Last month, rumors began to surface that Ubisoft may be buying bankrupt game publisher THQ.
If you’re not familiar with the situation, the long-struggling company finally declared bankruptcy last month, and was officially delisted from the NASDAQ stock exchange yesterday. A venture capital group, Clearlake Capital, has made a bid to buy the company on behalf of a mystery “affiliate.”
While the smart money says that Ubisoft will be the one who comes out with THQ in the end — which probably isn’t a bad thing — my inner fanboy is rooting for another company to win this prizefight. While If the best home for THQ’s vagabond games is the company where they’ll do the most “good,” then I think there’s a publisher that would be a better fit.
Nintendo should buy THQ: Not because they’d do the best job producing the games, or because it’s where they “belong,” but because putting THQ’s set of strong, established series in Nintendo’s hands will benefit the company, Nintendo fans, and the gaming industry at large.
Financially speaking, Nintendo snapping THQ’s assets isn’t an impossible proposition. With more than $14B in the bank and a market cap just over $15B, they have more than enough to take on THQ’s debt, while maintaining production on their projects.
Of course, just because they can do it doesn’t mean they will. Given the company’s track record, there’s very little chance the big N would be interested in making a bid. On paper, THQ and Nintendo aren’t exactly the most compatible pair. That’s kind of the point, though: Despite their continued success, Nintendo’s view of the modern gamer is far from the pulse of the community. The influx of new studios would solve a couple of problems that Nintendo may never be able to fix themselves.
Nintendo needs to make more games
The Wii U launch window isn’t over yet, but a picture of the console’s debut has already started to form. The short version — Nintendo’s new console is falling short. It’s quickly becoming clear that, as with the Wii the console’s success will fall squarely on their shoulders. Unlike the Wii, however, the Wii U won’t be a success based on hardware sales alone. The Wii U will not compete with the next-generation Xbox and PlayStation: It’ll succeed solely on the merits of console-exclusive software.
And it doesn’t look like that software is coming anytime soon. Though a bone-dry release window has become a in thread among recent console launches, (3DS, Vita, Wii U) the Wii U’s drought is more disconcerting: Between the lack of Nintendo-published software and the poor quality of some of the launch ports, it’s entirely possible that Nintendo will once again on their own, producing the content will drive their console forward. Nintendo tried to aussage the lack of software for the platform by expanding their launch window to almost six months — According to Nintendo, the Wii U has been “launching” since November and will continue to do so through the end of March.
Nintendo hasn’t put its best foot forward either, apart from the Wii U hardware and OS issues, the console only launched with two Nintendo-published games, and have a relatively skimpy set of titles in the pipeline. (At least that have been revealed.)
The transition wouldn’t be easy, nor the impact immediate: A Nintendo-owned THQ would initially suffer a significant setback: THQ’s next three titles — Metro: Last Light, Company of Heroes 2, and South Park: The Stick of Truth — aren’t currently in development for the Wii U. Bringing those games to the platform eventually, however, at least give the appearance of a more robust development plan on Nintendo’s part.
Nintendo also needs to make different games
Nintendo is having a problem letting go of its past. Though they’ve never been shy about innovation, Nintendo is accustomed to trying new things within the framework of their “timeless” franchises. There is nothing timeless about a video game, though, and Nintendo’s latest wave of releases are starting to show their age.
Nintendo can probably survive forever making boxes that play Mario, Zelda, and Metroid: but doing the same thing over and over makes the brain go soft. Earlier this year I finished New Super Mario Bros. 2, only to immediately dig into New Super Mario Bros. U — No amount of new hats or enemies or persistant coin-collecting will make the mechanics of classic, side-scrolling Mario feel fresh.
It’s time for Nintendo to bring their brand of design to a breed of genres that they didn’t invent. THQ’s lineup, which includes multiple first-person shooters, a Real-Time Strategy series, and a few new ideas we may have never seen before: Bringing THQ into the fold would allow Nintendo to expand their range as a publisher.
If Nintendo has to define what kind of games make sense on the Wii U, then third-party publishers will steer clear of making games that appeals beyond the Nintendo audience. That’s not what they want anymore. With the Wii U, Nintendo has expressed a relatively flexible position towards their published software, outsourcing the next entry in the Super Smash Bros. franchise to Namco Bandai, and picking up the rights to the overtly sexual Bayonetta II.
Though the backlash from publishing a game like Saint’s Row 4 may make their hearts skip a beat, Nintendo’s investors will be happy if the raunchy sequel, or any of THQ’s more mature-themed titles, makes good on the franchise’s potential.