November 23, 2000

THQ INTERVIEW

Andrew Hodgson Talks Gaming in Australia


Back in the 16 bit days of the MegaDrive (Genesis) and Super Nintendo, THQ were merely a company critisized for poor quality titles and rushed ports of inferior titles. How the times have changed. The company is now the 4th largest publisher in the world, and have had a string of hits including some great WWF titles on Playstation and Nintendo 64. With each year the company gets stronger and stronger and most recently (July 17th 2000 to be precise) the company set up shop here in Australia to control the distribution and publicity of thier titles.

Recently THQ bought out a small development team called Volition. While they may not be a household name (yet) this team has been responsible for the Descent series on PC and have just completed their first PS2 title Summoner. Thier second title, Red Faction is really turning heads, and isn't even expected to be released until mid 2001. But it's THQ's thoughs on Australia that this interview is about and to get all the info I went straight to Andrew Hodgson, the Marketing Manager at THQ Asia Pacific.


THE COMPANY

Firstly Andrew can you tell us a little about yourself and what your role is at THQ here in Australia?
My role is Marketing Manager THQ Asia Pacific. I am responsible for Australia, New Zealand, Asia and Latin America. Before this position, I was a product manager at Infogrames and GT Interactive and previous to that I worked as an account manager for GT. I originally came from the music industry working for Warner Music, Festival Records and others. I have always been a gamer though; I was once a games reviewer in Hyper Magazine! (Australia's largest gaming magazine - David)

For several years THQ were one of the least respected developers and publishers, especially during the 16-bit era. Things have certainly changed with the company now one of the top publishers in the world. How has this success come about?
Some time ago THQ changed the company direction and moved into developing, licensing, and marketing of cutting edge, exciting and ground breaking games. THQ's focus is on providing the best possible games for each platform. For example, THQ strives to make the best possible gaming experience for WWF games, whether it is WWF Smackdown! 2 for PlayStation or WWF No Mercy for N64. This philosophy is part of what makes THQ so successful.

THQ only recently set up offices in Australia. Is this a sign of the growing importance of this territory?
Yes this territory is very important to THQ as a company. Australia receives a lot of focus and there are many more things planned for the future. Our THQ friends in US and UK are keeping a close eye on what is happening in Asia Pacific and they are expecting big things if we are to emulate the success that THQ has had in those countries.

How many other people work there with you at the office?
Currently seven, increasing steadily.

At the moment Ozisoft distribute your titles here in Australia, will you be taking over this role soon or will you only handle the marketing of products?
Actually Ozisoft no longer distribute our products at all. We handle all distribution directly.

With the next generation systems just around the corner where do you see the Australian market at the moment?
The Australian market is at a very exciting stage at the moment. The anticipation for PS2 is very high and we should expect similar excitement for GameBoy Advance and Gamecube next year. X Box will be the one that will take home gaming to the next level though. I expect these machines to all have successful launches next year. You can be assured THQ have awesome games for each one.

What about the coming year how will the introduction of the Playstation 2, X box and Gamecube change gaming?
So far as changing gaming, I think it will allow gaming to be more accessible, exciting and enticing for casual gamers and non-gamers. PS2 will do very well due to their strong position in the market and the DVD playback. X Box and Gamecube will rock. It's as simple as that. As far as the market goes, looking forward into 2001/2002 is absolutely incredible. The possibilities are amazing, so lets hope developers realize more than just the graphical power that they have access to, and look towards something better than just great graphics.

Do you think that people will see the Playstation 2 as a game machine purchase or as a DVD player?
Undoubtedly it will be primarily a games machine, but being a DVD player as well, is a huge home entertainment solution for the early adopters of PS2. There will be some gamers that already have a DVD player, but ultimately DVD playback will also open up a huge market for Sony. A new PlayStation 2 and a DVD player in one? What a bonus!

What about the Dreamcast? How have your titles performed on that system so far?
Dreamcast is a fantastic machine but software sales are more than disappointing. WWF Royal Rumble has been our best seller so far, we expect Evil Dead to do very well, but even very well on DC in Australia isn't really that great. After Evil Dead, THQ has no more games in development for Dreamcast.

Do you believe that the system still has much of a chance in Australia, or indeed the rest of the world?
Games companies like ours will naturally support a system if the software sales are significant.

VOLITION'S GAMES

How valuable do you believe the acquisition of Volition is to THQ?
Extremely significant. Volition is a quality developer and they have some very exciting plans for the near future. Red Faction will be a game (PS2 and PC) that will quite simply - blow everyone away.

Summoner is THQ's major launch title on the Playstation 2 how do you think gamers will react to the title?
Summoner is a very ambitious project and gamers, ( particularly RPG gamers), are going to love the depth of storylines, characters, plot twists and turns, awesome lighting effects and playability. Summoner will undoubtedly provide a gaming experience that will both satisfy RPG game heads and action/adventure fans. The reaction in the US already has been excellent.

Our other major (I mean major) PS2 title is Dynasty Warriors 2. Now this title is excellent. Check out the website to have a look. (http://www.dynastywarriors2.co.uk/)

How much will the game retail for here?
We are not able to set retail price points, that is up to the retailers.

American RPG's usually struggle alongside Japanese games. Why do you think this is?
I think western gamers look to Japan not only because traditional RPG's mostly are developed in Japan, but also because the relative success of a RPG game in Japan gives credibility to a title elsewhere. Japanese developers have a wealth of talent with this genre, but US developers are slowly catching up. The success of Summoner in the US has already proven that Volition has got this one right.

Your next major title is Volition's awesome shooter Red Faction, a much more mainstream title. Will you market the title heavily upon release?
Very heavily; I am planning big things for Red Faction. Watch this space.

When is the title expected to hit the shelves?
April 2001.

One of the other major franchises which THQ just acquired the rights to is Tetris. Can you tell us when a Playstation 2 version is likely to appear here in Australia?
It will be ready for all formats Q4 2001.

PERSONAL STUFF

What are your thoughts on violence on video games? Do you personally object to games such as Kingpin, Soldier Of Fortune of GTA2?
It's a tough one. I personally love Kingpin/Soldier of Fortune etc, but it comes down to a matter of personal taste. E.g. my girlfriend finds the X Files offensive, which may sound funny to many people, but as long as people are sensitive about these kinds of issues, we have to respect that. I don't think there is anything wrong with gross-looking graphics in a game or a movie, but context needs to be kept in mind. These things add excitement to games and films, but so far as violence goes, I think the OFLC is doing a great job and the only titles that get banned from this market are banned for good reasons.

America is only now trying to introduce ratings systems. Do you think the systems are working in Australia and what are your thoughts on calls for an R rating to be introduced for games?
An R rating would not bother me. At the end of the day, if people need rating systems to be more informed as consumers, then I don't have a problem with it. If they decide to try to ban titles like Kingpin and Soldier of Fortune, it would be wrong. These games have a place in today's society. That is the reality of it.

What game systems do you currently own and what are some of your favourite games?
PSX, N64, DC, GBC, PC, Neo Geo Cart, Atari 2600. Fav games are Roller Coaster Tycoon, Metal Gear Solid, UT, Q3A, Crash Team Racing and Mario Kart.

What is you favorite food?
I love a good meal in a good restaurant with friends.

Any final comments?
Thanks David. I know you will be playing Future Gamez.

Thank you very much for you time....
David Warner ~ Future Gamez


THQ can be found at : http://www.thq.com

I hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I did in conducting it. If you have any comments or questions E-mail me at : phantom@winshop.com.au