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THQ's Danny Bilson

The Core Games EVP on studio growth, defeating the trade-in market and the importance of blockbusters

Danny Bilson is THQ's executive vice president of Core Games. He joined the publisher in 2008 after several years at EA, where he worked on projects including The Sims, Medal of Honor and Harry Potter. Prior to that he worked in Hollywood, as a writer, director, producer and occasional comic book author. The outspoken 53-year-old has been instrumental in THQ's dramatic and promising 2009 restructuring, following a potentially disastrous fiscal year that led to 600 lay-offs.

Following the first demonstration of THQ's upcoming triple-A shooter Homefront to the media, Bilson talked to GamesIndustry.biz about the 'new' THQ's revised attitude to its internal studios and external recruitment, its aggressive move to blockbuster-only games, and its future plans to tackle the ever-controversial question of the trade-in market.

GamesIndustry.biz Is Homefront the spearhead of the new THQ?
Danny Bilson

I can't say this is the spearhead, I can say it's more one missile on a cluster bomb. We're dropping a clusterbomb that we let loose in January that will drop bombs for two years straight about every ten weeks. This is only one of them. This is our February bomb. We have March one, called Red Faction Armageddon, it's really awesome. And then the rest of the plan I can't talk about, but some of the things we are going to announce at E3.

We're going to show our MMO, our Warhammer 40,000 MMO. It's fantastic. I'm an MMO geek; there's a bunch of MMO geeks building this thing. It's glorious. Especially if you like the IP, but even if you don't, it's so fresh, it's not a bunch of men in tights and dwarves. It's Space Marines... How about a Titan? The Titan's are so big it's like "a foot! Oh my god!" You'll see a movie at E3, all gameplay capture, not a CG movie.

GamesIndustry.biz So how are you going about dropping these clusterbombs? Is it simply a matter of resources - do you make teams bigger, or do you bring in veterans?
Danny Bilson

All that's true. You can't do anything for free. Everything costs something. So the most important thing we had to move to was a talent-first company. Not a numbers-first company, not a forecasts-first company, a creative-first company.

That means the most important thing is the content. And I'm a content guy, so if I'm the leader, that's how it's going to roll. We look at every single properly uniquely, and what does it need, what does it need to grow, what does it need to make people care about it? But one of the most important ingredients in the new THQ in Core was bringing marketing and product development together in a seamless partnership. Marketers don't dictate anything to us. There is no research, because creative dies on research. If there is inspiration, we share it with each other, if we fall in love with it we move forward.

I don't ask 16 teenagers in Encino what they think, because I don't really care - I know what I think, I'm a hardcore gamer too, actually I'm a hardcore gamer for 30 years. All I do is play videogames. I don't watch any television, I occasionally see a movie, every spare hour I have I love videogames. That's why I'm in this business, that's why I took this job.

What we do is we have a bunch of guys who love videogames wanting to make the games that they love the most, and if that's your mission I think we can make great games and succeed. The other thing is that you're not going to see us buying studios, you're going to see us acquiring talent - very different.

You're going to see an announcement next Friday of a new game with a developer, and hopefully the week after that you're going to see an announcement about a team that we have acquired to inhabit a studio of ours. And these are people you'll know.

So in the rebuilding of THQ, it's all about best in class. Everything in best is class because you know what? My friends in those other companies? They are best in class. They know how to do it, they do it and to a consumer who's only got $60 he's only going to go one way or the other, he doesn't care that Red Dead cost however much it cost, how long as it took to get to get made, or that this cost as long as it did, he just wants great, right?

And our responsibility is to give those guys - and ladies - great. There's nothing short of that, the whole world of selling average games is gone. The world of selling anything but spectacular games is gone. So what I think that means is less games, more focus, more care and then more crafting in the marketing to make people care about them more, it's all just about more love really. It's just treating them with more respect.

GamesIndustry.biz Will that involve less in the way of specialist titles, or even of PC-centric stuff like Dawn of War?
Danny Bilson

No, not at all. Dawn of War's great stuff, I won't stop making Dawn of War unless people stop buying it. If I thought it was bad or some kind of a lame IP or something we might be having a different discussion. But I personally think that that universe is fantastic, I think the WH40K universe... They've been breeding geeks since 1977. What used to be a few sci-fi nerds is now the mass. If you look at what makes the most money, it's Avatar, Star Wars. So the mass audience is the geek audience, so to speak. So back to 40K - I think that that universe is the next place where everybody needs to go.

GamesIndustry.biz It's a property that's all of sci-fi in one place, every great idea that genre's ever had rolled into one IP...
Danny Bilson

Yeah, and it's one more level of sophistication, one more level of darkness. I personally love it, I wasn't really versed in it at all until I came to THQ two and half years ago, and I was like: "Wow - we have to get this to more people." And not only that but those guys in Nottingham, the Games Workshop guys, are fantastic partners, great people, love their stuff, understand we love their stuff... It's a really fun relationship.

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Alec Meer


A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.