The writing was on the wall for avid video game fans who follow the business. THQ, the company that stayed afloat as mergers saw their competition get richer and more powerful every year, filed for bankruptcy as the holidays descended on us.
Now under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, they will continue operations while seeking a buyer. This means that all of their games, including the lucrative WWE franchise, will be uninterrupted in their production.
Rumors began to surface days later that Ubisoft, publishers of mega hits like Assassin's Creed, Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell, had shown serious interest in acquiring THQ's assets. Specifically, buying THQ (or even specific parts of the company) could give them access to the WWE license, tapping into an area where Ubisoft has yet to break any ground: sports.
Ubisoft has plenty of mega franchises under their umbrella, but if they are able to get their hands on the WWE property and sell millions of copies while maintaining a quality gameplay experience, it could open the door for a revolution of sorts in the gaming world.
It's hard to remember a time when a company other than THQ was putting out wrestling games in the United States. You would have to go all the way back to the late 1990s when WWF Attitude was first released for the Sony PlayStation by Acclaim, who would go on to publish two ECW games before the promotion went bankrupt in 2001.
Meanwhile, THQ published WWF WrestleMania 2000 on the Nintendo 64 before releasing WWF No Mercy, still considered the gold standard of wrestling games by many fans.
WWE '13''s roots can be traced back to WWF SmackDown on the PlayStation. Various incarnations of the WWE name appeared across all gaming systems before THQ finally settled on yearly iterations of SmackDown vs. Raw, a franchise that eventually settled into annual mediocrity before getting injected with a new flavor in last year's rebranded game.
Since the first PlayStation release, Japanese developer Yuke's has built each release in the core series while THQ handled the sales in the United States.
While WWE '13 enjoyed good sales numbers, no amount of copies sold would be enough to save THQ. They simply never had the money and power to compete with companies like Electronic Arts, whose own Madden NFL franchise has been in a holding pattern ever since this generation of consoles debuted with the Xbox 360 in 2005, one year after ESPN NFL 2K5 was released and considered vastly superior to Madden.
EA responded by securing an exclusive contract with the NFL, a deal that saw an antitrust lawsuit filed and settled in July provided EA does not pursue NCAA exclusivity for five years. The deal with the NCAA expires in 2014, and this is when it could get interesting.
Ubisoft has plenty of cash. Assassin's Creed is a household name among gamers, and they have not forgotten about their loyal hardcore fans who are eagerly awaiting a sequel to a niche game like Beyond Good and Evil.
If THQ gets liquidated and sold off in chunks, Ubisoft could swoop in and pick up not only the WWE license, but make a bid for the NCAA as well. This could dramatically alter their presence in the United States and finally give Electronic Arts some competition.
Critics of WWE often cite their lack of rivals as a reason they don't enjoy watching. The same can be said of Madden NFL right now; without any other football games on the market, there is absolutely no incentive for EA to put in any extra effort.
However, should Ubisoft make waves in the sports market, the NFL might take notice and decide not to go exclusive anymore. This could open the door for other companies to jump back in, including 2K Sports, who released NBA 2K13 to critical acclaim while EA once again cancelled their NBA title.
I know it's easy to go after a giant branch of a company like EA Sports, but their uninspired work definitely needs a kick in the backside. The first step to this would be for Ubisoft to purchase part of THQ, enough to get their hands on the WWE property.
I won't hold my breath for CM Punk to appear in the next Prince of Persia game, but it could light a spark that sports leagues will not be able to ignore.
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