If strong early sales of the next generation console blockbusters demonstrates that there's still an audience for grossly budgeted, ultra high-end titles, the long-predicted collapse of THQ last year demonstrates just how far there is to fall.
Fortunately, many of the publisher's more talented teams have found new homes elsewhere - including Volition, developer of Saints Row, which is now the property of Koch Media label Deep Silver. I spoke to Saints Row 4 senior producer Jim Boone over the summer for the inside story on THQ's collapse, Volition's past and future, and why it costs far too much to make a triple-A game.
What happens when a studio switches hands? Has Deep Silver tried to change how you work, or has it left you alone?
We were left to get on with it, fortunately. The feeling was that Saints Row is a very successful franchise, and that we were going to move forward. Obviously, when a company like THQ goes bankrupt your natural first inclination is to be like 'what does that mean for me and my family? Am I going to have to look for another job?' We already knew that [THQ president] Jason Rubin had had conversations about getting funding from an outside investor, but even if that didn't happen we felt there was enough interest in the brand that we could assume everything would be fine.
And sure enough we had a ton of publishers come and visit us, and they were great. On the one hand it was disconcerting to show all the details of every bit of your company and your game to your rivals - or at least, to companies who had been your rivals up to that point. That was a very strange process. But they're all good people, very friendly and understanding of the situation we were in. They treated us really nicely, but you can't help but wonder: for the people who do or don't buy us, what does that mean for development? Are we going to have to change the direction of the game? Even internal processes, how we create games, are they going to ask us to change that?
It's just the uncertainty of all of it, you know. I think we really lucked out with Deep Silver because they didn't change a thing. Everything that we were already doing with THQ, we carried on doing with Deep Silver. I often make the joke that for the majority of the team they don't even notice a difference other than the name on the pay cheque. It's just business as usual for them. You almost can't ask for more in that situation. How could you? When your parent company goes bankrupt, that's a pretty good situation to be in.
Can you reveal who else pitched for Volition?
I don't think so. I would hate to do it just because I'm not sure I'm allowed to talk about such things, otherwise I would. But pretty much all the ones you would expect - I guess I can say that. You probably would not be surprised by anyone that was on or off the list that came and visited us.
I was impressed by how outgoing THQ execs seemed to handle the situation.
Absolutely. Yeah, I've known [chief executive officer Brian Farrell] for many years - I used to work at corporate THQ way back in the day. And Jason Rubin, my god - I'd always known about him, but having a chance to work with him even for such a short period of time - the guy's amazing. I really appreciated the way they tried to guide all of us at the very end. I remember Virgil was a group that didn't get picked up for a while, until Crytek picked them up. They had just finished developing Darksiders 2, and because they didn't have anything else on-going publishers weren't interested because there wasn't anything to see. Rubin pushed so hard to try and get people to come down and visit them.