The recently-delayed Saints Row 2 is THQ’s premier title for this fiscal year, but Hickey said in an investor note on Tuesday that the Agoura Hills, Calif.-based publisher’s fiscal year depends too much on the game’s success.

"Ultimately, if the game’s quality underperforms the ‘franchise’s’ original release, future iterations of the game could be in jeopardy, along with the Company’s fiscal ’09 expectations," Hickey said of the internally-developed and owned title.

"We believe their guided expectations from owned IP in fiscal ’09 will prove aggressive given their titles slated for release, weighing too heavily on the success of Saint’s Row 2."

He expects the sequel, developed by Volition, to sell 1.8 million units during the fiscal year across PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.

Saints Row 2 recently suffered a delay from August 21 to October 14 this year. Hickey speculated on the reasoning behind the delay: "We expect there is likely an internal conflict at THQ, a corporate / artistic balancing of issues. The corporate issue is likely a singular focus on salvaging their fiscal ’09 financial performance goals versus an artistic focus on game quality which could be compromised by a development timeline that is likely not pacing original expectations."

THQ’s current sales guidance for fiscal 2009 is $1.2 billion. Management estimates that about 35-40 percent of total sales, or around $446 million, will come from owned IP sales this fiscal year.

Hickey estimates that THQ will need to ship 9.7 million units of owned IP in order to meet its sales goals. Owned IP releases from THQ include Saints Row 2, De Blob, Darksiders, Destroy All Humans, Red Faction: Guerilla and Baja.

He added, "...Game releases tied to the core gamer audience like Saint’s Row, Darksiders and Red Faction will have to be high quality, in our view," in order to stand out and reach sales success.

The Volition-developed Saints Row, originally released on Xbox 360 in 2006, garnered a solid Metacritic score of 81 percent.

Hickey also noted THQ’s financial disappointments in fiscal 2008, which involved the poor performance of the latest Juiced title, Stuntman and Conan releases (THQ’s Conan is not related to the recently-released Age of Conan MMO from Funcom).

"We remain cautious on [THQ’s] owned IP opportunity for fiscal ’09 and encourage clients to review their fiscal ’08 owned IP pipeline, which provides at best, a remarkably shaky credibility foundation," Hickey said.