THQ UFC 2009 Undisputed was one of the big hits for 2009, selling more than 3.5 million units and easily becoming one of the leading new franchises introduced last year. Mirroring the game's success has been the UFC itself, which has seen solid growth in its global audience. The UFC was in Australia last week for the UFC 110 live event, with company executive vice president Don Gold talking to GameSpot about the success of last year's game, how they built audience feedback into the 2010 model, and whether EA's competing MMA game will stand a chance in the market.
GameSpot AU: Last year's game was a big hit for the brand and for THQ. In what way do you think it contributed to the surging popularity of the UFC globally?
Don Gold: One of the reasons we created the game as realistically as we did was to make it look like a pay-per-view event. For new fans that may not have been aware of what the UFC is, [we wanted] the game on its own to sustain itself, which it did, and it would also help educate people. So when we came to countries we haven't been before, perhaps the younger audiences learned about it [the UFC] through the video game, enjoyed that experience, became familiar with some of the bigger-name fighters, started watching the TV shows, started watching the DVDs, started buying the licensed merchandise, and finally come to a live event. We're very proud to say that the event in Sydney is the second-fastest sellout in the history of the UFC.
GS AU: You mentioned that you wanted UFC 110 to be a top 10 game for this year. What's new in the game to make that happen?
DG: We sat down with our developer THQ after 2009 and asked how do we make the game as great as it was, and how do we make it better? So we sat down with notes from fans all over the world who said, "You know, it would be great if you did this." We had four or five pages of notes that we addressed, and we went through that list and said we need to make these corrections for the fans. Small things, like southpaw, some of the grappling techniques, to other things like adding fight camps, creating a better online environment where you train with one of our actual UFC trainers in specific disciplines so that when you create your fighter, your fighter can learn from the best. We took it from the level it was at and probably doubled it.
GS AU: The tagline we've heard a lot is "As Real As It Gets." You've been with the UFC since 1993--how close is the game getting to being inside the Octagon?
DG: It's very funny--the first time we showed the trailer at one of our live events last year, people thought it was an actual pay-per-view we were promoting. Looking at the fighter images, looking at the Octagon itself, the ring-card girl, the graphics--all that stuff is used in our live production. Everything you see in a live show, everything you see in a pay-per view, is incorporated into the game so it looks just as real as a live event.
GS AU: The game will be getting some competition from EA’s MMA product. What’s your view on that?
DG: EA, which is a very well-known company and who makes big sports games, they couldn’t get our license. They were not fans of the UFC, they were not fans of mixed martial arts--and they decided to change their business plan and became a "me too” company and create a “me too” fighter. They couldn't get what they really wanted, so they tried to create a game that would compete with us. We have a lot of respect for them, but there’s nothing in that game that would entice me or anyone I know that’s an MMA fan to buy it. If you want stars, the best organization, the best graphics, you're going to stick with what you bought last year because this year's game is even better. And the fact that we didn't cheat or cut corners in 2010, I think our fans are going to be very happy.
GS AU: This is the first time the UFC has bought a live event Down Under. Are you planning on coming back?
DG: I haven't talked to [UFC head] Dana White about it, but I can't see why we wouldn't. The reception here has been overwhelming.
GS AU: Don Gold, thanks for your time.