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THQ Nordic is ready to prove itself after a big name change

Why the reborn Nordic Games says it won't make its namesake's mistakes

For some gamers, journalists and industry professionals, the name THQ does not come with positive associations. It’s indicative of shovelware, of squandered potential; most strikingly, it recalls the publisher that declared bankruptcy at the end of 2012, unable to pay back its deep debts.

Lars Wingefors and Reinhard Pollice, however, have much fonder memories of the defunct publisher of franchises like Saints Row, Darksiders, Drawn to Life and Red Faction. That’s no surprise — they’re the respective co-founder and business director of the company now known as THQ Nordic, a name change announced last week.

"THQ was always like a brand that was very well known to gamers in a lot of genres," said Pollice, whom we talked to during GDC Europe 2016. "It was a good fit."

"Overall, it’s a 28-year-old company," Wingefors said in agreement. "They did tons of great games. I think that the bankruptcy was the end of that — but I would rather focus on the good years and the years that [THQ] actually made good business."

Those were the years when THQ pushed out role-playing games and action titles as well as licensed kids’ games and more gimmicky projects. It’s a portfolio that, back in 2014, the nascent developer known as Nordic Games envied. That’s why, when THQ was liquidated to pay its many creditors in 2013, Nordic Games — which has long made a business out of picking up other game developers — snapped THQ up.

"Our far largest acquisition, in 2014, was THQ properties," Wingefors said. Noridc Games bought the company's trademark that June and announced plans to publish under that name, following its initial purchase of the THQ remaining catalog. "We acquired the THQ brands and the remaining few assets. Since then, very much about the business has been the properties of THQ."

That hasn’t always been clear to the public at large, given the varied and disconnected nature of Nordic Games' catalog. The biggest THQ properties it's released are remasters of the Darksiders games. It’s also published well known titles' Windows PC versions, such as Alan Wake and Ori and the Blind Forest, and it's developed projects like MX vs. ATV and Yoga Wii. Its presence at this week's Gamescom 2016 convention is headlined by games like the karaoke title We Sing and dystopian RPGs like Elex.

"Journalists and industry people have a different experience of all the bad things going on" at THQ

Internally, however, Nordic Games felt it had something special — and attention-grabbing — with the THQ games many players knew and loved.

"We had a discussion for almost a year internally," Wingefors said. "Should we keep Nordic Games? Should we use THQ? But THQ was by far the most popular [of our acquisitions]."

That sort of questioning carried on for a long time, however, leading to the official name change just over three years after Nordic Games absorbed THQ’s remains. As much as Wingefors and Pollice admire THQ’s good years, though, they’re aware that the name comes with some negative attachment for those whose stronger memories are of the bad ones.

Wingefors told us of THQ that, "looking at the bankruptcy, it came from kind of mismanagement by using a lot of debt."

"Journalists and industry people have a different experience of all the bad things going on" at THQ, Pollice added. "That was the big argument for not using straight ‘THQ,’ rather ‘THQ Nordic.’ We are something new, but we are still using this brand."

With a new name comes a new sense of self

Referring to the company, whose publishing branch opened in 2008, as "new" could speak to a shaky sense of self at Nordic Games, as could the name change. As THQ Nordic, however, the company seems to truly see itself as a new entity, much closer to where it wants to be in the industry.

Wingefors referred to the former name as "generic," for example, and later defined the business as one built through its ability to acquire other brands. When asked why it took three years to come to a decision about adding THQ to the title, Wingefors and Pollice referred to it as the result of a sense of "security" in the company’s strategy and identity.

The identity, however, is still in flux. Wingefors has an idea of where he wants the reborn THQ Nordic to go, however.

"I don’t see us so much about building a brand as EA Sports," he said. "I think parts of building a brand within the industry is about or strategy — how we take care of the IPs, how we do the publishing. We’re not the smallest guys, but not the biggest guys."

That strategy remains largely under wraps for now, though. Although THQ Nordic’s press release about its new name said there were 23 games in development — 13 based on THQ properties — neither Wingefors nor Pollice would even hint at which ones fans could look forward to returning. There’s a remaster of Darksiders on the way, but the pair kept other news close to the vest.

"We are well aware of the expectations"

In the meantime, THQ Nordic is pushing several original role-playing games at its Gamescom booth this week. Many of these have been in the works since 2013, eyeing a 2017 release. Publishing polished games is important to the company, as is announcing titles — including new ones based on THQ games — only when they’re ready to be seen. That’s why no specific games were mentioned in the big reveal of THQ Nordic’s new name, explained Wingefors.

"We are well aware of the expectations and this is one of the hardest parts of actually having a strategy of acquiring IPS and making sequels, is to deliver on expectations," Wingefors said. "That is the daily topic. How can we deliver and over-deliver on those expectations? I think that we’ll find a way on that and deliver on that."

For those who are concerned or turned on by the name THQ returning to the industry, Wingefors maintains that the companies are truly different. One was a very large corporation; the other has a hard-working team of just 84. Pollice also insisted that while THQ was known for a mixed bag of projects, critically acclaimed, violent and kid-friendly, THQ Nordic is now more geared toward the hardcore, role-playing game fan.

THQ Nordic’s game plan is one that will continue to reveal itself over time, the pair told us. Starting with its new name, the company finds itself feeling renewed and prepared to stake its claim on the industry — those who arch an eyebrow at the THQ moniker be damned.

"To be honest, the past week I had quite a few people just having a love for THQ contacting me from the industry, saying, ‘It’s so great, I would really like to work with you guys or sign a publishing thing with you guys," Wingefors said. "I think we’re ready to step up to the next level."

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