Opinion: Don’t let THQ’s failure stop you taking risks

South Park’s reveal was the stand out moment at last year’s Xbox E3 press conference.

In the midst of endless gore and gun games came this funny, ridiculous RPG that evoked laughter from an audience otherwise jaded by corporate double-speak.

South Park: The Stick of Truth epitomised THQ over the last few years. A leftfield, risky project (the South Park licence is hardly a cash cow) with significant involvement from the makers of the TV show Matt Stone and Trey Park.

The firm has been investing heavily in new IP, new projects and talent. It signed Guillermo del Toro for a trilogy of games called InSane. It hired Assassin’s Creed creative director Patrice Dsilets to build a new historical IP named 1666. Left4Dead developer Turtle Rock Studios has been hard at work on a new project called Evolve.

And then there are recent concepts like Homefront, a brave investment from THQ to take on the might of Call of Duty and Battlefield. Plus, the firm has continued to invest in unique titles such as Metro and Darksiders.

It’s a far cry from the rest of the risk-averse games industry that, as seen during Microsoft’s E3 event, was content with pumping out bigger, gorier sequels year-after-year.

THQ was looking for a hit. A game to help it move beyond its reliance on licensed kids IP – a market that has been eroded drastically in recent years.

But all it takes is one risk not to pay off, and that risk was uDraw.

Following a successful initial showing on Nintendo Wii in 2010, THQ decided to relaunch its drawing tablet a year later with a massive marketing assault plus versions for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. uDraw was a decent product, a drawing accessory aimed at children that was backed by a number of licensed tie-ins featuring iconic brands such as of Disney Princesses, Marvel Super Heroes, Kung Fu Panda and Spongebob Squarepants.

But Wii was a platform on the decline and Xbox 360 and PS3 had yet to truly crack the kids market. And the product sold drastically under THQ’s projections, leaving a $100m hole in its financials.

THQ never truly recovered from its uDraw failure. The publisher ditched some of its new projects, closed its kids division and eventually, late last year, attempted bankruptcy in a bid to find a buyer. It hasn’t worked.

THQ’s business is now being sold off piece-by-piece to maximise the financial return for its investors.

As a result THQ’s management team has come under heavy criticism in recent months. Their ambition has, in the end, been the publisher’s undoing.

However, the decision to sell-off the company piecemeal is a shame, because the games industry needs more THQs.

In a games market lacking in innovation, THQ’s ambitious line-up was a breath of fresh air. There are some new concepts coming from other companies but, outside of perhaps Sony, no other publisher has tried to make its release slate, even if modest, feel entirely fresh.

Taking risks is what drives any creative industry, especially video games. We’ve heard time and time again over the last year, including from some of the biggest names in games, how important new ideas are to growing the overall market. It’s vital that publishers do not look upon the collapse of THQ as a sign that it should avoid investing in new projects.

THQ dreamed the dream but failed. That doesn’t mean we should all stop dreaming.

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