Saints Row wasn't always called that, Volition senior producer Greg Donovan revealed at a talk at Game Developers Conference. When presented with the opportunity to make an original IP, Volition presented "Bling Bling" to THQ--a publisher that was largely focused on making licensed kids games.
"Bling Bling is a third person action game about style, music, gangs, and guns... It is the game equivalent of a gangster rap music video," the pitch said.
The success of the first Saints Row game led to a sequel. But, what would the vision be for Saints Row 2? Donovan admitted that with the sequel, they focused too much on trying to make "a list of features," instead of having a concrete vision that would define the game. The original pitch promised "co-op, customization/player choice, combat, vehicular gameplay, and variety"--but nothing of real substance.
Saints Row: The Third was a drastic shift for the studio, thanks to THQ's new management, which promoted the notion of a "vision map" and "project pillars." This shift allowed Volition to finally make the franchise the crazy series we know today, with the pillars: "fun trumps all" and being "over the top."
"Instead of focusing on features, we focused on what the player experience should be like," Donovan explained. In fact, the pitch video for Saints Row: The Third ended up compiling some of the craziest moments of random action movies, including The Fuzz and The Fast and the Furious. The internal poster for the film even featured keyboard cat. The end result was a game that redefined the franchise and became one of THQ's best-selling games ever.