Six groups considered bid for Volition

CHAMPAIGN — Six different groups looked at buying the Volition video-game studio before it was auctioned off to Koch Media last week, Volition's general manager said.

Warner Bros., Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive, Ubisoft, Koch Media and a group from the Chicago area each visited Volition in the two weeks or so preceding the auction to size up the studio, Dan Cermak said.

But when the Jan. 22 auction date arrived, only two companies — Koch Media and Ubisoft — actually submitted bids for Volition, with Koch making the high bid of $22.3 million.

Cermak went to Wilmington, Del., last week to witness the opening of bids for Volition's former parent company, THQ Inc., and its component parts.

Bids for the various components were announced first, followed by bids for the entirety of THQ.

"It was crazy," Cermak said. "The bids were all over the place."

When the bidding was over and winning bids were approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, it was clear how interested Koch Media was in Volition and its signature franchise, "Saints Row."

"They love 'Saints Row' and the idea behind it," Cermak said. "Over-the-top game play is integral to their success."

Koch Media did not acquire the "Red Faction" franchise, also developed by Volition.

Koch Media's chief executive officer, Klemens Kundratitz, and its chief financial officer, Reinhard Gratl, visited the Volition studio in Champaign on Friday to meet with employees.

Cermak said the Koch Media officers seemed impressed by "not just what we make, but how we make it."

In a Koch Media release last week, Kundratitz called "Saints Row" and "Metro" — another THQ franchise that Koch Media acquired — "magnificent."

Koch Media is a privately held Austrian company with major offices in Hofen, Austria, and Munich, Germany, Cermak said. Its game division, known as Deep Silver, is a major distributor of video games.

Although Deep Silver owns a lot of intellectual property for games, Volition will be its first video-game studio, Cermak said. Deep Silver has an office in the San Francisco area, but it handles functions other than game development, such as marketing.

Until now, Deep Silver has worked in partnership with outside studios to develop its games, Cermak said. One of its most popular franchises is "Dead Island," an open-world action game with a zombie theme.

The acquisition of Volition is a major step for Koch Media, Cermak said. Koch Media already had 390 employees, and by acquiring Volition, it will add 185 more, he said.

On Monday, Cermak said he was not sure of Volition's name going forward. He said it was likely to be some variation of Volition, with Deep Silver Volition among the names being considered.

All employees of Volition have been retained by the new owner, and the wage-and-benefit package is consistent with Volition's, he said.

Cermak said the studio will continue to focus on development of the fourth game in the "Saints Row" franchise. THQ had slated that game for release sometime this year.

In the Koch Media release, Kundratitz said Deep Silver will lead further development and marketing on the "Saints Row" and "Metro" franchises. Plans for each franchise will be rolled out in coming months.

Geoff Mulligan, chief operating officer of Deep Silver, said in the same release that "Saints Row" and "Metro" "hold a special place in the hearts and minds of anyone who loves exceptional video games."

Mulligan said he was proud to welcome "the visionaries and talented forces at Volition" on board.

Cermak said Koch Media was familiar with Volition and "Saints Row" because it distributed games for THQ in Spain and Italy.

He called the sale to Koch Media "a very positive situation for us" and said Volition will be "a very important part" of that business going forward.

He said that as a private company, Koch Media does not face some of the pressures that THQ, with publicly traded stock, faced — namely meeting quarterly earnings projections.

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