As executive vice president of core games at
On Tuesday, it released "Homefront," an ambitious action game about America under North Korean occupation that's the first original project to be developed under Bilson. The game's fate will be a measure of the wisdom of THQ's decision to spurn veteran game industry marketers and product managers and put its fate in the hands of an executive whose professional achievements include screenwriting credits for "The Rocketeer" and the TV show "The Flash."
"I'm bringing a totally new culture for this company," Bilson said. "We're not making manifolds. We're making products to entertain people."
But disappointing reviews spooked investors Tuesday, who pummeled the game publisher's stock, pushing it down
The game garnered a relatively weak average score of 72 out of 100 from 28 reviews by Tuesday afternoon, according to Metacritic, a site that aggregates reviews. A score of 80 is considered the minimum required for a "shooter" game such as "Homefront" to be commercially successful.
So far, players seem eager to see for themselves. On
Amazon, "Homefront" was the No. 1 selling game, trailed by "Pokemon
Black Version" and "Pokemon White Version," two popular titles from
With production costs of
That won't be easy. The video game market is flooded with similar "shooter" games from
It's a demographic Bilson knows well. When he wasn't hanging out on set with his childhood friend
Bilson followed in the footsteps of his father,
"For me, getting to meet someone from EA was like someone at EA getting to meet someone from
Mattrick persuaded Bilson to become a consultant on several EA titles, including the Sims. "He's extremely insightful about game design," said Bing Gordon, who was Bilson's boss at EA and is now a venture capitalist.
Yet Bilson's business acumen remains unproven. An attempt to start his own game studio in 2004 failed, forcing him to return to writing scripts and comic books. In 2007, he got a call from THQ asking if he wanted to run the company's "core" game business, overseeing production and, soon, marketing as well.
Bilson appears to relish his outsider status. In an industry where people rarely disparage rivals, Bilson isn't reluctant to offer blunt assessments. "I admire what Activision does, but where is their new content? Why don't they innovate?" he said of the nation's largest publisher.
Bilson notes that in an industry preoccupied with "franchises," half of the games in development at THQ are original properties (a strategy made easier given THQ's shortage of sequel-worthy brands).
"In some ways I'm taking us back to
Since THQ's founding in 1991, licenses from well-known properties helped it become a mid-sized publisher. By 2008, however, sales of licensed games began to decline as more-sophisticated players demanded higher-quality titles.
By the end of that year, Chief Executive
Some early efforts, such as the "Grand Theft Auto"-like "
"We have de-emphasized the kids' business and had a very dramatic turnaround, but what we haven't done yet is broken out with a 5-million-plus-unit seller," Farrell said.
THQ is releasing seven "core" games between February and June alone, compared with four in all of 2010. It's widely speculated that Farrell is seeking to position THQ to be sold. A company reliant on licenses that will expire is not an attractive acquisition target, but one with several popular titles with sequel potential would be. Farrell dismissed talk of an acquisition as "premature."
"The only thing I care about is driving the value of the company," he said. "We're in the midst of a very dramatic turnaround."
In "Homefront," which has a story by "Red Dawn" screenwriter
In addition to advertising on Comedy Central, NCAA
basketball broadcasts and billboards blanketing big cities, THQ has
aggressively courted the video game press.
"In a short amount of time, they have done an impressive job of reversing a brand that many gamers previously considered poisonous," he said.
And that, just as much as games flying off shelves, is what THQ expects from the former scriptwriter.
"I was very deliberate in asking Danny to take this position," Farrell said. "The perception of THQ is going to change from a boring kids' license company to an oh-my-(expletive)-God video game company."
Farrell said in an interview Tuesday that he was not concerned about the reviews of "Homefront."
"The game seems to resonate with consumers," Farrell said, noting that "Homefront" received the most preorders for any title in the company's history. "It's a mass-market title. Let's see what players think."
Among professional game critics, however, there seems to be little consensus on the title.
Reviews ranged from a low of 50 to a high of 93. Twelve of the 28 reviews gave the game scores of 80 or above, and many gave the game's multiplayer portion decent marks. The harshest review, from Destructoid, said, "For all of the campaign's missteps and missed opportunities, there is a silver lining for 'Homefront': it's multiplayer."
(c) 2011, Los Angeles Times.
Visit the Los Angeles Times on the Internet at http://www.latimes.com/.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.