“[...] [C]onsumers are f***ing morons who wouldn’t know innovation from a*****es if one was blowing them and the other sh**ing on their face!”
In 1990, The Toy Company, later known as Toy Headquarters (or, THQ) was founded by Jack Friedman in California. Five months later, they acquired the gaming division of Brøderbund, and released a Peter Pan game before being acquired themselves in 1991 by Trinity Acquisition Corporation.
By ‘94 THQ focused exclusively on the video game market, and founder Jack Friedman left to start a new toy company, Jakks Pacific. THQ remained a major competitor to other top publishers for many years, acquiring many development studios along the way. Sadly, it wasn’t to last, and in 2013 THQ filed for bankruptcy and sold off as many IPs as it could before shutting its doors for good.
I had an opportunity to interview former CEO Brian Farrell by phone and hear his views on what went wrong and if he would change anything. The following is transcribed from the full 18hr recording.
(For the sake of space I will be abbreviating our names. I will be “ME”, and former CEO of THQ Brian J. Farrell will be shortened to “FCOTBJF”)
ME: Mr. Farrell, I want to start by saying I appreciate you taking the time to do this interview. I understand you must be busy.
FCOTBJF: Please, call me Brian J. Farrell. You can keep the “mister” part, though I do like “sir”. Also, I am actually the complete opposite of busy, what with my company not existing and all.
ME: Oh...um... You sound a bit upset.
FCOTBJF: I’m just passionate. Tell me something, King, what are the biggest complaints about the gaming industry?
ME: A lack of diversity? DRM that punishes users? The treatment of developers-
FCOTBJF: A lack of innovation.
ME: Ok, I can see-
FCOTBJF: Shut up for a moment, I’m speaking. A lack of innovation. We hear it all the time, “Oh, Call of BattleHonor 16 is good, but so was CoBH15". Or the industry says they can’t wait for the next generation of consoles, because that is when they get to try new IP.
ME: But what about Indy games?
FCOTBJF: Well, to be honest, I think LucasArts made a ton of great games in general. But I don’t see where your going...
ME: Not Indiana Jones, I mean indies. Independent titles? Usually made by less than 10 people. They’re blowing up right now, and always seem to do something different or flip expectations.
FCOTBJF: Well, sure. But I’m talking about innovation in the industry. Not how some kid just spent four years making a shitty NES port with REALLY clever writing.
ME: Ok. So where does this tie into THQ and its eventual collapse?
FCOTBJF: That’s simple. We were too innovative. We tried too hard to be at the forefront of “new”. We read the complaints of the industry, we did something about it, and what happened? Consumers proved they don’t give a single f**k about it, they want sequels.
ME: So your saying THQ fell because it tried too hard?
FCOTBJF: Exactly. Also, consumers. We tried too hard and consumers are f***ing morons who wouldn’t know innovation from a*****es if one was blowing them and the other sh**ing on their face!
ME: That’s great and all, but 90% of THQ’s IPs were licensed titles. After that you had, what? Red Faction and Saints Row? Also, to lambast yearly releases, when WWE came out each year is absurd.
FCOTBJF: WWE is irrelevant. Licensing is irrelevant. Licensing is necessary for recognition, but we innovated within those parameters.
ME: Taking Monster’s Inc and making a s**tty platformer is hardly innovative. You can’t just throw buzzwords around.
FCOTBJF: I’m sorry, are you interviewing me because you want to know what happened, or because you want to bash THQ for failing?
ME: I just want the truth...
FCOTBJF: We were too innovative. That’s all there is to it. We even innovated our original IP. At first, with Red Faction, we thought, “what if this TDM FPS became GTA: Mars?” But as ground-breaking as that concept was, we knew we could do more. So I tasked the team with fully destructible buildings. At first, they said it was impossible, but they eventually got it to work. Unfortunately, it required so much computing power that we had to greatly scale back the games scope, size, and number of buildings. So I said, “you know what? For the sequel, let’s innovate Dead Space”, and it worked.
ME: Did it?
FCOTBJF: Absolutely. Take a look at Saints Row. While visiting Volition one day, I heard somebody remark they loved GTA: San Andreas. So I tasked them to innovate it. I said, “if you were to make San Andreas 2, how would you do it?” The first SR was their answer. Absolute innovation. Look how well it sold? That’s why I gave them so much freedom for 3 and 4.
ME: But I thought Saints Row sold because it was the only GTA clone-
FCOTBJF: GTA INNOVATION.
ME: ...out on modern consoles. Also, I would hardly say turning DLC into a full numbered entry counts as “freedom”, with regards to SR4.
FCOTBJF: Well, that’s why you write posts on a forum for free, and I was CEO.
ME: Sure. Anyway, if THQ was so innovative, regardless of whether or not that means copying, why did it fail.
FCOTBJF: As a visionary, I see the future. It’s a curse, really, to always know what will be amazing and what won’t. I took a massive gamble on the future. We produced a device so ground-breaking, revolutionary, so life-changing that the world was not ready. Much as Christ died for humanity, because of humanity, THQ did the same.
ME: You cannot possibly be talking about uDraw.
FCOTBJF: Imagine for a moment that you invented the iPhone. A great piece of tech, no doubt, so you want to sell it. But there’s one major problem: it’s 1865, and all the dirty, scumfilth, parasites of consumers don’t see a use for it.
ME: So you don’t think uDraw was a mistake?
FCOTBJF: The only mistake with uDraw was its perfection. Perhaps if we would have released some statues for it to read, or made functions available through paid DLC, it would’ve succeeded. No, I blame consumers. It was all their fault. How can anyone NOT see the value of a drawing tablet on a console?
ME: I don’t hate the uDraw, and I can’t even see any value there.
FCOTBJF: Then you’re the worst kind of person. This interview is over!
I would like to thank Mr. Brian J. Farrell for his time.