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Storage Wars: THQ Edition -- An Exploration of the THQ Asset Auction
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 04:37pm 22/01/13 | Comments
AusGamers takes a look at the forthcoming THQ assets auction and throws in our two cents about where anything sold should wind up. read on for our full thoughts...

In a few days we’ll know the fate of THQ’s stable of IPs, licenses and assets. For the uninformed, the embattled publisher filed for an extended bankruptcy following financial trouble that lead to its delisting from the Nasdaq. The bankruptcy also includes an asset auction scheduled to take place on January 22nd in the US (so around tomorrow, the 23rd for us) and this would be actioned on a title-by-title basis. It’s estimated all sales should be final by the 24th of January and we know there are a handful of publishers interested in THQ’s impressive portfolio of IPs.

Among the big-hitters are Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Warner Bros. Interactive. Like an episode of Storage Wars, interested parties were given a chance to peruse THQ’s wares ahead of the auction and submit their bids ahead of auction day.

On the block are known titles such as Obsidian’s South Park: The Stick of Truth, Metro: Last Light and Company of Heroes 2, but the sale will run much deeper with the WWE license up for grabs as well as a number of unrevealed titles from the likes of Vigil, THQ Montreal, Relic, Turtle Rock and more. We know Homefront 2 has been in the works at Crytek UK (formerly Free Radical) and, of course, there’s the big fish: Saints Row.

Where any of these coveted titles and franchises wind up is anyone’s guess at this stage, but we decided to break down THQ’s assets and relegate them to the studios/publishers we think they’d best fit. In the interest of clarity, we’ve bundled together relevant studios to specific IPs where they’ve traditionally been at the helm (eg: Volition and Saints Row).

(Please Note: This is in no way fact, it is merely opinion and mild speculation. Until the dust settles in the next few days, the outcome of this auction is anyone’s guess.)



Studios (including IPs)

Volition Inc.

The current stance is that Activision has expressed interest in Volition specifically for the Saints Row factor. The publishing giant has been trying to break into the open-world game space for a long time, but each time is met with failure (True Crime, Prototype). Taking on Volition wouldn’t just give them the biggest contender to GTA’s area of dominance, but potentially Red Faction as well.



We actually agree with the Activision acquisition of Volition. Saints Row is an established brand, so there’s relatively little risk involved in taking it on. Moreover, Activision not only has piles of cash, it also knows how to effectively market products and their renewed focus on a smaller stable of products with bigger rewards through focused development and marketing would only do Saints Row a favour. On the Red Faction front, however, there’s more of a risk Activision simply won’t be interested in it given their current stable and potentially already having that coveted open-world brand they so want with Saints Row. In that instance, Red Faction would likely be better off at a smaller publisher looking to utilise the brand’s heritage who would also be willing to give it the love it deserves (to hopefully return to what made it such a fun open-world sandbox title in the first place).



Relic Entertainment

This is another one we agree with. EA is heavily rumoured to be interested in Relic for both the Company of Heroes series and Dawn of War. The publishing giant does have a solid background in supporting RTS but their success track record here is a bit of a mixed bag. This would essentially pave the way for a full-scale push for both of Relic’s much-loved franchises to take the top spot at EA (or at least share it with C&C). There’s also the idea that doing so would equally give EA more of the Warhammer license to play with (they’re no stranger to it with the likes of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning and Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes), and could very well include the solid Warhammer 40K: Space Marine series that was kicked off at the end of 2011.



Vigil Entertainment

This one is the one I’d most like to see land on its feet (I’m a massive Darksiders fan, you see). Vigil is well-known for Darksiders at this stage, and the studio was founded by comic book legend, Joe Madureira. To this end, Warner Bros. Interactive, on paper, would be a perfect fit. They’ve shown nothing but measured tenacity in their strategic acquisitions since jumping headlong into the industry with an outright purchase of the likes of Rocksteady for their indelible work on Batman and their fostering of not only NetherRealms’ work on Mortal Kombat, but bringing them on board with DC, its landmark characters and franchises, and letting them run wild with them in the forthcoming Injustice: Gods Among Us.



Darksiders could then very easily enjoy a place in the DC comics realm (currently any comics from the series are published by Dark Horse, but the IP is owned by THQ), and as much love from the midcard publisher as we’ve seen them offer the likes of Rocksteady, Monolith, 5th Cel et al. Hopefully if this took place, any future titles Vigil were working on would also land with the deal.



THQ Montreal

This is a tricky one, because not a lot of people know what’s been being cooked up at this fresh studio who has yet to release a title. It was originally formed by Patrice Desilets who was the former lead on the original Assassin’s Creed at Ubisoft Montreal, so you would have to assume that leaves Ubisoft out of the picture. Moreover, the project title for the studio’s first game is 1666 and you don’t need to be a genius to extract the possibilities tied to that name given Patrice’s pedigree. If their debut game is indeed an action title set in the year 1666 and with Patrice at the helm, it would nestle itself as a direct competitor to the Assassin’s Creed franchise leaving the studio’s destination up in the air.

