Two days in at THQ

It’s been nearly two months since my last blog post, and that’s due to several factors. As I mentioned on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve started a new job as VP Technology for THQ. It’s a role I’m very excited about, and it took quite some time to move down to Los Angeles (from San Francisco). Another reason I haven’t blogged for awhile was this feeling of being “talked out”. After my time at Google I felt tired of communicating, which was a first for me. I spent so much time during my short stint there pounding out emails in the middle of the night, finessing messaging, and working on presentations to deliver at conferences. When I left Google I suddenly found myself needing some time for quiet, some time to think.

Now I’m sitting here relaxed yet displaced, in our temporary housing just northwest of Los Angeles, and having been to my first two days at THQ I’m starting to feel like my old self again. Moving away from San Francisco wasn’t exactly high on my list – I really enjoy the entrepreneurial vibe there, from the social games community in the city to the web-focused churn of Silicon Valley. There are always so many interesting things going on, and brilliant people trying to change the world around every corner. But in recent years it’s seemed like the people of MY games community, pushing the boundaries of technology and story-telling in games, had slowly moved out of the area. Studios had shut down in San Francisco, companies had closed in Marin, East Bay companies were encountering hard times, and publishers on the peninsula had downsized or moved away. I really enjoy mobile and social games, of course, but the hub of AAA games has slowly migrated away from the hub of technology innovation, to the center of entertainment: Los Angeles.

So I was already thinking, “Hm, if I ever had to move, it’d be either Los Angeles or Seattle.” (Seattle is where I grew up, and my family lives.) Peculiarly, the day I left Google, as I was literally driving out of their driveway, some friends in LA rang to see if I knew anyone who could do some game technology consulting for them. “Why, yes! Let me drive another 10 feet forward and then tell you a story…” Hm, fate calling! Soon after, I heard about the VP role open at THQ and we started having a chat.

During the three years or so that I did game technology consulting, what I enjoyed most was visiting studios and vetting them for publishers or investors. I’d get the chance to talk to the executives in the studio, as well as the directors of production, tech, art, audio, and design. I’d learn about their best practices, and share with them tips I’d learned as well. Then I’d compare the studio against the project or publisher or investor and highlight where the match worked well, or poorly. It was always so much fun to analyze the studio and see how it worked, and try to find ways to make it operate more smoothly.

As a consultant though, at the end of the day, you always walk away. As a consultant you don’t build up much over time except contacts and your own personal knowledge. What made me immediately interested in this role at THQ was the feeling that I could take all the knowledge I’d built up as a consultant, as well as my connections to the game engine, middleware, and console companies, and use it to help build up the company by doing what I enjoyed most as a consultant: analyzing studios and helping them make their games more fun, more efficiently. How could it get any better than that?

I talked with a lot of other really good people on the road toward joining THQ, at social games companies and mobile games companies, game engine creators and middleware manufacturers, as well as other large games publishers. But seeing THQ in the middle of a reboot, with a team of new yet veteran executives recreating the company by taking risks in AAA and casual titles, with a future roster of intriguing AAA titles on track, and a back-catalog that includes Company of Heroes, WWF, Red Faction, Homeworld, and MX vs ATV… it just sounded like so much fun.

So being here in LA – it’s kind of weird. I miss walking. I miss the fog. But I feel like, perhaps, I’ve found my people here. The place may be different, but the conversations are familiar: how do we make a really great game, how can we create an experience people haven’t seen before, how do we do it in on a budget, how can we finish it on time. And in that way, I have to admit, it kind of feels like home. :-)