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THQ seeks new identity in aftermath of E3 2012

THQ refuses to go quietly into that good night. Ahead of E3 2012, the Saints Row 3 publisher desperately tried to cauterize wounds incurred in its transition from a distributor of family-friendly fare like Nickelodeon-licensed games to those targeted at the lucrative 18 to 35-year-old male demographic with games like Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. In the process, it axed titles like Tomonobu Itagaki’s Devil’s Third and sold off extraneous publishing arms like budget PC imprint ValuSoft.

The hits kept coming at E3 though. Word came out at the beginning of the conference the license to the Ultimate Fighting Championship league, one of THQ’s sole remaining strong selling properties, was sold to Electronic Arts.

It’s a necessary loss on the road to recovery according to THQ CEO Brian Farrell though. “[The loss of the UFC license to EA] wasn’t a surprise to us,” Farrell told VentureBeat in a Tuesday interview, “Out CFO Paul Pucino has said break-even on a game is around 2 million units, plus or minus. We’ve also said that we’ve done about 1.4 million units of UFC 3… [It’s] been a great brand for us, but for us the ability to get cash and invest in things that are more core to our strategy, great for us.”

That is, in so many words, THQ’s new strategy: Get cash, regroup, and hopefully profit. There’s no other way forward for THQ at this point now that it has, in Farrell’s own words, “hit the bottom” and are climbing back out.

How the company will regroup though is unclear. The company’s three games at E3 2012, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Darksiders II, and Metro: Last Light, appear to be the same sort of properties that THQ has relied on to boost sales but have so far failed to do so. Space Marine is a similar action game to Darksiders II and Homefront was a story-heavy first-person shooter like Metro, but both games failed to perform up to THQ’s expectations.

Meanwhile THQ’s new president Jason Rubin, one of the co-founders of Last of Us creators Naughty Dog, has made comments this week that make THQ seem even more confused about its future. Rubin told Polygon that Saints Row: The Third creators Volition should be capable of making a game for the publisher that “isn’t embarrassing.” That game meanwhile saved THQ’s final quarter of fiscal 2012 from being a complete disaster. The new executive committed though to not laying off more THQ staff. In a Joystiq interview on Monday, Rubin said, “We have the appropriate number of teams and the appropriate number of people working on products, and we’re not going to continue to cut teams. But as far as product goes, I think we’ll have to find out exactly where that’s going.”

Rubin’s right. THQ is a publisher without an identity or direction in an industry that is fundamentally different than it was just three years ago. If it is going to survive, Rubin, Farrell, and THQ’s studios need to answer these questions fast.

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