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Jason Rubin and Danny Bilson: a tale of two THQs


During Danny Bilson's tenure at Saints Row publisher THQ, the company went from license-dependent (think Nickelodeon) to "Core-focused" (think ... uh, Saints Row). And eventually, the publisher's entire direction turned, from a split between casual/family-focused titles and those of its "Core" division, to one solely focused on that "Core." THQ today is essentially just the "Core" division.

When Bilson was fired from THQ and Jason Rubin was appointed president just over a week ago, the publisher's messaging didn't change. "Rubin's appointment comes as THQ realigns its focus from a maker of licensed games for broad audiences to a developer of AAA 'Core' games for multiple platforms," Rubin's appointment PR reads.

But Bilson arguably lead THQ's charge into "AAA 'Core' games," pushing for games like Metro 2033, Darksiders, and Saints Row: The Third, and brokering deals with Guillermo del Toro for a three-game survival horror series called "Insane," with Turtle Rock for an unnamed FPS, and Ninja Gaiden creator Tomonobu Itagaki for a (since dropped) project called "Devil's Third." Why he was fired remains unknown. "I don't think it's a question for me," THQ president Jason Rubin told us during an E3 2012 interview.

"I wasn't here, so I really can't. I just know what I've inherited. And what I've inherited are some pretty darn good titles," he said. "Why they didn't do another Company of Heroes between the first and the second when the first one was the highest rated [RTS] ever? Certainly can't answer that question coming in seven days later, but I would say that was a mistake." Otherwise, Rubin had nothing but praise for Bilson's time with THQ.

"If I look to Danny's past, I don't know what went wrong because I wasn't here, but I can tell you some things went right. Because I can't take any credit for Stick of Truth, Darksiders, Company of Heroes 2, or Metro. They're here as I come in. Where we go in the future will be my responsiblity," he said. That future is still fairly unknown. Rubin told investors in a recent call that THQ is "making a real concerted attack to get in early on the new business model;" what that business model is remains to be seen.

"I don't have any interest in going into social. I don't have any interest in going into mobile," Rubin told us. He was quick to note that there's "nothing wrong with those business models," just that it's "a space where the people who know what they're doing are gonna very, very easily win." Free-to-play, however, is a possibility. "Perhaps. Free-to-play is a good example of a way to get the player to say, 'Well, clearly you don't have an $80 million marketing budget. You don't have a $120 million game. It's not a massive sequel to a massive title that I know I'll love. But it's free, so I'll try it.' And if it's compelling entertainment – if it's a good game – they can find themselves sucked into that."

For now, Rubin's excited about the upcoming slate of games for THQ – South Park, Metro, Company of Heroes, Darksiders, WWE, and more Saints Row – and keen on "putting some distance between the past and the future," he said. "So that people start judging the company on what they're seeing."

In a year or two, it's going to be a different company. It'll be obvious by then what we'll be targeting as the kind of products we wanna make. We'll be in a very different position."

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