We investigate SEGA's purchase of Relic, what it means for Company of Heroes, and for the RTS market.
By Tim Colwill on January 31, 2013 at 8:28 pm
SEGA’s acquisition of Relic from the burning wreckage of the THQ fire sale was one hell of a smart move. If you’d told me fifteen years ago that SEGA would have not only stopped making consoles, but gone on to become one of the juggernauts of the RTS market, I would have probably laughed at you. Laughed at you, and then ran like hell as you chased me through the corridors of my high school and demanded my lunch money.
Instead, fifteen years and $56 million later, SEGA now makes zero consoles but owns both The Creative Assembly and Relic — two companies who together make up some of the biggest names in the RTS genre, and a genre practically exclusive to PC.
So what does it all mean? Let’s take a look.
Wait — Company of Heroes is safe, right?
Yes. SEGA picked up several IPs as a result of their Relic acquisition, and one of them was Company of Heroes. In further follow-up, a SEGA spokesperson claimed to Eurogamer that “Sega acquired all shares of THQ Canada and THQ’s IPs related to the titles developed by THQ Canada.”
“Those IPs include Company of Heroes, which is developed by THQ Canada, and its R&D engines.”
Chances are good that not only will Company of Heroes 2 make it to market unscathed — good news for you, and good news for the no-doubt nervous team at Relic — but that future Company of Heroes games are assured.
What about Relic’s other titles?
Critically, SEGA’s press release and even their further follow-ups fail to mention what other intellectual properties were acquired from THQ. Out of Relic’s other properties, Homeworld is still owned by THQ and is the subject of a crowdfunding movement to buy the IP for re-release, while The Outfit hasn’t been seen or heard from since its generally favourable 2006 console-only release.
Impossible Creatures is the only other Relic title of note, and that last showed up in 2002 — and was published by Microsoft anyway, rather than THQ. So the only other IP (that we’ve been told about) worth noting, is, of course…
The Games Workshop connection
With the recent news that The Creative Assembly had purchased the rights to Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Battles license, this acquisition becomes all the more interesting. SEGA now holds both the WFB license and Games Workshop’s preferred Warhammer 40,000 developer.
Relic’s experience and track record with the Warhammer 40,000 license is streets ahead of what any developer has managed to do with any other Games Workshop license, hands down. You can bet that the Nottingham-based wargaming company isn’t turning a blind eye to what’s going on.
So what happens now? Well the unfortunate reality is that the current Warhammer 40,000 licensing agreement is with THQ, not with Relic. This means that not only would the agreement with THQ have to be officially terminated — which probably won’t happen until these Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings are complete — but then another one re-negotiated with SEGA.
There’s no guarantee that this will happen, of course. There is a slim chance that some third party might jump in and try to seduce Games Workshop with a more tempting offer — but Games Workshop have shown that they’re now extremely reluctant to give their licenses to just anyone, especially after Relic essentially single-handedly saved them from a string of utterly tragic licensed game adaptations.
They want people to be talking about Warhammer 40,000, and they want it now — and the best way to do that will be to continue the relationship with Relic.
Does this mean Relic will make Dawn of War 3?
“It’s too early to tell,” is unfortunately the best answer we can give. As we saw with Homeworld, THQ own all the IP developed by their companies, and that means that they’re the ones holding the keys to Dawn of War 3 — a game that was much talked about but never, ever, officially confirmed by THQ or Relic.
This is frustrating, as all the information we know so far about Dawn of War 3 indicates that Relic were planning to push the scale all the way into the Epic zone, and offer even more customisation than before. THQ revealed mid-2011 that the game was planning to feature global as well as low-level strategy, up to an including what were described as “MMO-like elements”.
SEGA’s next move
When a big company acquires two profitable developers who complement each nicely, two possible things happen. The first is that the big company goes to sleep on a pile of money, while its talented developers beaver away and do their own thing, not paying any attention to each other.
The second is that the big company sits the two developers down in a room together and says “I need a game out of each of you, every two years. I want alternating game releases, resulting in guaranteed big money for me each and every year. I want you to share resources as much as possible. Start now.”
EA does it with Danger Close and DICE. Activision does it with Infinity Ward and Treyarch. Ubisoft does it with their sixteen thousand Assassin’s Creed development studios across the world. It’s a good strategy, and strategy — if you’ll pardon the pun — is what this is all about.
It probably won’t happen this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if 2014 saw the announcement of a new, shared engine platform between the two companies, in much the same way EA has spread the Frostbite 2 engine around its various subsidiaries. It’s faster, reliable, and means development and support is all centralised and works towards a larger goal.
We’ll hear more about SEGA’s plans in the coming weeks and months as the company finalises the transition of the employees and nails down their plans for the upcoming Company of Heroes 2 launch. But whatever happens, one thing is certain: RTS players suddenly have a lot more to look forward to.