Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Finding a good home for THQ's games

Look, there’s a reason I would be a terrible analyst. THQ is done. After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy at the end of last year in an attempt to sell the company to Clearlake Capital Group for $60 million, the judge governing over the filing sided instead with a group of creditors and US trustees. They objected to the sale, claiming the 30-day window was not long enough to provide other companies a chance to offer a bid. The result means THQ will be auctioned off piece by piece next week on January 22. Whether that means by franchise, studio, or both is unknown.

At the moment, five companies have expressed interest in one or more of THQ’s titles. Of the five, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Warner Bros. Interaction stepped forward, but the last two remain a mystery. Double Fine, who THQ published Costume Quest and Stacking, requested bankruptcy filings from THQ, but clarified their interested last week. “Double Fine owns the full intellectual property rights to Costume Quest and Stacking,” a Double Fine representative told GameSpot. “However, THQ retains certain limited distribution rights that have not expired yet, and we are exploring our options with respect to those.”

So who are the other two interested companies? If we look at who realistically has the funds, it only leaves a handful of possibilities. Activision, the biggest publisher in the industry, certain has the wallet to support a new franchise. Take-two has a small amount of their own studios and substantially afford a new studio and title. Square-Enix, who has been publishing bigger titles like Hitman: Absolution and upcoming Tomb Raider reboot, could make a bid for a piece.

It creates the ideal pick and choose situation of which franchise should go to which company. For the sake of confusion, I’m going to assume studios their respective titles come in the same package, although in reality that isn’t a safe assumption. Based on that, I would love to see Volition and Saints Row go to Ubisoft. I think their experience with the Assassin’s Creed series and its open world aspects would be mutually beneficial to Saints Row. However, it would be smart if EA or Activision picked it up, as they are the top two publishers who don’t have a horse in the open-world genre horse race.

What will happen to the MMO-turned-singleplayer Dark Millenium?

EA would also be smart to pick up the Warhammer 40K titles, though I’m unsure how that would work with licensing to Games Workshop. Bringing Warhammer and Warhammer 40K franchises under one roof could produce interesting results, maybe even a crossover release. I could also see EA dipping their toe into the Metro series. That series could use some backing behind it, but I also fear the niche things that make it so great would fall by the wayside.

Darksiders, in the right hands, could be profitable without exuberant sales numbers. Either Warner Bros. or Square-Enix might have the scope and backing to further the franchise to hopefully bring the other two horsemen to the series, as originally planned by Vigil Games. While not explicitly named as one of the companies looking at THQ’s assets, Microsoft would probably be a good home for the Crytek-developed Homefront 2. With enough tweaking, it could turn out to be a good exclusive shooter for the launch of Microsoft’s next console while 343 Industries works on Halo 5 for the following year.

I come up empty with a good home for the Company of Heroes series, as well as Relic its developer. A top-tier RTS developer isn’t heavy in demand, but if Activision wanted to corner the RTS market with both sci-fi (ie. Starcraft) and military games, they might be best suited for the high-cost production those games require.

The WWE license is still up in the air, and though I assume studios will stay with their respective franchises, that may not be true. I would hate to see Saints Row taken away from Volition, or the Darksiders series from Vigil. At this point, I just hope some of my favorite franchises come out of this looting unscathed.

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