John Wayne is no longer with us, but the Western still lives.

Take-Two chief executive officer Strauss Zelnick confirmed yesterday that Red Dead Redemption is one of the company’s “permanent” franchises, as first spotted by GameSpot. Speaking at investment bank Cowen & Company’s annual technology conference, Zelnick said that the open-world Western is just as important to Take-Two as Grand Theft Auto and Borderlands. Red Dead Redemption, the second game in the franchise, debuted in 2010 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The hit put players into the role of a cowboy struggling to make it on the frontier, and it went on to surpass more than 13 million copies in sales.

Zelnick said that Grand Theft Auto is representative of something that is not going to fade away as long as the development team at Rockstar keeps delivering “incredible quality,” and he thinks that Red Dead has the same potential.

“It seems quite obvious that Red Dead is a permanent franchise — again with the same caveat [that we keep delivering quality],” said Zelnick. “[Same with] Borderlands, for example, and NBA and others.”

To create and maintain those long-lasting properties, Zelnick stresses that his company focuses on releasing sequels at a deliberate pace. He thinks this keeps gamers from burning out, and it enables those permanent franchises to thrive over the long term.

“The risk of just [releasing games more frequently] is that you end up just bulking up your release schedule, and that isn’t really what consumers want,” said Zelnick. “Consumers want better, not more. So our selective approach, which we’ve taken since 2007, I think has paid off.”

That view of “better” and “not more” is why Take-Two doesn’t consider Red Dead a dormant series even though we are four years out from the last release.

While the publisher plans to continue nurturing its established franchises, it also wants to keep introducing new properties and ideas.

“Now, we’ve launched one new successful franchise every year, and I would like to keep doing that particularly because I talk about permanent franchises, but not everything is going to be a permanent franchise,” he said. “Some of our great franchises eventually will lose their luster and some will hopefully be permanent.”

This year, Take-Two — under its 2K Games label — will launch the new multiplayer shooter Evolve, which pits a team of four against another player controlling a monster, from the team that made co-op shooter Left 4 Dead. Obviously, the company is hoping the game will establish itself as its next major series.

“But not everything is going to be a permanent franchise,” said Zelnick. “We can do very well even if it’s not.”

The Red Dead series debuted in 2004 with Revolver on PlayStation 2 and Xbox. It took more than six years to get to the next entry. This is not unusual for Take-Two’s games and developers, which took five years between the release of Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto V.

Going forward, Take-Two’s teams may take even more time as they establish alternative revenue streams. GTA V’s online game, GTA Online, enables players to spend money on virtual currency and other in-game items, and that is generating millions of dollars for the company. Industry research firm SuperData reported yesterday that the game has made $30 million in microtransaction sales so far. If GTA Online can keep players hooked over the long term, it may give developer Rockstar even more time to produce a sequel.

Red Dead Redemption - Opening Cutscenes - Gameplay