Q&A: THQ, Blue Fang Take On The Animal Kingdom

As publisher THQ and Zoo Tycoon developer Blue Fang announce a partnership to create a new 'animal kingdom' casual IP for Wii, DS, and PC, Gamasutra spoke to THQ exec Tim Cam
Last week, publisher THQ and Zoo Tycoon developer Blue Fang recently announced they are teaming up to create a new IP to be released at some point in 2009 on the Nintendo Wii, DS, and Windows PCs. The Microsoft-published, Blue Fang-developed Zoo Tycoon series has sold more than 7 million units in its lifetime, and THQ and Blue Fang are clearly hoping that their new venture will be similarly successful. Gamasutra spoke to THQ business development VP Tim Campbell and Blue Fang President Hank Howie to discuss the developer's first effort on consoles and the future of the relationship. Given Blue Fang's experience with Zoo Tycoon, is it safe to say this will be a casual IP? Tim Campbell: I believe that’s what we’re calling it at this point, a new casual IP. Hank Howie: I can say that Blue Fang’s mission statement is to create compelling emotionally engaging games focused on the animal kingdom, and broad-based family entertainment. How long have THQ and Blue Fang been discussing working together? HH: We have been chatting with THQ regularly since around 2002, and I think we’ve always both felt that there was a good match there – there was just never an opportunity to take advantage of it until now. We partnered with Microsoft for a long time with Zoo Tycoon, and now we have an opportunity to do a new IP with THQ. TC: Working on an original IP in any genre on any platform is a difficult thing because it has to be the perfect complement of 'right team, right concept, right timing' – we’re constantly interacting with high-end teams like Blue Fang that have a tremendous track record, talent, and ability. They can pretty much pick who they want to be in the business with, and we feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be working on their next big original IP. Will this be a single title, or are you looking at forming a franchise together? TC: I don’t think anyone enters into [new IPs] thinking it's going to be a one-off opportunity. We are absolutely approaching this studio as a property that has franchise depth and potential, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We're focused on making a high-quality, appealing and accessible game property that we hope will lay the foundation for many follow-ons and expansions and sequels to come, but we’ve gotta get the first step right. HH: The one thing I will say is that obviously, Blue Fang has been in business for 10 years now... and I can say without equivocation that this is the best stuff we’ve ever done. Can you talk about the platforms you're working on? TC: I think the first thing that is very significant here is the platforms we’re targeting. The combo of Wii, DS and PC -- we believe that there’s no other way to reach a bigger audience in our business right now than by targeting those three platforms. The Wii and DS combined have by far the largest install base on the console, and have the broadest demographic appeal. When you add in the PC on top of that, that’s the triple crown for reaching the biggest, broadest audience possible. We feel that Blue Fang's expertise at building great content that appeals to that type of audience has that unique combination of depth and accessibility targeted to those systems. It doesn’t get any better in terms of how to attack [the casual] marketplace. HH: The games we've always made – we consider them broad-based, mass market games. Our audience runs from age 6 to age 60, and it's always family entertainment. A game that parents enjoy that their kids are playing. and then play it themselves when they put kids to bed. It's Blue Fang's first experience developing for any other platform than PC, correct? How are you finding that? Hank: Correct, this is a console debut for us. Luckily we’ve been working on the Wii dev kits, and we've spent over a year now working out the product. It certainly has its set of challenges in terms of platform constraints, memory, and what have you. But we're finding it to be a pleasant experience overall. We know the game – [Wii is] the perfect platform for the game, that goes without saying, and that helps a lot. From a tech standpoint, the PC and Wii are very different, but I think the sensibility of the game we’re building is very much attuned to the Wii. We think it will also translate very well to the PC. So essentially, it’s really designed first and foremost for Wii but then [we can] translate that to PC in an effective way that makes both platforms sing, if you will. I think there will be nuances between the Wii and PC, and the DS will have its own criteria that we have to develop to – the games don’t have to be the same. They will be of a whole cloth and they will be easily recognizable and identifiable as living and breathing in the same family. We want to take advantage of what each platform has to offer and [provide] a new experience for the player. If your relationship building this IP is successful, do you think an acquisition of Blue Fang is something THQ would consider? TC: This is a very important relationship for THQ and we can't stress enough how fortunate we feel to have the opportunity to work with Blue Fang. It’s a relationship that was long in the making, but we feel it’s got tremendous potential and that it will continue our strategy of building original IP with the best teams in the business. In general if you look at THQ’s history and the way we manage the acquisition of studios, by and large all our studio acquisitions, except a couple exceptions, evolve organically. They start out as partnerships, and over time as the relationship evolves, a dialog ensues between the studio and THQ that sometimes leads to acquisition, because both sides come to a realization that it's in their best interest to align their interests more closely. HH: I would say, never say never. One of the big reasons we went into partnership with THQ is pretty much what Tim says. They're a great publisher to work with, and will work with you on whatever terms seem to work best for both parties. So we’re really looking forward to it, and I have no doubt that at the end of the day, we’re really going to have a good time with this one, and really create a tremendous value in the new IP, and take it from there.

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