THQ shocked the gaming landscape last week when they announced that they had filed voluntary petitions under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. The company’s foreign operations, including Canada, were not included in the filings. Honestly, no gaming journalist could say with a straight face that they didn’t see this coming, but I think many of us believed that they might be able to hold out a bit longer than this and perhaps even turn it around. THQ has said that it will continue operating its business without interruption during the sale period, subject to Court approval of THQ’s first-day motions. THQ has also said it does not intend to reduce its workforce as a result of the filing, and employees will continue to work their usual schedules and receive normal compensation and benefits, pending customary Court approval. Let’s all hope that last statement proves to be true.
So THQ will keep its foreign assets as part of this activity, specifically Relic (Company of Heroes, WarHammer), THQ Montreal, and THQ International GmBH. So what’s actually up for sale? THQ’s 4 owned studios are what’s for sale here and those include THQ Wireless, THQ Digital Studios Phoenix, Volition Inc and Vigil Games. The first two you’ve probably not really heard about, the drivers here are last two, Vigil and Volition. Volition is the developer behind the I believe highly underrated and now defunct Red Faction franchise and more notably the Saints Row franchise. Vigil on other hand has only been around since 2005 and its the team behind the solid if not blockbuster Darksiders franchise. So to be clear, this sale is really going to depend on what value other companies see in the Darksiders and Saints Row franchises. There are also a few unannounced IPs in development at the studios in question but its hard to say how those will factor into a company’s decision.
With all that said, let’s take a look at a couple of companies that have to be considered front-runners to pickup THQ’s assets.
Square Enix is one of those companies that doesn’t do a lot of releases in a year but when they do, they always bring it. Some of the highlights of this year included Hitman: Absolution and Sleeping Dogs. Speaking of Sleeping Dogs, a title that Activision basically threw away, which Square Enix quickly scooped up and turned into one of the biggest games of the year. It’s that ability to see what others don’t, to take an undervalued franchise and get the best out of it that makes Square Enix an appealing destination for THQ’s assets.
The company already has a big year planned for 2013 with the release of the Tomb Raider reboot, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII and the relaunch of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (formerly known as Final Fantasy XIV). From a creative standpoint I would have no problem with Square Enix getting a hold of the assets, though I don’t necessarily think the IP up for sale fits their style. I also have serious concerns as to whether Square Enix would lay down the kind of cash that it would take to pick up these assets.
We know that Activision has the cash to get a sale done, they are bringing in cash by the truckloads off the huge success of their Call Of Duty franchise. As I mentioned in the previous section, Activision hasn’t forgotten about what many consider a mistake in them dropping True Crime: Hong Kong which was later released by Square Enix as Sleeping Dogs. I doubt they will be keen to let these assets pass them by without a solid look.
In 2013, we are no doubt going to receive another installment in the Call Of Duty franchise. Along with that, we know that Activision plans to publish a first person shooter based on The Walking Dead franchise, a Deadpool game, and perhaps the most highly anticipated title outside of COD, Destiny, the first title from former Halo developer, Bungie. Again, if you look at the type of games that Activision is known for then THQ’s library doesn’t necessarily fit but the acquisition of these assets may be a way for them to go in a new direction.
Take Two Interactive
The folks over at Take Two Interactive definitely have to be dropped into the conversation, after all they own one of the most iconic developers in the business in Rockstar Games, home of Grand Theft Auto. They also own 2K Sports who’s NBA 2K franchise is the standard in basketball simulation, even if it is the only basketball simulation as of late. They also own Irrational Games, home of the Bioshock franchise and Fireaxis, home of XCOM and the Sid Meier’s franchise of strategy games.
2013 is set to be a big year for Take Two with Rockstar Games planning to release Grand Theft Auto V. With the success of several of their franchises, Take Two definitely has the muscle to get the job done and the Saints Row franchise would definitely be at home in the Rockstar family. The interesting part about this is that Take Two itself was a takeover target by EA just a few years ago and while that attempt proved unsuccessful, who knows if Take Two would be willing to risk stretching themselves to thin through an acquisition and then making themselves susceptible to another takeover attempt. That would perhaps be one of the craziest scenarios I could think of, Take Two wins the THQ assets but then over exerts themselves financially and then EA or another company comes in and scoops them up, essentially get THQ and Take Two’s assets. That’s a long shot I know since I don’t think Take Two will be a major player in this sale but it’s still nice to pontificate on it.
EA is absolutely a giant among giants in today’s gaming industry. The company has titles across almost every genre and dominate almost by sheer volume. The company owns/publishes several major gaming franchises including but not limited to Madden NFL, FIFA Soccer, NHL, NCAA Football, SSX, Battlefield, Need for Speed, The Sims, Medal of Honor, Command & Conquer, Dead Space, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Army of Two and Crysis.
EA is a force like none other in the gaming industry and could be interested in THQ’s assets for a number of different reasons. They could genuinely want to develop them or simply keep them out of the hands of their rivals. One would be hard pressed to say that THQ’s assets wouldn’t be a good fit for EA since they are basically into everything. A lot of people don’t like EA and feel that it has in fact ruined many a gaming franchise, but there is no denying that with their resources, franchises like Saints Row, Darksiders, and possibly even Red Faction could be taken to another level.
If EA is the Microsoft of the gaming industry, then Ubisoft is quickly establishing itself as the Apple. In recent years the company has continued refine its gameplay experiences and at this point has to be considered in the upper echelon of publishers. A few years ago, many thought that Ubisoft might go the way of THQ, but a re-dedication to making high quality games has made Ubisoft one of the leaders of the industry.
Ubisoft isn’t quite EA yet but they are quickly establishing a stable of high quality gaming franchises that include Assassin’s Creed, Beyond Good & Evil, Driver, Far Cry, Just Dance, Petz, Prince of Persia, Rabbids, Rayman, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, and Watch Dogs. Assassin’s Creed III was another blockbuster and Far Cry 3 turned out to be perhaps the biggest surprise of the year, delivering what many (including myself) believe is the definitive shooter of 2012.
On tap for 2013, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6: Patriots , Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and Watch Dogs just to name a few. Any, if not all of those could be major blockbusters. From an overall creative standpoint, I think that Ubisoft makes the most sense for the assets that are up for sale. The Darksiders and Saints Row franchises are two that I could definitely see thriving at Ubisoft and I could even see them doing something beautiful with what I think is a solid foundation in Red Faction. With Ubisoft’s creative genius, high skilled developers and top-notch marketing team behind them, I have no doubt that they could match or exceed what they did while under THQ. Recent rumors suggest that Ubisoft is definitely interested, but I think they’ll have to prove that they are willing to pay a little extra to beat out the likes of EA. While I think most major publishers will do their due diligence, ultimately I believe it will come down to EA vs Ubisoft.
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