What Can THQ Do to Save Itself?
Posted by Alex Larrabee
Amidst rumors of shutting down and cancelling their 2014 lineup, THQ has now announced that no such plans are in place. That’s good news for their thousands of fans, and hundreds of employees — but the most unsettling part of all this still remains in the aftermath:
We weren’t surprised at all.
It’s become increasingly common for mid-sized developers to do away with entire teams of people shortly after the release of a game. Outside of the biggest developers (and even within them), the industry has seen a sharp decline in job security. Hell, even members of the Battlefield team are hitting the road, albeit for what they see as a potentially bigger opportunity.
For THQ, the storyboard is all too familiar.
While they haven’t experienced desertion in a direct sense, THQ has suffered through a state of mediocrity for the past five+ years. Their biggest release of the year, Saints Row: The Third, has seen total sales figures across consoles just below 4.5 million — less than 10% of sales of gaming juggernaut Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 in a similar lifespan. Their latest FPS, Homefront, caused a 26% drop in the company’s stock, supposedly based off of poor reception of the title in spite of the massive marketing campaign.
Still, despite that seemingly negative coda, a lineup like that appears deceptively successful. A slew of developers would undoubtedly drool at being able to lay claim to the aforementioned, along with titles like Red Faction, MX vs. ATV, and Company of Heroes. Yet, we continue to see layoffs, studio closures, and continuously declining revenue reports. For an organization boasting a solid lineup and exclusive licensing agreements with the likes of Disney-Pixar and UFC, what else can they hope for?
The simple answer? To borrow a line from Ellen: Just keep swimmin’.
The bottom line is that despite this unbridled middle-of-the-pack mentality, THQ has a ton of fans. They’re not the kind of developer that undergoes constant scrutiny, has a laundry-list of questionable decisions, or (God forbid) supports SOPA. THQ has a reasonably respectable reputation, both among fans and the media, and could easily see profit by maintaining the production of what have proven to be successful franchises.
Homefront, Darksiders, the WWE titles and Company of Heroes were never legitimate Game of the Year contenders — but they hit somewhere. While Red Faction: Guerilla was a surprising success, Red Faction: Armageddon lacked appeal to a broader console audience, and saw success only with its “niche following”.
Ten years ago, a niche following was coveted and treasured. These days, it’s thrown under the rug.
A niche following doesn’t earn your organization chart-topping recognition and ensure growth for the next four quarters. Stockholders won’t buy into it, and you can’t base your platform off of one, either. As much as they would like to follow through with the wishes of their beloved fans, it’s just not realistic. In order to remain a legitimate competitor, THQ no longer has that option.
So then, naturally, we branch off of that line of thinking into something more profitable. Let’s say… kids games. Those seem to be hitting well. Motion controls have opened gaming up to an entirely new audience, and recent kid-friendly titles like Mario Kart 7 and Just Dance 3 have seen strong sales figures upon release, on top of dominating sales from the likes of Kinect Adventures, Wii Sports Resort, and literally any fitness game.
Yet, THQ asserts quite the opposite:
“As we have outlined in our business strategies, we are making shifts to reduce movie-based and licensed kids’ video games in our portfolio, which underscores our strategy to move away from games that will not generate strong profits in the future.”
Alright then, scratch that one.
There’s always the hot ticket item that everyone is raving about. You know what I’m getting at.
Naked office Mondays. Social gaming.
We’re always bickering about the lack of a hardcore experience on the GameTaffy.com show, and THQ could be the developer to bring that to the table. Imagine an MX vs. ATV social game that allows you to invite Facebook friends to multiplayer races, race in live matchmaking against new future friends, or post your best scores on your wall and challenge your friends to beat them.
Sound a bit like MotorcycleVille to you, too? Well, hang on now, there might be some potential here…
The social experience is here to stay, whether we like it or not — so why not try to make it work for us, the hardcore crowd? THQ already has an office in Shanghai focused on Company of Heroes online. Let’s give them the opportunity to come in and create a true gaming experience. What’s so bad about a free-to-play, lovably destructible Red Faction social MMO? It would almost certainly generate revenue given the latest trends in the F2P market, and fans (while certainly still whining about the servicing medium) would get to play the next iteration of the series that has near-officially been pronounced dead.
THQ may not ever have the power to compete with the top dogs. As long as they have their wits about them, however, they will be able to hang around. That is, just so long as they don’t abandon what got them here.