Volition Prepares Next Installment of 'Saints Row'

CHAMPAIGN -- Dan Cermak said he's confident Volition Inc. has enough time to make the fourth installment of the "Saints Row" video game franchise a worthy successor to "Saints Row: The Third."

Volition's parent company, THQ Inc., announced this summer that "Saints Row: Enter The Dominatrix" -- which had been considered a game expansion -- is now destined to be part of the next "Saints Row" stand-alone game.

But Cermak, Volition's general manager, said the game, due out sometime next year, won't be released under the Dominatrix name.

"What it will be is changed, but not determined," he said, adding that Volition was given an extra year to work on the game.

"It gives us a lot more expansion time. I think it'll be worth the money," he said.

"Saints Row: The Third," released last November, has been the biggest-selling game in the "Saints Row" franchise, with more than 4 million units of the games shipped so far.

From a revenue standpoint, it came at a particularly important time for THQ, which suffered a $242 million net loss for the fiscal year that ended March 31 -- larger than the $136 million net loss from the previous fiscal year.

The company hurriedly reshaped itself last year and this year, focusing on core games, shedding marginal products and closing some of its studios.

Today, Agoura Hills, Calif.-based THQ has four studios remaining:

-- Champaign-based Volition, best known for "Saints Row" and "Red Faction" games.

-- Vigil Games, based in Austin, Texas, best known for the "Darksiders" franchise.

-- Relic Entertainment, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, known for "Company of Heroes" games.

-- THQ Studio Montreal, in Montreal, Quebec, which got its start in 2010.

Cermak said Volition constantly considers what features it needs to add to games to "deliver against the expectations of players."

And what do players want?

"They want more," Cermak said -- more weapons, more vehicles, more customization of characters in the story line.

Volition tries to give them that, offering offbeat vehicles such as spaceships, hovercraft, hover jet bikes, Harrier jets and tanks, he said.

Cermak said Volition employs about 180, most of them in Champaign, and plans to hire "30-some" people over the next six months.

Those include artists, programmers and people involved in design and production, as well as management support, he said.

Recruiting is done over the Volition and THQ websites, as well as in Game Developer magazine and its online version, Gamasutra, he said.

Some of the positions listed on the Volition website include effects and lighting artists, animators, mission designers, game programmers, technical designers and quality assurance programmers.

Cermak said Volition has relatively little turnover, with more than half the employees on staff for five years or more and "quite a few" of them with 10 years or more experience.

Five Volition employees work remotely from Oregon, Washington, California, Texas and North Carolina, he added.

On another topic, Cermak said he doesn't consider the "Red Faction" franchise "dead," even though THQ effectively ended it after sales of "Red Faction: Armageddon" didn't meet expectations.

Cermak said that game, released in June 2011, didn't fare well because it had a "linear" format and fans had expectations of an "open-world" game.

Linear games have a fixed sequence of challenges, while nonlinear games allow players to tackle challenges in different order. In open-world games, players generally have the freedom to decide how and when to tackle the challenges.

In "Red Faction: Armageddon," scores weren't as high as they could have been, and it was not what people "wanted to see," Cermak said.

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