Danny Bilson Interview: On Homefront, IP Fatigue, Importance of PC Gaming and Steamworks vs. GFWL

By Xav de Matos, Nov 03, 2010 2:00pm PDT Known for delaying titles in his division if it could ensure a "quality" product would hit store shelves, THQ boss of core games, Danny Bilson, has quickly become a favored executive among gaming enthusiasts.

At the recent, grand opening of THQ's Montreal studio, Shacknews spoke with Bilson about intellectual property fatigue, Steamworks vs. Games for Windows Live, his love of the PC platform, and Homefront--the property the executive believes will be THQ's premier first-person shooter.

Shacknews: We were at Relic for the gameplay reveal of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine and there was some confusion, at the time, about whether the game would run on the Games for Windows Live platform versus Steamworks. We originally wrote that we had seen the Games for Windows Live branding on the game and that it would likely use that platform. Soon after, you told us that it was exclusively using Steamworks.

Now, the expansion for Dawn of War 2 [Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2 - Retribution] is exclusive to Steamworks, whereas the previous installments launched on the Games for Windows Live platform.

Danny Bilson: They were on both.

Shacknews: Well, the games are available on Steam but the actual platform--in terms of multiplayer and achievements--was Games for Windows Live.

Danny Bilson: Wasn't the first one on both? Wasn't Dawn of War 2 on both? I know it's unusual but I think the first one might have been both. It doesn't matter.

(Ed. Note: Dawn of War 2 utilized Steam for the game's DRM; however, the infrastructure was exclusively tied to Games for Windows Live.)

Shacknews: Well, the point being that THQ has transitioned to Steamworks when there was a focus on the Games for Windows Live platform. Where did that change come from and what has been the reaction at Microsoft?

Danny Bilson: It's been easier for development [moving to Steamworks], so far, but Microsoft is really talking to me a lot about getting back on Games for Windows Live. So, it's not something I want to comment on because there are a lot of discussions going on about that right now. I like both platforms and I really, really, really like Microsoft as a partner. They're fantastic partners. I want to respect them.

There are a lot of discussions going on about that now because it's a sensitive issue. But from a development point of view, it has been easier on Steamworks. That has nothing to do with Steam as a distribution platform, as you know. The developers really like it, but again, I have incredible respect for Microsoft and they're really fantastic partners. And so, there's a lot of ongoing discussion about that.

Shacknews: We're here at THQ Montreal, where you're giving people the first hands-on time with the single-player of Homefront from Kaos Studios. There's a competitive market for first-person shooters. With heavy-hitters like Halo and Call of Duty, the conversation starts to sound a little like the same discussions we have about new MMO properties going after some of World of Warcraft's market share.

These are very core franchises at the top level of this genre. Where does Homefront fit in that market? How does it compete with a Halo or a Call of Duty? Is Homefront THQ's premier first-person shooter franchise that will compete with Activision and Microsoft's properties?

Danny Bilson: Absolutely. Because the genre attracts so many players, I think it is smart. I think, if you can compete at a quality level, I think there's room for everyone. Look, we don't have to do 18 million units. Like, I wish we did--like Call of Duty--but if we do 25% of that we're a major hit. It's also a favorite genre of mine and the team's.

I think that, when you play the game, you'll see that it does compete with those games at the highest level. Did you play the multiplayer? [Ed. Note: Multiplayer was playable at a separate event in San Fransisco.]

Shacknews: No. We didn't go to that event.

Danny Bilson: You'll also find that the multiplayer competes with them at the highest level. In some ways--it's unique. It has its own features and its own, uh, there's things about it that are more friendly then some of those other ones. I think there's a fun factor to the way the mechanics work in there. It's highly competitive. So, I think there's room.

I never think there's not room in a genre. There's also something called "I.P. Fatigue." How many times can we play the same thing and how many times are you going to want to invest $60 in a similar experience? Now I do think that those franchises do a great job of differentiating. They invest tons of money and split them off, but I think a gamer is always looking for a fresh experience.

One thing about Homefront, it's not a place you've been before. It has a strong single-player, it has a fantastic multiplayer. In a genre like that, there's room. You know, the MMO category is different but we also have a game we're building there and we believe that we can attract a million people to our game and be very, very successful.

Shacknews: Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Online from Vigil, you mean?

Danny Bilson: Right. It's still a few years off but it won't be released until it's incredibly competitive. At a certain point, there is something called "I.P. Fatigue," and people will want new experiences. I don't expect to get all [12 million] World of Warcraft users over, but if I get a million we're in great shape.

Shacknews: You division--"core" games--focuses on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360...

Danny Bilson: And PC. PC is really important to me.

Shacknews: Shackers will be glad to hear you say that. How does something like Nintendo's platforms--the Wii, DS, and the upcoming 3DS--fit into that strategy? Are you focused on that or is that specifically handled by the THQ Family brand?

Danny Bilson: That's right. Nintendo is mostly the family product. We do have a few games that we're making on 3DS, but they're more of our "family games" that are in "core." We haven't announced them yet but there are, uh, maybe three or four of them.

Shacknews: What about the Saint's Row Nintendo 3DS title that was going to be brought over to the the Xbox Live Arcade as an extended product to support a future game in the series, much like your plan for Red Faction?

Danny Bilson: That one is changed. It's changed. It's going to be a different--we actually changed the design and are doing something more unique. This is just creative but we wound up feeling the game we were building was too much like a section of Saint's Row that you could play in Saint's Row. Now we've come up with a new design with a completely original game mechanic and we're building out something that supports Saint's Row with that.

Because you don't want to play something that you can play within the main experience. It's actually a really cool, unique game we haven't announced yet for Xbox Live.

Shacknews: With Steam, the recent "big push" on that distribution platform has been the Mac. Does THQ want to bring its library to that platform?

Danny Bilson: If it makes sense. I mean, we want to put the titles on as many platforms as possible and what I love about PC is we control our own destiny there. There are a zillion PC's out there--I grew up as a PC gamer and I still enjoy playing on my PC, when I can--and you're going to see every single title from [the Core group at THQ] that makes sense, on PC. I mean, almost every one. The only ones that are not going on PC are ones that really don't make any sense at all.

You're going to see us announcing--I mean, MX vs. ATV Reflix is going to be coming out on PC in a few weeks, we just put out Darksiders on PC. You're going to see us putting out almost every, single console title we can on PC to expand out audience and expand the customer base, ultimately. Revenue. And it's the forefront of digital sales. You deal with these games on PC, right? It's fantastic that way.

Shacknews: Steam recently announced its membership numbers have jumped to 30 million users.

Danny Bilson: Yeah. It's like iTunes. It can't be ignored and we won't ignore it.

Shacknews: PC gaming is at the heart of our community. You mentioned your love for the PC market. In terms of bringing all of those games to PC, will we get closer "day and date" releases for PC gamers when it comes to those console titles?

Danny Bilson: Sometimes. Homefront has a custom-built, PC version, with everything that traditional PC shooter guys want.

Shacknews: So, dedicated servers...

Danny Bilson: Dedicated servers. Different controls. Cockpit views on all the vehicles. It's built from the ground up for the PC at a different studio.

[Ed. Note: Canadian developer Digital Extremes--who recently developed the multiplayer component of BioShock 2--is helming the PC version of Homefront.]

Shacknews: Do you see Homefront extending to a downloadable product like you're doing with Red Faction and Saint's Row?

Danny Bilson: Yeah. Not right off the bat. We have some things planned for later.

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