NEWS - Monday, June 25, 2012

Cancelled Saints Row DLC is in next game in series

These days it is not uncommon to see titles from the same franchise released in successive years with a trail of downloadable content leading from one game to the next. That was to be the plan for Saints Row, as following the release of The Third last year and its subsequent DLC, Volition was to release a standalone expansion, Enter the Dominatrix, later this year. Instead, the influence of new THQ president Jason Rubin is already being felt as the call has been made to cancel the release of the expansion and incorporate its content into a proper sequel that will be released next year.
It’s an unexpected move as THQ is short on cash and has a limited number of releases in the near future with which to change that situation, and some of those titles have been delayed recently. Sacrificing the revenue Enter the Dominatrix could have generated is a bold step, and one that illustrates the distinction between THQ and, say, Electronic Arts. THQ seems to be modeling itself after Take-Two, which avoids annualizing its non-sports franchises and gives developers (particularly Rockstar) the time and resources needed to make quality games. That appears to be Rubin’s intention with THQ’s products: to consolidate the release slate and invest in those which remain to make them as good as they can possibly be.
"When I looked at the Enter The Dominatrix expansion in production at Volition, I was blown away by the ideas and desire to expand the fiction of the franchise," Rubin said in today’s announcement. "I asked the team what it could achieve given more time, more resources, and a broader scope for the project. We all agreed we wanted to play that game. When it comes to Saints Row, it’s clear our fans want bigger, better, and even more over the top, and that’s why Enter The Dominatrix will now be incorporated into a vastly expanded, full-fledged sequel, scheduled for calendar 2013.
"We believe the potential for this sequel is far greater as a full-priced, full-length, high quality, connected experience."
It’s always admirable to see a company avoid going for a quick buck when it can. We know Saints Row 4 is already in development -- THQ’s former VP of core games, Danny Bilson, indicated as much last year without giving any details. THQ could have easily released Enter the Dominatrix and come back in 2013 with the third standalone Saints Row release in as many years. Instead, Saints Row 4, if that is what it ends up being called, can now receive Volition’s full attention and will presumably include the content that was to comprise Enter the Dominatrix.
Rubin’s position on the Saints Row franchise was called into question recently when, in an interview with Polygon, he was believed to have referred to The Third as "embarrassing." That actually was not the case, and he was in fact responding to the interviewer’s statement that he would not want to be caught playing the game around his family because it would be embarrassing. (The game, for those who have not played it, is filled to the brim with a brand of humor that is not for everyone -- evidenced by the presence of a weapon that is, well, see for yourself.) Rubin asked why the game couldn’t "be a Red Dead Redemption or a Skyrim," titles that took an extended period of time to create, clearly indicating he has high aspirations for Volition and Saints Row.
While some might decide to look at this latest development as an attempt to minimize the number of Saints Row releases in order to downplay the series, I think the opposite is the case. Rather than take the risk of oversaturating the market and burning people out on the series, THQ is putting Saints Row 4 in a position to be a much bigger, more significant release. It might not be elevated to the level of Grand Theft Auto, but as someone in favor of seeing games given more development time and less annualization, I like what Rubin is doing here.
This does, however, put additional pressure on Saints Row 4 and for Volition to get it out in timely fashion. There was no guarantee people would take to a standalone expansion like Enter the Dominatrix -- the $30 price point could have been perceived by some as meaning its quality is less than that of a typical game -- but there is also no assurance that Saints Row 4 will now bring in enough to justify the expansion’s cancellation.
Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter warned in an investors note today that THQ’s cash balance "could become perilously low" if the game is not released by the first quarter of the 2014 fiscal year, which runs from April through June, 2013. The only problem with that is the potential for facing off against Grand Theft Auto V. Although Take-Two’s financials imply a GTA V release is scheduled for the current fiscal year, it is not inconceivable the game could slip back into the same spring release period Rockstar games have come to occupy over the past several years.
While Volition has done a good job in distancing Saints Row from GTA in terms of tone, they are, at their cores, very similar games, and GTA holds the edge in terms of popularity. The Third did as well as it did last fall in part due to there being no GTA to satiate the craving of gamers for an open-world action game. For Saints Row 4 to enjoy a similar level of success, THQ would be well advised to distance its release from that of GTA V’s. This may not be an issue if GTA V comes out in October, as many expect; if it does not, THQ will need to hope its upcoming titles perform well enough to give it the time needed for Volition to make SR4 as good as it can be and to keep the game away from GTA.


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