GamesBeat

Take-Two Interactive struggles to move beyond Grand Theft Auto

It’s not all that easy for a video game publisher to diversify away from good-old-fashioned-street-violence-racing-mayhem.

Take-Two Interactive Software reported its results for the second fiscal quarter ended April 30 were far below last year’s sales, when the launch of Grand Theft Auto IV generated huge sales.

This company’s results rise or fall with the launch of Grand Theft Auto series games, which are hardcore violent games. The stock price ebbs and flows on the question of whether the company is properly taking the profits from GTA and investing it wisely in new game franchises. It’s not an easy task, as the results suggest.

Revenue for the quarter was $229.7 million, down from $539.8 million for the same quarter a year ago. This year, the company’s sales — what little there were — were driven by an extension for Grand Theft Auto IV, The Lost and Damned, available as a download on Microsoft’s Xbox Live online gaming service.

The results also paint a picture of how much the industry is struggling to overcome a great performance last year, when the recession’s drag on the industry wasn’t as pronounced. The whole industry is having trouble matching last year’s performance. Next week, at the E3 show in Los Angeles, Take-Two and everyone else in the industry will talk about the games they hope will push game sales for the rest of the year. The loss for the quarter was $10.1 million, or 13 cents a share, compared with net income of $98.2 million, or $1.29 a share a year earlier.

On a non-GAAP basis, the loss was $2.9 million, or 4 cents a share, compared to net income of $115.4 million, or $1.52 a share a year earlier. Analysts expected a non-GAAP loss of 13 cents a share. Hence, the loss wasn’t as bad as expected.

Strauss Zelnick, chairman of New York-based Take-Two, continued to stress the company’s focus on making high-quality games, such as GTA IV, which was several years in the making. That emphasis on quality makes it difficult predict when new games will be launched.

In the second quarter, other strong sellers were Major League Baseball 2K9, Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for Nintendo DS. The Chinatown game received great reviews, but sales were a disappointment compared to expectations.

BioShock 2 is shipping on Nov. 3 on the Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3. The original BioShock debuted in 2007 and was one of the surprise hits of the year. (It was my favorite new game of 2007, due to its sheer originality). The new game will have a multiplayer version, which the original didn’t have. The BioShock franchise may represents the best way for Take-Two to wean itself from GTA. Another promising property is Borderlands, which debuts in the second half of the year.

Another big title coming from Take-Two’s Rockstar Games division in the winter of 2009 is Max Payne 3, the third in a series of popular crime/shooting games. Rockstar is also planning to release a new expansion for Grand Theft Auto, dubbed Episodes from Liberty City, for the Xbox 360 in Take-Two’s fourth fiscal quarter. The episodes will combine The Lost and Damned as well as a new episode dubbed The Ballad of Gay Tony, available on a single disc for the Xbox 360 for $39.99.

Zelnick said the relationship with the Rockstar games leaders (truly the rock star talent of the company) remains good and he “couldn’t be happier” with what Rockstar is doing. The status of the Rockstar leaders, Sam and Dan Houser, is always the subject of much speculation.

The company delayed a couple of titles in the works, Mafia II and Red Dead Redemption, until the first half of fiscal 2010. For the past two quarters, Take-Two has generated losses of $60.5 million on sales of $486.5 million, compared with net income of $60.2 million, or 80 cents a share, a year earlier. For the fiscal year, the company said it was maintaining its non-GAAP earnings-per-share goals. But it said it expects lower revenues due to the game delays.


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