CHAMPAIGN — "Saints Row: The Third" — the latest game developed by Volition Inc. — launched this month, and Volition's parent company, THQ Inc., hopes it will boost sales in the all-important holiday period.
The video game is the third installment in the "Saints Row" franchise, which focuses on the Third Street Saints street gang and its fight against other criminal elements.
THQ is coming off a string of quarterly losses, with the California-based company reporting this month it had a $92.4 million loss for the quarter that ended Sept. 30.
That compared with a $47 million loss for the same quarter a year ago.
Six months into this fiscal year, THQ had a net loss of $130.8 million, compared with a net loss of $77.1 million for the same six months a year earlier.
Sales, however, are up strongly from a year ago. In the most recent quarter, total net sales were $146 million, up from $77 million during the comparable quarter in 2010.
Unfortunately for the company, costs are also up, especially those related to licensing and royalties.
THQ develops video games for a variety of platforms, including Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii.
In its latest quarterly report to shareholders, THQ said it sees an increasing shift to online content and digital downloads.
Retail sales are expected to be a decreasing revenue source, while digital sales for the industry are projected to grow by more than 20 percent worldwide this year, the company said.
More people are playing games online and at social networking sites such as Facebook, and also on wireless devices, THQ said.
To adapt to those changes, THQ has developed a four-point digital strategy, elements of which were deployed in the Nov. 15 release of "Saints Row: The Third."
The game — which THQ described as "a key title" — includes the scheduled release of a lot of downloadable content, as well as the availability of an online "season pass."
THQ Chief Executive Officer Brian Farrell said the current quarter is expected to be "the largest quarter in our history, in terms of sales and earnings, driven by 'Saints Row: The Third'" and two other products, the "uDraw GameTablet" and "WWE '12."
THQ said its four biggest customers — Best Buy, GameStop, Target and Wal-Mart — accounted for 44 percent of the company's gross sales during its last fiscal year.
But the company said it has noticed a bigger retail focus on selling used video games because they provide higher margins for retailers than new game sales do.
During the most recent quarter, North America accounted for 57.5 percent of THQ's sales, while Europe accounted for 33.6 percent and Asia-Pacific made up 8.9 percent.
European sales were up from a year earlier, while North America and Asia-Pacific sales were down slightly.
THQ said it incurred $6 million in restructuring expenses in the most recent quarter. Those were related in part to asset write-downs connected to THQ studio closures.
In August, THQ announced it would close two studios in Australia and eliminate a game development team at another studio as part of a realignment.
The company cut 200 from production development teams and eliminated two game titles in development.
In the first quarter of this fiscal year, THQ closed its studio in the United Kingdom.
THQ said it's continuing to move away from console games based on kids' movies and titles licensed from other parties.
Because top titles are important to success in the video game industry, THQ said it is focusing on high-quality products. Its own intellectual property includes not only the "Saints Row" and "inSANE" titles from Volition, but also the "Company of Heroes," "Darksiders" and "Homefront" franchises.
Its big seller in the most recent quarter was "Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine," a licensed title that ranked among the top 10 video games in September.