THQ has announced that with its new 8-year exclusive worldwide Warhammer 40,000
licensing agreement with Games Workshop, the company now has expanded its previous console, handheld and PC rights -- the latter of which saw the company publishing Relic developed RTS Dawn of War
-- to include both wireless devices and MMOs.
As part of the announcement, THQ has announced that the company is partnering with Austin, TX startup Vigil Games to begin working on a Warhammer 40,000
MMO, so Gamasutra talked with executive vice president of worldwide publishing Kelly Flock -- himself no stranger to overseeing MMO development as former CEO of Sony Online Entertainment -- to find out more.
"The Dawn of War
franchise has been very successful for us, with over 2 million units worldwide now between the lead title and the expansions," Flock explains, "and we realized one of the things the development community continues to acquire about with us is what were we doing in the MMO space with this property."
"We realized this is one of those few properties that has a high level of interest from the hardcore gaming community, which could be a great launching point to turning it into a great mainstream mass-market MMO," he says. "So we worked with Games Workshop, broadened our license, extended it out, and are announcing that we're putting the MMO into development down in Austin, TX."
Austin is home to startup developer Vigil Games, headed by former NCsoft director David Adams and Marvel Comic artist Joe Madureira, best known for his work on Marvel Comic's Uncanny X-Men and his creator-owned comic series Battle Chasers.
THQ acquired the studio
in March of 2006 "to put some next-gen stuff into development," Flock says, but, "as we started looking at branching out into the MMO space with 40,000
, it turned out that Dave Adams is one of the world's leading authorities on the Warhammer 40,000 universe
-- good or bad," he laughs, "and had a great deal of passion for it."
Asked just how far along development of the MMO is, Flock admits, "We're just getting underway. Everyone knows MMOs can take a long time to do, and we're not fooling ourselves and saying 18 months. We really don't have a time line that we're talking about at the moment, but it's going to be a while."
Asked what about the company decide that now was the right time to make the move into the online space, Flock said, "The adoption by the mainstream public has just been exponential since Ultima Online
through World of Warcraft
, but the cycles are still the same -- these are five to seven year runs they have."
"What we've seen is so much growth in the space in North America and worldwide, and, with World of Warcraft
, the first truly international brand that's managed to cut across all territories," but, Flock adds, "we think there are chinks in their armor, in terms of things that we believe players want to do that they're not addressing, and we think that the Warhammer 40,000
universe really lends itself well to this type of gameplay mechanic."
"We're not just going to make a World of Warcraft
clone out of it," he stresses, adding, "we certainly believe we have identified some opportunities as to where this space is likely to be in the next three to five years," but asked to elaborate on just what those chinks in the armor might be, Flock laughs that, at this point, it "wouldn't be prudent."
Those international aspirations are part of THQ's plan for the license, as well, though, "particularly in Europe," says Flock, "where Games Workshop is based, and where Warhammer 40,000
has been a very strong property. We also have interest in the far east side, too -- it'll be a global launch."
Asked if World of Warcraft
's overwhelming success in the MMO sphere was a burden to any new competition, Flock countered that the company sees it instead as "an opportunity and a challenge."
"I think they've done a great job building out this market, and making a lot more people aware of it with a very consumer friendly game," but, he adds, recalling earlier comments
by THQ CEO Brian Farrell that entering the MMO space is a matter of timing a product when its competitors are on a "downward slope," "I think five to seven years will be a good run for them."
With World of Warcraft
's success having been due, in part, to taking an RTS, a traditionally hardcore genre, and making its universe accessible to a general audience, we ask if the company plans to do the same with Warhammer 40,000
, or if THQ is comfortable targeting the game at more hardcore players.
"No, we hope it will be a mainstream product," says Flock, but, he says, "I don't know that Warhammer 40,000
is necessarily that hardcore. It's a hobbyist game, but there are tens of thousands of players worldwide."
"We're not out to replace World of Warcraft
," he reiterates, "we think we have a unique offering in the same category that will get its own share of attention if we deliver properly on the gameplay mechanics we'll build our own audience."
Asked if he thinks the space has grown to integrate console MMOs as well, he pauses: "That's a good question," he says, "but I don't think we're ready to talk about what our plans are in terms of format. I don't think the console MMO market is there right now, but I think everybody sees it coming at some point, and there's certainly some efforts going on that we're aware of in that space."
Finally, we wonder why THQ decided to enter the space with the Warhammer 40,000
license versus an original IP, which Flock puts down to a matter of audience: "I think it has to be the right license, in the sense that Warhammer 40,000
really does hit that hardcore MMO gaming sector -- certainly within the industry, and within the development community."
And, we ask, is there still interest within THQ in building out an MMO based on original IP? "Yes, there is," says Flock, "do you have an idea?"