Rubin vs. The Saints

Polygon’s Brian Crecente interviewed Jason Rubin about his new job, running the show at THQ.  Couched as the primary directive of the Rubin era of THQ, he took aim at Saints Row: The Third as the sort of thing that he doesn’t want to see in the future.

New leadership is a scary thing.  Often new a executive means new directions and new faces replacing the old.  For THQ, bringing in Jason Rubin seems like a hail mary pass.  So it is all the more ominous when Rubin comes out and says that he wants to make games that aren’t embarrassing, referencing THQ’s most popular game in years, Saints Row: The Third.

The question we’re left with is whether or not Rubin actually considers Saints an embarrassment, and what that will mean for further iterations on the series.  In the interview, Rubin states that he “expects more” from the team over at Volition.

Other statements alluding to how he wants to make games like Skyrim and Red Dead Redemption seem to be a smack in the face to the makers of a game that, quite frankly, doesn’t want to be that game.

In Rubin’s most recent entry to his blog (published in February), Rubin talks a bit about what a good game does…

Many developers make the games they want to play. That works if the game you want to play is a game that lots of people also want to play AND is not already out there. If you have obscure tastes, and you’ll know this because you will talk about your games as “art” instead of “entertainment,” then you will have to get lucky and strike a cord. Most of the time those games fail to be commercial successes. But assuming for a moment that your tastes run somewhere near the pack, the key is to make a game that satisfies without being utterly derivative. I call this “filling a hole”.

What’s interesting is that this is pretty much exactly what Saints Row: The Third is.  It is satisfying, it isn’t overly derivative, it “filled a hole” (a phrase which seems right at home in the Saints’ vernacular) and it is something that people obviously wanted to play.  The only way in which this game didn’t fulfill Rubin’s ideal great game is that it was all entertainment — at least it was marketed as such.

The question of whether or not Saints is a franchise that is inherently embarrassing is something I expected to see on blogs, not from Rubin himself.  Whether or not you agree with what Rubin is saying, the fact that he is thinking about things in this way seems to be a promising new direction away from the Kotick brand of gamer exploitation.

Whether or not you agree with Rubin’s assessment of Saint’s Row, at least he seems prescient enough to realize that finding games with powerful, moving plots and images is how to build a company.

It is the central dilemma of media.  Where is that line that makes one game art and another a product?  How do you make investors happy while also making sure your team feels as though their artistic goals were being met?  The questions that Rubin is grappling with now could make or break the ailing THQ, but beyond that it could be a sort of litmus test as to where gaming is headed.