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E3: THQ's Jason Rubin is bullish on a turnaround

June 07, 2012|By Alex Pham
  • Brian Farrell, left, THQ Inc.'s chief executive, and Jason Rubin, THQ's newly appointed president, at the E3 convention in Los Angeles.
Brian Farrell, left, THQ Inc.'s chief executive, and Jason Rubin,… (Alex Pham )

Jason Rubin, the new president of THQ Inc., is bullish on the prospects of his company.

Despite the negative news that has battered THQ over the last few months, Rubin said the Agoura Hills game publisher has a decent chance of pulling past its grim financial circumstances.

“I have to believe that,” Rubin said during an interview Wednesday at E3, the annual video game convention in Los Angeles. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that was true.”

Things have been brutal for THQ. Many of its games have not sold well and the market for its children’s titles evaporated overnight as kids flocked to free games on smartphones and tablets. The company has laid off a third of its staff and shuttered a number of studios. THQ once employed more than 2,000 workers, but is now just below 1,000.

The most recent layoff occurred earlier this week and involved 44 workers at its San Diego studio, which had been working on a game based on a UFC licensing deal that was to have expired in 2017. But earlier this week THQ announced it had given up the license to Electronic Arts Inc., which paid an undisclosed sum for the rights.

THQ made three UFC titles in all. The first sold 4 million copies, and the second 3 million copies. But the last game sold just 1.4 million units, despite earning relatively high marks from critics.

“Two million copies is break-even,” said Brian Farrell, THQ's chief executive, said.

When Farrell began recruiting him several months ago, Rubin, 42, said he wanted to look at the company’s assets before he took the job.

But it wasn’t the company’s balance sheets he wanted to see. It was THQ’s development studios.

"I visited all the teams, except for one in the Ukraine, and I looked at all the products,” Rubin said. “When I came back, I said to Brian, ‘You have good people. And you have good products. I’m surprised things aren’t going better.’”

Rubin said THQ’s streamlined lineup of six titles for the next year looks strong. “Stick of Truth,” a new game based on the “South Park” cartoon franchise, drew approving nods from the crowd at a press conference Monday.  Many of its titles, including “Metro Last Night,” “WWE13,” “Company of Heroes 2,” and “Darksiders 2” have been nominated for critics' awards from the gaming press.

Now, Rubin said, the company needs to “create a better environment” for its developers.

This is something Rubin knows how to do well, having co-founded and built Naughty Dog, a game studio in Santa Monica, and sold it to Sony several years ago for an undisclosed sum. Naughty Dog has developed a number of blockbuster games for Sony, including the “Unchartered” series of adventure games. Its latest game, “The Last of Us,” has been nominated for a number of top awards.


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