The aforementioned Warner Bros, however, could be a very solid fit. Their stance and position on original, new IPs is well known and having a fresh, modern studio to slot into their current business model makes absolute sense. We also can’t see either EA or Activision going after them, leaving our mind set on Warner Bros. Interactive.



In the Works and Licenses

We know about a handful of games launching in the early part of this year, but it’s also been revealed that included in the auction will be any current contractual development and publishing obligations on THQ’s part, as well as their licenses. To this end, we’ve also produced a quick round up of those projects and further suggestions as to where they should go.

WWE



EA’s tie to this one in the rumour mill makes a bit of sense, and it would definitely help round out their sports stable. It’d also be good to see both UFC and WWE back on the same development roster. In the past, a huge majority of the WWE licensed games have been handled by Yukes out of Japan, but whether they’d be kept on beyond whatever they’re currently working with would remain to be seen.

EA does seem like a good fit, but I’d also venture that 2K’s 2K Sports label could do something pretty special with WWE, especially when you look at the culture, art and overall lifestyle thrown into the latest NBA 2K release. There’s no mention of interest from 2K though, so the future of this money-make remains somewhat up in the air.



Metro: Last Light

Given 4A Games’ impressive-looking Metro: Last Light is effectively finished a lot of publishers could be scrambling to pick this one up. Even half the marketing is already done. I could honestly see EA, Ubisoft and Warner Bros. making a play on this with a mind to continue the franchise as well, especially if the package also carries with it a chance to work with the talented 4A Games (who created their own tech, limiting the licenses involved with the franchise). Of those three though, we honestly think it’d find a good fit ar Warner Bros. who’ve already served up their own survival-horror FPS in F.E.A.R. 3 and could be looking to maintain momentum with mature-based first-person gaming.

However, we still don’t know the full list of interested parties, but if I had to put a wildcard in here who could seriously do the game justice, it would be Bethesda. They work *almost* exclusively in the shooter space and are well-known for being supportive of developer vision, even sometimes to the detriment of their own pocket (*cough* Brink *cough*). If Metro: Last Light felt like it could fit into any publisher stable, in my opinion, it would be Bethesdas.



South Park: The Stick of Truth



This is a tough one, and it was suggested that Microsoft could take it on themselves as it’s also pretty much finished. There’s a bit of credence to that argument to, given Microsoft have only one known platform exclusive game slated for this year: Gear of War: Judgement.

Obviously they have their basket full with the forthcoming Xbox “Durango” reveal apparently not too far off, but there’s a lot of love around this game, and Matt and Trey worked with Microsoft to show off the HD content delivery system of Xbox 360 with the South Park episode “Fun Times with Weapons”. Outside of Microsoft, Warner Bros would again seem like a decent fit, but there could be all types of license issues with that one. EA and Ubisoft also come to mind, and either would actually probably be a good fit, so it’s actually a tough one to call.



Homefront (2)

Despite the disappointment that was the first Homefront, Homefront 2 is being handled by the very competent Crytek UK, whose multiplayer work on Crysis 2 was excellent, not to mention their FPS heritage as Free Radical on TimeSplitters and GoldenEye (at Rare) before that. It’s also a ready-to-go franchise in the popular military shooter space that is already very recognisable thanks to the tenacious marketing THQ pulled off ahead of the release of the first outing.

Ubisoft would make sense here given both EA and Activision effectively already have two to three teams, each, working on their Call of Duty, Medal of Honor and Battlefield titles. Ubisoft have been looking in recently, with Rainbow Six: Patriots, but a title that’s almost ready to go and from a team like Crytek UK could be hard to pass up. It’s worth noting though, there might still be a bit of bad blood between the two after the Free Radical-developed Haze trainwreck, but that could all be water under the bridge now.

We’d honestly really like to see Homefront given a chance to shine with its sequel and into the future after all the build-up and background that was created around the first game, and Ubisoft is the sort of publisher who fosters IP development in this fashion.



Turtle Rock’s “Evolve” (project name)



Not much is known about this one, though I’ve heard nothing but praise for what they’ve been working on from a few people close to the project. Left 4 Dead is a pretty big name, and so you would expect anything to stem from the team behind that phenom to have something pretty special up their sleeve.

In an ideal world, you’d want to almost email Gabe and ask Valve to step in and help out the studio that gave them such a huge hit in the first place, but you never know. For similar reasons to what I already mentioned above, Bethesda could also be a great fit here, or again, Warner Bros. to help them flesh out their original IP portfolio. Whatever the outcome, we can only hope whoever takes it, gives it the love it’s purportedly deserved.



Unknown and Unloved

There are a few other unknown or unannounced projects whispered to be on the boil within greater THQ, so these will likely surface over the next few days, but you also have other assets such as Double Fine’s Stacking, which the developer is rumoured to be after. It could end up being a trip down memory lane for the industry once everything is out on the table, but more than anything, the whole sale is going to be both a sad reminder of a once great publisher who was reduced to a garage sale, and a potentially bright future for a number of talented developers and great IPs. It’s going to be an interesting 2013, to say the least.