The latest news coming out of struggling publisher have been slightly more positive as the creditors have given them more space to maneuver, but it's still very clear that THQ needs some kind of serious cash injection, either by way of an investor, a sale of some of the remaining assets or an outright sale of the entire company. THQ got themselves in this situation through a series of mistakes, most notably with uDraw, but there were also other costly mistakes in recent years. But what should THQ focus on now, and what properties are better left behind?
Saints Row is the biggest no brainer of the bunch. This franchise pretty much singlehandedly saved the company in the last year with great sales for Saints Row: The Third and its DLC. Executives will no doubt be hoping that gamers grow tired of GTA V quickly so they can cash in one final time on Saints Row this generation next fall, or perhaps pull the same stunt as last generation when Saints Row got to the market first and get Saints Row 4 on next gen consoles during the launch window. The comedic slant and emphasis on fun sets Saints Row apart from the competition, and today it's not just "that other GTA", but a big brand in its own right.
We've also got Company of Heroes and this entry into the bet category is riding on how the sequel performs in March. Nevertheless, the original game is still heralded as the best of its class, and that kind of heritage is hard to come by. Given how the digital landscape has changed the eco system for this category of games it's easy to see how important this franchise is moving forward for THQ. A great Company of Heroes 2 that performs well may lay the foundation for revenue for many years to come.
Over the last couple of years THQ has dropped a number of fresh, interesting projects. The Tomonobu Itagaki developed Devil's Third, Volition's Guillermo del Toro co-operation Insane, are just some of the high profile games THQ has pulled out of publishing. They have persisted with a couple of other new projects, however, Left 4 Dead studio Turtle Rock's new IP and the new IP Assassin's Creed creator Patrice Desilets has been working on at THQ Montreal. At this point THQ is in dire need of fresh ideas and bold moves - so rather than sticking with proven properties that might do okay it is wise to bet on things that may be perceived as risky, but at least hold the potential of a big pay-off. The fact that THQ have continued to support these projects leads us to believe there is a lot of potential here.
Homefront shipped a massive 2.6 million copies in its first two months on sale, and no doubt a majority of those found their way into gaming homes. Does that mean THQ has a million selling action franchise on their hands? Not really. Homefront failed to live up to expectations and it's doubtful that there are gamers out there who are looking forward to the sequel co-developed by Crytek and THQ Montreal just based on the first game. It may be a great concept, but there is everything to prove with the sequel and the question is whether or not a completely new and original game would have stood a better chance than the sequel to a game most people perceive as a failure. It's up to Homefront 2 to prove its worth, but it has an uphill struggle. Still, it's difficult to imagine anyone paying for the asset at this point so they might as well hold on to it.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is due next spring as has been met with fairly positive early reactions. It's developed by Obsidian Entertainment and has major involvement from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Without knowing whether a longterm deal is in place or not, it's hard to weigh the pros and cons of working with the license, but nevertheless THQ could be onto something here. Let's wait and see.
Six months ago I would probably had put Darksiders in the first category, but now that the disappointing sales of the sequel are a fact it's simply time to accept that Darksiders isn't a multi-million selling property. Still, the quality that's been on display in both releases gives hope for the future as a reasonable hiatus will likely create demand for a new game and the potential of winning over new fans.
In the darkness of the Moscow metro system THQ got themselves a nice little gem in the rough. The original Metro 2033 is a bit of cult classic that found its way to fans in spite of little or no hype. The sequel is facing higher expectations, and it remains to be seen if 4A Games can wow the world again. Nevertheless, Metro is a great fit for the new THQ that focuses on core games, mature themes, and makes use of external developers.
WWE may have been a sales juggernaut for years, but the popularity of the video game franchise is vaning and even with THQ pulling every imaginable stunt to reinvent the games it seems they're just not going to get as big as they once were. The question is whether THQ could use the money the license is worth better, and perhaps move towards an even more core centric library of games. That is if the right buyer comes along as it did with the UFC license that THQ shipped off to EA earlier this year.
Warhammer 40,000 is another license that has done well by THQ for years, but when Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Online was cancelled and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III put on hold (Relic focused on Company of Heroes 2 instead) - it signalled that THQ felt their money could be used to more effect elsewhere. The Dawn of War series has been very successful and it's reasonable to think Relic may begin work anew on Dawn of War III once Company of Heroes 2 is finished, but the question is whether this would be the time for THQ to bow out of the Warhammer business. They have nothing in development, if they're not still trying to convert the Dark Millennium assets into an action-adventure (sounds like a half-assed idea), so exiting now would be good timing if the right buyer was to come along. There is value with Warhammer 40,000 naturally, but perhaps it's time for THQ to focus their efforts on wholly owned properties.
Red Faction has a rather strange history. It came out of nowhere and offered unheard of destruction, then came a sequel that pretty much made us forget all about the franchise. Six years later Red Faction: Guerrilla appeared and was met with generally positive reviews and interest in the franchise was renewed. The pattern repeated itself as Red Faction: Armageddon was a disappointment and THQ have pretty much said the franchise is on hold for now. It would need another reboot to get going again, and with the sour taste of the past fresh in the mouth it's hard to see any reason not to sell off the Red Faction brand if any buyer would be foolish enough to make an offer.
Oh, and then there's uDraw. I'd pay to get rid off that.
In conclusion it must be said that THQ have some decent assets on their hands, and if they can only survive the debt squeeze they may have a future to look forward to. But there is also the sense of buzzards circling the publisher waiting for the right amount to dive in on the juicier assets that remain.