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Talking Loud, Saying Nothing

Three years of repeating a "focus on the core" mantra, but THQ still has nothing to show for it. Is time up for another publisher?

It's an understatement to say THQ is in a mess. This week it axed staff from its publishing and administration teams, and confirmed that it is no longer working on games aimed at the younger audiences, including the shelving of a recent Disney project. That's not because games for kids aren't doing the business anymore, it's just that THQ hasn't been able to follow the audience as it got hooked on monsters and online penguins.

Concentrating on the core audience is a solid plan if that really is your intention, but THQ is a company without confidence, axing projects and staff before they've taken their first steps. Look at its activities last year and a familiar pattern emerges - because its exactly what it did in 2009 when it first acknowledged that the kids' market was shrinking, when it closed Big Huge Games and let Heavy Iron and Incinerator go, when CEO Brian Farrell said the company would focus on fewer titles, when internal studio Volition lost its QA staff, the International business was shuttered and 600 staff let go. And previously in 2008 when it spoke of a new direction and sacked 250 staff with the closure of five studios.

THQ is a company without confidence, axing projects and staff before they've taken their first steps

But back to 2011, to really ram the point home. Three internal development teams were shut down in September at a cost of 200 jobs, and the MX Vs ATV franchise was canned - a series Brian Farrell hoped would usher in a mid-priced revolution for the company. The recently rebooted Red Faction series was briefly full of hope before being canned in July after a lacklustre launch and tepid reviews for Red Faction: Guerrilla. A month earlier, THQ Warrington (a digital-focused studio) was closed, alongside the Homefront team at Kaos, and Saints Row spin-off Drive By didn't even get shown publicly before being snuffed.

In the same year key studio Volition suffered job losses and the departure of one of its co-founders. Is there any doubt that mobile is a growth area in games? There must have been at THQ, because it sold THQ Wireless in February. Days earlier it canned free-to-play projects Company of Heroes Online and WWE Online. All of that happened in one year.

And yet CEO Brian Farrell insists the company is focused on the digital and core business. It's not. It's done everything it can to reduce games in those markets, with the regular swing of a bloody great axe. Console FPS? Chop. Extreme sports? Chop. Those are classic core genres. Digital spin-offs, mobile games, free-to-play projects - undoubtedly growth areas for the games business and not unobtainable by traditional console publishers, but THQ is willingly shoving them aside. Does it even understand the self-harm it's doing?

The policy of jettisoning underperforming franchises worked well for Electronic Arts, but THQ was never in the same league. EA has stripped down the product, increased quality and expanded into new areas aggressively. THQ never had the regular income from sports, nor took a bold chance with acquisitions in the social space. EA has tried all of its big franchises on Facebook with varying degrees of success, as well as creating new IP. THQ has just released Margaritaville Online - based on a Jimmy Buffet song from the 70s - a move that I can't decide is either a bad joke taken too far or some sort of hallucination I've been experiencing.

Matt Martin avatar
Matt Martin: Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.
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