THQ’s Jason Rubin Has His Work Cut Out For Him


THQ’s new president Jason Rubin has not had an easy time of it so far in the month he has had his position. From stealth studio closures, licensing woes and of course the brief internet meltdown over Saints Row’s “Embarrass-gate”, Rubin has been at the center of it all. It seems that the man with years of reliable and consistent business experience in the game industry can suddenly do no right.

 To look at these mounting troubles, let’s see where THQ was when Rubin took charge. Five years ago, THQ stock was trading at over $30. Two years ago it was $4.40. Last year, 3.35, and as I’m writing this you can buy one share of THQ for 56 cents. Now, I am no financial analyst, and I couldn’t tell you how much of an impact the crash of ’08 ultimately had on the company, but things are not good for them now. Back in 2007, THQ was making their money on licensing, mainly Nickelodeon and WWE.   Since then they’ve dropped the Nicktoons games, and have seen success with Darksiders, Red Faction, Saints Row, and the UFC: Undisputed license. However, for every Darksiders, there was a Homefront, and for every Red Faction Guerilla there was a Red Faction Armageddon. When the uDraw tablet underperformed, it threatened to take the company down with it.

This leads us to May 29th, the day Rubin was handed the reins of this horse, knowing full well this horse was on fire and headed for a cliff. Rubin is best known for his work at Naughty Dog, whose hits under his tenure included Way of the Warrior, Crash Bandicoot, and the Jak & Daxter series of games. With the fate of the company now in his hands, Rubin had to make some tough calls. Six days later, it was announced that the THQ San Diego, responsible for WWE All Stars and UFC games would be closed.   THQ had successfully annualized the UFC: Undisputed series, as well as creating UFC Personal Trainer for the Kinect hardware.

However, EA had originally tried to court the UFC with a deal, but UFC President Dana White publicly rebuffed the offer, citing a bad business meeting they had when he had first taken ownership of the company. The day before THQ San Diego closed, EA announced it had finally acquired the UFC license. Even though the terms of the deal are undisclosed, you can see how this move, in combination with the laying off of personnel was a move to keep THQ afloat.

Then, on June 8th, a little over a week into his reign and 3 days after shuttering a reliable studio, Rubin was being interviewed over his expectations over THQ developer Volition’s next game. He was responding to interviewer Brian Crecente’s claims that he found Saints Row: The Third to be too embarrassing to play in front of his wife and child, agreeing that there shouldn’t be a reason to be embarrassed over a game made by his company. Crecente was quick to clarify the statement, but the headlines had already been written “Rubin finds Saints Row: The Third embarrassing”.

Let’s take a look at the first part of the quote from Crecente’s article, and you’ll see that it takes on different meanings by the way you look at it. “Why couldn’t [Saints’ Row] be a Red Dead Redemption or a Skyrim?” Don’t look at it like I did, as a gamer or the rest of the internet did, bombarding his twitter feed with cries to not change Saints Row. Look at it from the perspective of a guy whose company success could depend on its next big project to stay in business. A Red Dead Redemption or a Skyrim would mean a lot of people keeping their jobs.

To close this out, let’s look at something Rubin posted on his blog back in February regarding what it takes to run a game company: “Forming and running a successful company…any company…requires a specific set of management skills, to parent, to Darth Vader, to friend.”  We have seen what his first month has been like, which to outsiders seems to be less friend and more Vader, but if it means I get to play The Next Great Game in the Saints Row Franchise (Working Title), then I’d like to see his next move.

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