INTERVIEW: Brian Farrell

What has been behind the decision to rebrand THQ?

We laid out this strategy almost two and a half years ago. The whole idea was to have two business units, for core and family. On the core side of the business it was about fewer, bigger, but very high quality core titles. Interestingly, some of our competitors have emulated that same strategy over the last couple of years.

A lot of our message now is artists first. This new logo we published, it symbolises this change. It is active, it is new. This really is a new company and we are really proud of what we have accomplished.

How can you be a ‘new THQ’ when the games industry is almost always changing?

One of the things I think distinguishes us is that we are really experimenting and trying new things. A lot of people said it couldn’t be done with Homefront, they said: ‘Does the world really need another shooter?’ A similar thing happened with uDraw – people were saying: ‘Do we really need another peripheral?’ If you innovate and put creativity and the gamer experience first, you’ll do well. But you do have to continually reinvent yourself.

Is Homefront the flagship project for ‘new THQ’?

It certainly might be. Homefront is really the first title under this new regime. But the real point about THQ now is the flow of high quality of products for the next two and a half years. We have Homefront, shortly after that Red Faction: Armageddon, MX vs ATV, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, then Saints Row in the autumn. It just goes on and on. I’d stack that pipeline up against anyone else in the industry.

You are experimenting with new business models in the next MX vs ATV. Why?

It is about the gamer experience. This is clearly an experiment but I think it is a noble one. We have seen the emergence of the free-to-play microtransaction model where people will pay for the experience that they want. So we are applying that in a smaller way into the console business. We are getting the client out at a reduced price, $39.99, and then we are going to keep the gamer engaged with both free and paid downloadable content.

There is a robust plan for the next 18 months to deliver that content. That way the gamer can create the experience they want for the amount of money they want to spend. It is a case of taking the trends that we are seeing and applying it to the console model.
Is it going to be successful? We don’t know. Is it the right kind of product to be experimenting with? We think so.

You recently called on Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo to be more flexible in terms of business models. How have they responded?

What I was saying is that we all in the industry need to look at our consumer – who is the gamer and what did they want to do? We’ve had very robust discussions with all the first parties, and I think that everyone knows that the business is going to evolve over time. Let’s all be flexibile and try and move forward in a positive way to figure out what our consumers want. That’s what new THQ is all about.

So what is the target for THQ now? Do you want to be a Top Five publisher again?

This will be my 20th year in the industry. And what I’ve found out is if you make great games, the other things – the market share and profitability – will follow. Our single-minded focus is to make great games and a great customer experience. And if you do that you end up in the Top Five. We were a Top Five publisher but that’s not the goal, that’s a false God. The real key to the industry is if you make great content, gamers follow.

THQ has adopted various second-user charges on pre-owned games for about a year now. What impact has it had?

It is still an evolving process. The most important thing, as the developer and publisher of these games, is that we participate in the value chain in used games. We understand, given our focus on the gamer, that gamers like to be able to monetise their game library. So it is an ecosystem between publisher, gamer and retailer that just has to sort itself out. We have been pleased with what we’ve been doing.

If we keep that consumer engaged then the trade-in becomes less relevant. Part of it is monetising but the bigger win is keeping our gamer engaged with DLC and robust online play, and that keeps the disc in the first purchaser’s hands.

How well has the uDraw accessory been received?

We couldn’t be more pleased with uDraw. We originally tried to get 1m units out in our fiscal year, and we now think we can do 1.7m units in our fiscal year. Which is amazing for a brand new device that wasn’t even announced until August.

What’s next for uDraw?

The current strategy is to continue to re-promote the hardware along with new software about every 60 to 90 days. We have just announced this new SpongeBob SquigglePants product, and it is a really neat game that doesn’t just use the drawing tablet, but the tablet itself is an interface device in the gameplay. You will see us back re-promoting the device just before Easter across Europe and the US.

THQ wasn’t listed amongst the Sony NGP third parties. Are you interested in that product?

We do have plans, but we just haven’t announced anything yet. So we were not part of that launch announcement. It is a way off so we have plenty of time to bring our products to that marketplace, but we weren’t ready to announce anything at that time.

Part of ‘new THQ‘ is the big name developer signings you’ve made. What is the benefit of that?

It is about getting the best creative people in the industry and making a great consumer experience.

Guillermo Del Toro is a creative visionary. I have popped into a few meetings where he is with our creative leadership and it is a case of rolling up his sleeves and asking what is the game? Why is it fun? This is not the case of some creative exec putting his name to a project. We are working with Del Toro, we are working with Itagaki-San with his new studio on Devil’s Third.

We signed up Assassin’s Creed’s Patrice Dsilets, who will start working with us in June on a yet-to-be-announced project. Those are three fairly significant creative partnerships. There are a couple of other deals we are working on now with certain individuals.

This ‘artist first’ message is resonating with creatives.
We are going to emerge as the magnet for top creative.
Top creative makes for great games. And we will be one of the industry leaders in three to five years from now.

We have touched on business models. We will change and we will experiment. But at the end of the day, if we make a great entertainment experience then we will find our consumer and a business model that works.

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