The vultures have had their fill. THQ lies bleaching in the cold winter sun, its juicy assets, studios and properties stripped from the carcass during yesterday's feeding frenzy that saw over $100 million change hands. All that remains is a final 'Chapter 11' sell-off before THQ dies completely.
How the mighty have fallen. Starting life in 1990, Toy Head Quarters swelled into a publishing titan worth a billion dollars in revenue, but their lust to grow as fast as possible left them with too many studios, too many licenses, and so rarely the massive mega-hits they so desperately needed. After dealing themselves a raw hand with the Udraw tablet, the last few years saw them continually shedding and shelving projects in a bid to keep afloat. It wasn't enough, and their desperate last-ditch effort to sell themselves wholesale to a stalking horse investor spectacularly backfired what now seems like a lifetime ago.
But while many IPs and studios have been left out in the cold (Vigil Games, Red Faction and Homeworld among them), many more have found new homes, new publishers and potentially new opportunities to keep doing what they do best: creating great games for us to play. To this end, we're going to take a close look at where THQ's assets have ended up, and what their new owners plan to do with them.
Strategic Domination: Relic Goes To SEGA
SEGA proved themselves to be one of the biggest spenders during yesterday's auction, parting with a cool $26 million for Relic Entertainment. Which, frankly, couldn't have been a more canny move for the increasingly ruthless publisher. With The Creative Assembly's proven track record and recent acquisition of the Warhammer Fantasy license, SEGA are now perfectly placed to become one of the most powerful players in the PC strategy market - and potentially monopolise Games Workshop tie-ins going forward if they've managed to inherit the WH40K multi-game agreement (currently unknown). Company Of Heroes 2 is already taking shape nicely, which should potentially be a nice little earner and allow the two companies to ease into a working relationship.
Since both veteran studios are now able to collaborate, share advice and even personnel, armchair generals can fully expect great things from SEGA going forward. Total WarHAMMER, anyone?
Ubisoft: South Park & THQ Montreal
Ubisoft shelled out $3.2 million for South Park: The Stick Of Truth, which was probably one of the juiciest projects up for auction. With no need to purchase Obsidian Entertainment wholesale, who are nearly finished with their contractual development, all they need to do is deal with some marketing and distribution. The allure of the South Park license alone should see them make at least a modest return on their straightforward investment when it releases this year.
Ubi also forked over $2.5 million for THQ's Montreal studio. The Canadian developer is currently working on a mysterious alternate history project entitled 1666 (we assume that it will be based on the Great Fire Of London), and packs some impressive leadership in former Assassin's Creed director Patrice Désilets.
However, Ubisoft were quick to announce that "this deal adds experienced developers to our internal creative teams at a key moment in the cycle of the video game industry,” potentially suggesting that the THQ Montreal staff could well be reassigned to existing internal studios. Considering that Ubisoft tends to provide a nurturing environment for their development stable - by modern industry standards at least - it will be interesting to see what they're capable of now that Désilets has returned to the fold.
Crytek: Homefront's New Home
In one of the least surprising acquisitions of the auction, Crytek stumped up half a million dollars for the rights to the Homefront IP. Seeing as they're already developing the sequel to the solid yet underwhelming FPS, they'd have been mad not to. It's likely that they'll rely on their "strategic partner" EA for publishing duties.
Back in 2011, Crytek CEO Cervat Yerli stated that their "level of quality, creativity and production values" would make the next Homefront title "a truly blockbuster game." Here's hoping.
Koch Media Grabs Metro, Volition & Saints Row
Massive European media group Koch Media dug deep for the Metro franchise and Volition, spending $5.8 million and $22.3 million respectively. They'll plan to use their Deep Silver label to publish Metro: Last Light and future Volition-developed Saints Row titles, promising a "bright future" for the "magnificent" franchises in a statement made to VG247.
Considering Deep Silver's penchant for effective (if sometimes tasteless) marketing, we can't wait to see how they publicise the next Saints Row game. We'll find out more about their long-term plans for both franchises when they make a statement in the coming weeks.
Take-Two Take On Evolve
One of the most intriguing IPs up for grabs was the mysterious Evolve, in development at Left 4 Dead co-developer Turtle Rock. The independent studio actually tried to secure the rights themselves, but ended up totally outgunned when Take-Two crushed their $250,000 bid with a big fat juicy $10 million offer.
All we know about Evolve is that it's a shooter, or specifically a 'co-op action game.' Reports suggest that it runs on CryEngine 3. Naturally, we expect Take-Two to crow about their new acquisition over the coming months, though whether Turtle Rock will continue to work on it remains to be seen.
Vigil Games Left Out In The Cold
In perhaps the most heartbreaking fallout of yesterday's auction, no-one was willing to take a punt on Darksiders developer Vigil Games. The studio delivered two well-reviewed and moderately successful titles over the last few years, but sadly, the 2012 sequel didn't manage to become the enormous sales success that THQ so desperately wanted it to be. Other publishers clearly don't believe that the Darksiders franchise can sustain another title, and barring a last-minute miracle during the Chapter 11 process, Vigil will have to close their doors.
"There was a shimmer on a slither of hope, that at one point, there'd be a Darksiders 3," Darksiders lead designer Haydn Dalton tweeted today in a bittersweet salute. "Four-player co-op: it rode off into the sunset today."
There is some good news, though, in that Platinum Games have rolled out the welcome mat for Vigil Games developers and expressed an interest in buying the Darksiders IP "on the cheap." Since Vigil have plenty of experience at developing fun and involving melee combat systems, the two studios definitely have a lot in common.
Chapter 11, Homeworld & The Legacy Assets Bucket
We've referred to 'Chapter 11' a few times throughout this article, which is basically a final sell-off of any remaining assets at the end of the bankruptcy process. Vigil Games and THQ's publishing operation will be included in the final tally, valued at approximately $29 million, but there are a couple of interesting IPs still unsold. Some of these older properties will be flogged as part of what is colloquially referred to as the 'Legacy Assets Bucket.'
Take Homeworld, for example. The legendary space strategy series received no interest from the major players, though smaller publishers such as Paradox Interactive, Focus Home or Reverb could be in with a shout now that the big fish have left the pond (though there's nothing from stopping the likes of SEGA wading back in with open wallets, especially since they now own the original creators). Wonderfully, a small independent outfit called teamPixel plans to set up a crowd funding campaign to snaffle up the Homeworld brand, and we hope that someone will choose to revive the classic series. Frankly, it deserves a loving new home.
According to a few persistent rumours, Take-Two are taking a lingering look at the WWE license. We don't yet know if anyone plans to take a swing at the dormant Red Faction IP, which would sell for next to nothing due to Koch's stewardship of Volition and its decline in popularity.
So, with most observers convinced that prices will be kept as low as possible to facilitate a quick and easy sale, THQ will end with a whimper rather than a bang.
"It has been our privilege to work alongside the entire THQ team," wrote president CEO Brian Farrell in a fairwell missive. "While the company will cease to exist, we are heartened that the majority of our studios and games will continue under new ownership. We were hoping that the entire company would remain intact, but we expect to hear good news from each of the separate entities that will be operating as part of new organizations."
"For those THQ employees who are part of entities that are not included in the sale, we are confident that the talent you have displayed as part of THQ will be recognized as you take the next steps in your career."
"Thank you all for your dedication and for sharing your talent with the THQ team. We wish you the best of luck and hope you will keep in touch."
We, as always, wish all of the developers and studios the very best of luck - whether they've found new employers or will have to seek new opportunities elsewhere. We'll keep you updated as the proceedings wind down.