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The New Face Of THQ

[Note: This article originally ran in issue 232 of Game Informer]

After reorganizing to focus on core gaming titles, THQ has brought in Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin as president to oversee publishing, marketing, and production. We spoke to Rubin about his new role at THQ and what his plans are for the future.

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Game informer: How did this come about? Did THQ come to you or did you go to them?

Rubin: CEO Brian Farrell called me up and asked me to take a look at all the teams and the properties and tell him what I thought. We’ve known each other for a long time. So I did. I went around and visited every team. The projects are all really cool and I think, especially with the internal teams, the amount of upside potential that’s there is great. The external teams live in a slightly different world; they self-govern, so they have their own thing going on. But the internal teams have a huge amount of talent and potential, and I want to help unlock that.

What are your short-term and long-term goals with THQ?

My short-term goal is to go out to the teams and make sure that they have what they need to make the right games and to make sure they’re making the right games. My long-term goals with THQ are to focus on a small amount of titles and make those better.

What do you think of THQ’s current lineup? Is there anything you want to change from Danny Bilson’s original vision?

Danny’s vision was perfectly fine. THQ is a ship and I’m going to steer it, but it’s not going to turn on a dime. A lot of the upcoming projects, Darksiders II for example, are nearly final. Great game; not much I could do. It’s just a time situation. Some of the other titles I might make some minor modifications. Looking at the entire portfolio, I have to say at this point I think we have the right number of teams, so it’s really a question going forward of, “Which are the right properties for us?” In a lot of cases, such as with Vigil, it’s figuring out what the right title for them to do next is.

Another title Vigil was working on was the Warhammer 40,000 game that shifted from being an MMO-based title to a single-player focused one. Is this still in development?

As of right now that title is still in development.

Devil’s Third has run into some trouble. What’s the latest with this game?

Devil’s Third is not coming out under THQ.

What about Insane, Homefront 2, and the project from Turtle Rock?

Right now Insane is still under production. The same with Homefront 2. I’ve played it. It’s great. The game from Turtle Rock is absolutely still on. I love those guys and the product.

During E3 it was announced EA acquired the rights to UFC. THQ also confirmed it laid off a number of employees from its San Diego studio. What’s the situation?

The studio is still open. We don’t have a project for them. They’re still under employment from THQ right now. We’re actively working to find things for them to do. On UFC, it was before my time, but THQ put into process what effectively was a transfer of the rights to EA. It was good for THQ. THQ got paid, and it was simply a matter of us looking at the title and looking at how the past titles have done. The latest got an 86 rating and did not sell the number of units required to break even. Based on that, THQ thought that perhaps we weren’t the correct place for UFC to be done in the future. Being paid to give it to EA, which may very well be the right place with the strong sports brand they have, seems like a win for everybody.

THQ hasn’t had a 90-plus rated game in a long time. How do you balance increasing your review scores while not being able to match the marketing and development budgets of some of your competitors, such as EA and Activision?

Let me pull it back from ratings for a second. In general, how do you succeed with games that aren’t Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Assassin’s Creed? The way the industry has been set up with all titles selling for roughly the same price at retail next to each other is that there’s been a race to make the biggest, baddest-ass game. If you walk into a store as a gamer and see a massive $120 million dollar game next to a $30 million dollar game, and a $80 million marketing budget backed that $120 million game up, it’s likely you’re going to pull that one off the shelf.

Into this came THQ moving from a children’s business into that business after everyone else had already started the race to the top. So it was very hard for THQ to enter that massive, encumbered race with these huge titles. Additionally, I think THQ has tended to spread out and do a lot of titles to try to find something that works. At the size of THQ, that is probably not the appropriate way of going about this. If you look at a Naughty Dog-sized game, which I can tell you is not the size of Call of Duty but is still an amazing game that’s rated very well, I think we can compete in that area.

As time progresses, the entire industry will move closer to what we see in the PC model emerging now, which is a lot of different-sized games and different types of games that all get a place in the sun because you can buy things that aren’t $60 boxed goods. If you look at something like Portal, an excellent game that clearly is not a Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto, bingo. If you look at World of Tanks or League of Legends, there’s any number of these games that are not competing on a graphic level.

The first Company of Heroes was a 90-plus rated game, and done by Relic, one of our internal studios. It’s one of the highest-rated RTS games. Why they didn’t do another Company of Heroes until now I can’t answer for you because I just started seven days ago. I will say this company has in it the ability of making a 90-plus rated game.

The Volition guys; incredibly talented. Under the restrictions that they’ve been under in this company in terms of the budget and time schedule they’ve had for their products, to put out a game that doesn’t necessarily compete toe to toe with Grand Theft Auto, but comparably, it’s amazing what they’ve done with what they’ve had. That team, properly funded, properly led, and properly allowed to create, I believe can create a 90-plus rated title.

Vigil; incredible art sense. I believe properly led, given the right framework, and with some of the knowledge I have from making 90-plus rated games, can make a 90-plus rated game. Our other internal studio at Montreal is capable of making a 90-plus rated game. The answer to how you make a 90-plus rated game is you take these people and foster their creations – not make a lot of other titles as well. That’s what I plan to do.

When you look at the games industry now, what are some things that excite you?

What excites me is I think the business is going to broaden out. I think it’s good for the industry and it’s good for gamers, too. I don’t think gamers realize how good opening up the rules so that game developers can distribute and price as they want and do whatever they want is, because at the end of the day, the gamer will determine what succeeds and fails because they’re the one with the dollars in the pocket.

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