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The demise of THQ: where each franchise is going, and what it means

on 23 January 2013

Today's auction of various THQ intellectual property rights has ended, and news is pouring in of franchises and future games that will be henceforth published by other industry giants. Until just recently, the identities of the IPs and studios for sale was unknown (though we speculated that Saints Row, Darksiders, and MX vs. ATV would change hands). Now, we have a clear picture of where our favorite franchises will be going, and how much each company paid to acquire them.

The next few years will be very interesting indeed, as a whole host of sequels and titles-in-progress will now be published under different corporate umbrellas. Let's take a look at each successful bid, and examine what each sale means for the industry moving forward.

Relic (developer of Company of Heroes) sold to SEGA for $26.6 million

The first sale listed in the official auction summary filed with the US Bankruptcy Court of Delaware is perhaps the most unexpected, as SEGA Corporation outbid Zenimax Media, Inc. (owners of Bethesda Softworks) by a mere $300,000. Given SEGA's recent history of middling game sales and a notable lack of blockbuster releases, it's a bit surprising to see the storied publisher bid the highest amount in today's auction for a currently PC-exclusive franchise. Still, Company of Heroes 2 (which was first announced in May 2012) should generate much-needed revenue and variety for SEGA if its planned launch window of Early 2013 stays intact. It's hard to argue that SEGA probably needed Company of Heroes 2 more than Zenimax Media, but the latter might've benefited from strengthening its PC portfolio and audience as the Elder Scrolls Online beta draws near.

THQ Montreal (developer of unannounced title) sold to Ubisoft for $2.5 million

Ubisoft's first acquisition of the day gives the French publisher exclusive rights to one or more as-yet-unannounced titles. We covered Ubisoft's acquisitions earlier this evening via press release, but close examination of the official auction summary mentions two mysterious names that may relate to Montreal's top-secret project(s). The first is 1666, a game whose trademark was filed in March 2012 but whose content remains under wraps. The other is Underdog, which may very well be Montreal's mystery game. In any case, it may be quite some time before gamers realize the implications of either. At the very least, Ubisoft has proven itself to be a fine nurturer for a wide variety of genres on every conceivable platform. Whatever the outcome of this acquisition, PlayStation gamers are sure to benefit.

Evolve sold to Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. for $10.894 million

Much like 1666 and Underdog, the nature of Evolve (also referenced in official documentation as Metamorphosis) is utterly vague at best. Like 1666, Evolve was trademarked in March 2012, but because so little is known, let's examine the Take-Two implications. Take-Two owns both 2K Games and Rockstar Games, which means this title could ultimately end up in the hands of either. My money's on 2K Games; Rockstar is notorious for lengthy development times on a select few highly-profitable franchises, while 2K Games has - in the last couple years - handled everything from Duke Nukem Forever and The Darkness II to Borderlands and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. As of now, 2K's only announced in-development titles are BioShock Infinite and an XCOM third-person-shooter. The former will be on store shelves in two months, and the latter has no set release date. By appearances, 2K's stable of studios - including Firaxis Games, Irrational Games, 2K Marin, and others - have or will soon have plenty of time on their hands. Don't be surprised if one of these three gives Evolve a big reveal at E3 or Gamescom in 2013.

Volition (developer of Saints Row) sold to Koch Media for $22.3 million

If you aren't familiar with Koch Media, just substitute the words 'Deep Silver' in the line above. The publisher is best known for Risen, Risen 2: Dark Waters, and Dead Island, and with no other game label under its corporate heading, Koch Media clearly intends for Deep Silver to assume publishing duties and for Volition to resume development on Saints Row 4 post-haste. It's far too early to make a definitive call on the game's final quality, but the fact that Volition staff is expected to remain largely intact is an excellent sign. No need for doom-and-gloom here, though its interesting to note that Ubisoft made a (much smaller, $5.4 million) bid for Volition. Ubisoft isn't one to shy away from controversial game content, and they've got years of excellent multi-platform releases for a pedigree. I can't help but lament that Saints Row 4 didn't go to Yves and co., but Koch Media clearly wanted it - let's hope they treat it well.

Homefront sold to Crytek for $544,218

What's surprising about this sale isn't that Crytek purchased Homefront outright (the studio has been working on a Homefront sequel for some time), but that it sold for so little, and with no backup bidder to speak of. Homefront sold gangbusters in its first week of release, and one could argue that - in venerable Crytek's hands - the franchise's future is looking bright indeed. Of course, Kaos Studios developed the first entry, so Crytek UK (developer of Homefront 2 and co-developer of Crysis 2 and 3, alongside Crytek Frankfurt) still has something to prove. On PSU's Podcast Derailed, I guessed that Activision might target Homefront to strengthen its FPS stable by adopting the competition. We'll wait for the sequel's official reveal to draw any conclusions, but I'm glad Crytek will have free creative reign from here on out.

Metro sold to Koch Media for $5.87 million

Koch Media / Deep Silver clearly has less faith in the Metro brand than in Saints Row, but that's probably a fair judgment. 2010's Metro 2033 failed to make significant waves in the PC and Xbox 360 gaming communities, and Metro: Last Light's planned Q1 2013 launch has drawn little fanfare in recent months. You can bet that Metro will land on the desk of Deep Silver, which is actually an excellent home for it - assuming Techland takes up development duties, the lessons learned from Dead Island (another first-person post-apocalyptic shooter) should apply well to Metro's brand of survival horror and inventory management. Of course, handing Metro over to Techland and Deep Silver would snub 4A Games, so let's hope that employees and families suffer as little as possible in this transition period.

UPDATE: Deep Silver has confirmed via Twitter that it will be assisting Volition and 4A Games in development of Saints Row 4 and Metro: Last Light, respectively. Looks like 4A is in the clear!

South Park sold to Ubisoft for $3.26 million

Ubisoft made valiant attempts at numerous THQ assets in this auction, but came out with only two - THQ Montreal, and publishing rights to South Park: The Stick of Truth. To the best of our knowledge, Obsidian's hit-TV-show-turned-RPG is still scheduled for release on March 5, so South Park fans can breathe easy. Still, South Park Digital Studios can't be too pleased, as only yesterday we reported that the company was seeking to buy back rights to the game itself. High sales and warm reception could mean more triple-A South Park titles in the not-so-distant future, so let's keep our fingers crossed that Ubisoft manages to establish a good working relationship with Obsidian and South Park Digital Studios over the next couple months.

We've given you our thoughts on the various franchise acquisitions announced today in the demise of THQ. Of course, there are still many unanswered questions. What is the future of Darksiders, MX vs. ATV, and other THQ properties not sold at auction? How will the games and people affected by these sales fare? Drop a comment below and join the conversation by giving us your thoughts, fears, and predictions for the future of THQ and the games you care about. Then, hit up our official forums to discuss the matter with other gamers in our fine PSU community.