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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
GamesIndustry.biz Do you think there's been a shift in what players want, especially in terms of response to marketing, that it's not features anymore, it's what happens, what are the secrets of the story?
Danny Bilson

Right, and I think we're really good at that in this game. And the other gag with that is we're not even talking about the biggest investment in this game - multi-player. We're going to see that in Germany. I think we've got a bitchin' single-player, but you know the mission for this team is always the multi-player is more important. That's their heritage, I expect them to deliver on it, and I'm also investing in that, because that's where everybody lives. Call of Duty you play for six hours, and then people play the rest of it for months.

GamesIndustry.biz You have to buy their affection to keep them until the next game...
Danny Bilson

And you also have to get them to buy the maps, because that's where their friends are playing. So of course our multi-player has that, but I was trained back in the day that you always have to bust one unique feature. Every game needs one unique feature. You didn't see it today, but you'll see it in the multi-player. That you're going to see in August.

GamesIndustry.biz Going back to the importance of multi-player, is providing a mode that people will play essentially for free, and at the cost of your servers, about setting up new streams of revenue like DLC, or is it about shoring up customer loyalty until the next game comes along?
Danny Bilson

No, it's because we want to keep them from trading it in and selling it used. That's more valuable to me. I'd rather have a guy playing my game for month than selling it back and selling it to the next guy for $55. That's the war we're in - that's really tough for us.

GamesIndustry.biz Are you going to experiment with techniques to counter that, like EA's project $10 and online code?
Danny Bilson

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We did that with UFC, but every game has a different story. With this one we're not going to lock out the multi-player to the used gamer, we're not. We're going to let them experience some of it but not all of it. And then he'll have to pay a nominal fee to get all the maps and all the stuff. That's not official, I'm saying that today, that's just what I'm thinking. We won't lock that down until January.

GamesIndustry.biz But you think you have to find a line, in terms of the second-hand market, where people want to pay that extra to get the missing content?
Danny Bilson

We have to show the used gamer that new is premium, because you get everything for free in there. We actually have some other programmes in the works that aren't as punitive as locking out the used guy, that are more positive. I think we're going to be able to announce that on a Fall product. If it works, it's the kind of idea that GameStop likes, we like, new gamers like, used gamers like it...

We may have come up with something, and I haven't announced it yet, that makes everybody happy. And that always makes me happy, because I don't want to be fighting retailers, I don't want to be fighting any of them. I'd rather come up with a system where everybody's making money and everyone's happy, and the guy who needs to buy used can buy and not feel like he's a criminal - like sometimes we want him to feel. Or that the guy who buys new gets the benefit.

We have this idea, and we're working on it now, and if it pans out it maybe a solution that works for everybody, and I would really like that. Because I don't like the constant strategising because there's still a flock of gamers out there who are caught in the middle of this.

GamesIndustry.biz Yes, they don't know that they're causing this problem - to them they're still simply spending money in a shop, on a videogame.
Danny Bilson

Yeah, they don't see what I'm dealing with, and they don't see that... I'm not even allowed to say some of the stuff about that. What I will say, and it's really true, is that what I care about more than anything else are the people who play our videogames - and they buy them new and they buy them used. I have to worry about that and deal with it. There's nothing wrong with that, and I think we may have a plan. This is a difficult one for the whole industry, because we don't make money on used games, so that... you can imagine.

GamesIndustry.biz I'll be very intrigued to see it, as it has been looking like a war that can't be won, building up to an enormous fall-out between retail and the publishers.
Danny Bilson

Yeah, we got in the middle of it recently, let me tell you...

Danny Bilson is THQ's executive vice president of Core Games. Interview by Alec Meer.

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Alec Meer

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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.

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