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Jon Rooke & Adam Roberts: Part One

THQ UK's marketing and sales men talk business, release schedules and UFC sales

The story of THQ in the past couple of years has been an interesting one from the outside looking in - from shareholder discontent and threats of NASDAQ delisting, the business has turned around under the current leadership of Brian Farrell and Danny Bilson.

At last month's UK retail event, The Gathering, got time to catch up with Jon Rooke and Adam Roberts - in part one of this two-part interview, they talk about the health and focus of the company, and why everybody is so excited about the software slate for the next 12 months. The story of THQ has been an interesting one in the past 18 months - something of a rebirth of the company. How has that regeneration process been going?
Jon Rooke

It's been going to plan. Looking at coming into fiscal 2010 we set out our goals for how we want to restructure our business, how we want to cut back and realign our costs according to what the business could actually afford. At the end of fiscal 2010 we announced our results and absolutely delivered on all of those things.

We set out, to the city, our plans to make profit within that time frame. We delivered upon all of our key titles - UFC, Red Faction: Guerrilla, Smackdown vs Raw 2010 and the kids, family and casual line-up - in terms of the key goals we set out.

The biggest thing for me is, having gone through that process, was actually that at every single point there were difficult times - with any kind of restructuring like that change can cause uncertainty - but the leadership of the business was very strong. Everybody was clearly aligned on what we had to do and where we were heading.

Everybody bought into that and the result was that we met - and exceeded - those targets. Strong leadership at a publisher is important - and it seems to have generated confidence.
Jon Rooke

Definitely, and it's about having those clear goals set out from the top and drilled down - and goals that are manageable and achievable as well. I've had previous stints at THQ in the past, working as a product manager through to head of marketing for about three and a half years, and during that time I remember the company goals being a little bit looser, a bit vague.

The goal was: "Let's grow," and that's kind of what we did, we just kept growing, which in itself is great, but it creates pressures that every year you have to do that bit more. It becomes growth for the sake if it.
Jon Rooke

Yes - and if the right structures and processes aren't put in place underneath, then if the market shifts (as it did do, with the Wii coming into the market and the transition that was there) and you've only been focused on going in one direction without being solid in others... it can sometimes be the unraveling.

And that's what happened to THQ - we'd been more focused on growing, returning investment to shareholders and share growth. But when the market shifted we weren't able to react, and that caused issues.

The management has been great through all that, with Brian Farrell and then later on Danny Bilson and the team that have come on. They've really simplified the message this year, which is really just a return to profit - that's all we wanted to do.

Latently, yes we wanted market share growth, yes we wanted games to sell certain numbers of units, but at the end of the day all we fundamentally wanted to do was make sure we got back to profitability. It's certainly been one of the big business stories in the past two years. It's like the company's been getting involved with the UFC Trainer...
Jon Rooke

Yes - the business is leaner, but it's also meaner as well, more focused. We have a cleaned-up portfolio slate - we used to have about 60 SKUs, and the market itself can't support that many nowadays.

We're very clearly focused on what we're doing, and that's been borne out by a lot of the comments back from retailers - that in years gone by we'd go to E3 and show the slate and people would pick out a couple of titles and not really be sure about the rest.

But this year people are coming back and telling us that every single product that we had at E3 was there for a reason - you could see who it was going to attach to and why consumers would buy it. There's no chaff in the portfolio. And no sense of self-cannibalisation.
Jon Rooke

No, and not even when we have multiple UFC and WWE games, they all have a clear position and target consumer in the market. Some are complementary, but in the most part they're appealing to different types of consumers, different types of play habits and different types of gaming habits too.

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