E3 2011: THQ's Bilson talks Wii U, transmedia

Publisher's head of core games weighs in on Nintendo's new console, canceled Saints Row projects, and dormant properties.

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The Electronic Entertainment Expo is a big enough show that many attendees would be hard pressed to see everything, even if they devoted all three days just to checking out the booths. But those in attendance at E3 likely have important business of their own to attend to, making time on the show floor limited at best.

THQ executive VP of core games Danny Bilson.
THQ executive VP of core games Danny Bilson.

One such attendee at this year's show is THQ executive president of core games Danny Bilson. Between the big three press conferences, a THQ investors briefing, and his own slate of meetings, he'd spent virtually no time on the show floor when GameSpot caught up to him for an interview Wednesday afternoon. Despite that, Bilson gamely answered questions about the Wii U unveiling, THQ's support for the PlayStation Vita, and the growing trend of game-specific community services. He also gave a progress report on the company's transmedia efforts, including those that have been delayed and/or abandoned.

GameSpot: So what did you think of the press conferences?

Danny Bilson: They're always fun as far as big entertainment extravaganzas. I liked some of every one. There was something at every one of them I thought was cool, and there were some things I didn't understand. But that's OK. That's more my taste as a gamer.

GS: Was it the casual emphasis or the new interfaces you didn't understand?

DB: No, I certainly understand the new interfaces, and I enjoy the opportunity of them creatively. It's just the application on certain things I didn't quite understand.

GS: A few years ago, it seemed every major publisher had a big E3 conference. This year it was just the big three, EA, and Ubisoft. Is the show losing significance?

DB: The show looks and feels as good or better than ever, and the vibe I'm hearing from people is it's a really good show. As far as press conferences go, you have to measure what you want to present, how you want to present it, and honestly, how much money you want to spend on that. There's a lot of different ways to communicate messages, and that's a really expensive, complicated one. I don't think there's any weakness to the E3 show though. I'm not feeling that at all.

GS: You've already announced Darksiders II for the Wii U. What gives you confidence there's going to be an M-for-Mature market for Nintendo's console on day one?

DB: If you look historically, there were a couple of games that were there at launch that did really well on the Wii.

GS: Red Steel?

DB: Red Steel for instance. But I don't look at it as a kiddie platform. I look at it as a platform for everybody, and it has the power for everybody. So there's going to be a lot of core games from other companies as well as us on there, and I think the gamer's going to go for the best experience, wherever it is. Ultimately, the hardware is a small investment compared to what [gamers] spend on software. If you buy 10 games, that's $600, and a platform? I don't know what their price point is, but it's a smaller investment [than the software]. I have no concern at all that core people are going to say [derisively], "Oh, it's Nintendo." Core gamers love Zelda. They love Mario. It's all part of whatever a great game is.

GS: What kind of THQ support can we expect for the Vita?

DB: Some from [THQ's core division]. Just like any new platform, we're going to follow the consumers, and the more demand there is, the more games we'll make for it. But we're committed to at least having some stuff on Vita, but a lot of it over time will be proportionate to how successful it is.

GS: One trend this year is game-specific cross-platform full-featured services like EA has planned for FIFA 12 or Activision has with Call of Duty: Elite. Is that a viable approach?

DB: I think the connectivity and community supporting technology--sorting your friends, knowing what they're playing, leaderboards for your friends group, talking to your consumers--is really fun. Charging for it is something else. Whatever you're charging for it, you better be giving them something that's worth whatever that price is. In production for over a year now we've had a whole technology system for connecting our games and outputting to Facebook and Twitter. That's sort of a service that should come with the games.

As far as building bonus services around the games, it really just depends on what the offering is and what feels like a value to the consumer. We are working on connecting our consumers and talking to them more directly, connecting them within their games and communities. You're going to see a lot more of that with THQ.com and features in the games, but that all sort of comes with the package. It's essential these days.

GS: Has your cross-media strategy changed at all? Have you learned anything yet?

DB: I think the only thing I'm learning is, "How important is it? How much value does it really have?" I think it depends on the property, and measuring that will take some time to see. Did it really affect it? Did it not matter? The good thing is there's no real risk involved except for creative risk. We're not investing money in this or expecting big revenue out of it; we're looking to extend our stories and make them more interesting to get people involved. So I don't know yet how much effect they have on the properties or how little, but I'm not backing off at all because it doesn't really cost us anything to do it, and it's really interesting.

We're working on a couple more movie things right now that we'll announce tied to some properties. And as long as they come out right with it and enhance it, it's fun. And fun is what this business is all about.

GS: Is de Blob the next one in the pipeline, or is it Saints Row?

DB: For the next two things, one is a game that's going to be announced later. The other I think we've already talked about, with the Saints Row movie in development. Hopefully in the near future we'll talk more about it.

GS: But there was a de Blob project in development, wasn't there?

DB: That was in development, and I'm not sure where that's going right now. It's the film business, and you know how that goes.

GS: What happened to Saints Row: Drive-By?

DB: Honestly, it was an Xbox Live game that we started that was really good, but the costs were getting really high for the platform, so we shelved it. That's all it is; it's not really a big story.

GS: Wasn't it announced on the 3DS as well?

DB: No, we talked about doing a Saints Row 3DS game, but we never started it. We have a couple of other things in development on the 3DS, but we wound up not starting that and starting a couple of other brands instead. There was no drama in any of that, honestly.

GS: THQ used to emphasize its owned IP like Juiced, Stuntman, Destroy All Humans, and Company of Heroes, but all of those seem to have gone dormant. Are there plans to revisit them, or are they being set aside in favor of Insane, Red Faction, Homefront, Devil's Third, etc.?

DB: I can't say at this time. That should tell you something, the fact that I can't say at this time.

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