we need,a open world game with ton of stupid DLC.What does ambitious means?That we will have to buy new section of the town just to continue with the game???But anyway,cant wait for the game and I hope for the best.

pszone
pszone

found out review homefront is 5 hours game so i would not buy game know full retial price shame on you thq

pszone
pszone

found out review homefront is 5 hours game so i would not buy game know full retial price shame on you thq

Creed02
Creed02

I have faith in for Game's quality.

M-S-M-S
M-S-M-S

I respect this company a lot. With games like Stalker, Metro 2033, Company of heroes, Warhammer, etc., I appreciate their attitude of "taking risks". I don't know a lot if publishers which would have supported Metro 2033 or the first Stalker (just played it with Complete mod, and it is just amazing).

CrimsonMaher
CrimsonMaher

Personally I have yet to play a good polished game out of THQ. They are a redundancy factory! In my opinion THQ's logo on a game is no different than that of LJN's Rainbow, a warning of a bad game or a not so polished good game.

Moloch121
Moloch121

@santinegrete Never played Metro 2033. But EVERYONE needs to player the Stalker series. Excellent games it's a game with guns not an fps. It's a thinking mans game and games liek this is what THQ needs to develop more of.

santinegrete
santinegrete

Even if I respect this publisher grey_fox1984 has a good point about their "derivative" games (they have some quality though). I know this publisher for their unique ones: Stalker and Metro 2033 (and if you think theyre not unique because they look like 'FPS', you better check them).

giantming
giantming

I hope they won't go wrong like their baloons

tatu2004
tatu2004

DLC for Saints Row the third will be better. the DLC for SR2 was not that great.

EKGProd
EKGProd

He is right about Metro 2033 being a cult hit. I played the game and it instantly jumped to the top of my list of best games of 2010, and shot up to my top 10 shooters of all time list. Not number 1, but it is on the list nonetheless. Everyone I try and get to play the game eventually calls me and tells me how much they love it. All I can hope for is a sequel that stays true to the amazing atmosphere of the first game.

Aurey
Aurey

What about Devil's Third? That's the only THQ game I'm interested in and no one asked anything about it.

TheRealLisaAnn
TheRealLisaAnn

These social games will in the long run be worth a lot more money (and in terms of IP) than a multi-million dollar game that gets hyped for a few months. And then sells well the first few weeks. Only to be replaced by another game with the same marketing/hype/formula. I believe it's a cannibalistic type of environment when this happens. Casual games cost less money and are no less fun than the Saint Rows and GTAs.