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Take-Two Interactive reported revenues for its second fiscal quarter (third calendar quarter ended September 30) today that beat its own and Wall Street’s expectations, with net bookings of $984.9 million, up 3% from a year ago, when pandemic lockdowns resulted in a spike in gaming.

Grand Theft Auto V sold more than five million copies in the quarter, and its total sales have now surpassed 155 million copies. Since its 2013 release, GTA V has generated more than $6 billion in revenue.

Revenue for the New York video game publisher came in at $858.2 million on a GAAP basis. Overall, Take-Two said that all evidence suggests that media consumption patterns are beginning to stabilize to a new normal, and while down from the highs of the previous pandemic year, recurrent consumer spending in products has leveled off and remains significantly higher than the first quarter of fiscal 2020 (the calendar quarter ended March 31, 2020). That was the final quarter reported before the pandemic.

Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick said in an interview with GamesBeat that the company had been concerned about the possible pattern that we’ve seen in other game companies, where the pandemic boost last year was so high a year ago that it would be hard to beat the quarterly numbers from last year. But Zelnick said he was “thrilled” to see net bookings rise 3% for Take-Two. The company is guiding to more growth in the rest of the year.

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Take-Two’s stock price is trading at $187 a share, up 1.5% in after-hours trading.

Strauss Zelnick is CEO of Take-Two Interactive.

Above: Strauss Zelnick is CEO of Take-Two Interactive.

Image Credit: Take-Two Interactive

“I wouldn’t say that the pandemic is over, I think we’re certainly not seeing that in working conditions, and therefore it’s hard to believe we’re seeing it fully in consumer patterns, but I think we’re close to the new normal,” he said.

As a result of our better-than-expected second-fiscal-quarter operating results, along with an updated forecast for the balance of the year, Take-Two is raising net bookings guidance for the year to $3.3 billion to $3.4 billion, Zelnick said.

(Zelnick will be a speaker at our GamesBeat Summit Next online event on November 9-10, in a fireside chat with Mike Vorhaus of Vorhaus Advisers).

“We remain highly optimistic about our ability to capitalize further on the positive trends of our industry,” he said. “As we continue to harness and enhance our competitive advantages — our incredible creative talent, best-in-class marketing and technology, and strong balance sheet — we will introduce new entertainment experiences that we believe have vast commercial potential and the ability to drive long-term engagement and recurrent consumer spending. We also expect to continue to attract the very best creators who share in our vision to set new benchmarks and captivate audiences throughout the world.”

For the results, the company credited ongoing sales of NBA 2K22 and NBA 2K 21, Grand Theft Auto Online, Grand Theft Auto V, Red Dead Redemption 2, Red Dead Online, Borderlands 3, Two Dots, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, and Dragon City. About 91% of all GAAP sales were digital.

Analysts expected Take-Two to report non-GAAP earnings per share of $1.34 on revenues of $866.9 million for the second fiscal quarter ended September 30. Analysts also expected fiscal Q3 earnings per share of $1.12 on revenues of $950.1 million, and full-year fiscal results of $4.59 a share on revenues of $3.41 billion.

Above: GTA Online has plenty to do, and it’s making bank for Take-Two.

Image Credit: Rockstar Games

The company reported GAAP net income of $10.3 million, or 9 cents a share, compared with $99.3 million, or 86 cents a share for the same quarter a year ago. Take-Two took a one-time charge against earnings of $53 million for costs of goods sold as a result of a cancellation of a game in development.

“When we talked about our robust pipeline, over a multi-year period, we did say that certain titles would not make it. And this was one of them,” Zelnick said. “There’s not much else to say, ultimately. We devoted a lot of time and resources to the property. Our standards are incredibly high. We’re trying to build tentpole franchises. And in certain instances, we don’t have the confidence that something will reach that level of excellence, and therefore we can’t proceed.”

Recurrent consumer spending, a good measure of loyalty to ongoing games with live operations, increased 7% in the quarter and accounted for 69% of total net bookings.

The pandemic effect and the gaming boom

GTA Online's Los Santos Tuners update.

Above: GTA Online’s Los Santos Tuners update.

Image Credit: Rockstar Games

In the quarterly report, Take-Two said it is being prudent about returning to the office and planning. Some of the offices are open, and the majority will open in the coming months, but the company is studying the dynamics for each region and guidance from local governments and health officials.

During the shelter-in-place orders that began last year, the company saw heightened levels of engagement and bookings during the past year. But the net effect on gaming as people return to normal activities isn’t clear just yet.

Take-Two said it has 7,215 employees now, up from 6,800 in the previous quarter. I asked Zelnick if he was worried about a labor shortage, given the boom in game investments since the pandemic started.

“It’s always a challenge. But I wouldn’t say the challenge is anything new, because we’re looking for the brightest and the most creative people,” he said. “And we’re looking for people who value our culture, a culture of creativity, innovation, and efficiency, and also a culture of transparency, honesty, and common decency.”

More than $71 billion has been invested in games in the first nine months of 2021 (according to Drake Star), through investments in startups, acquisitions, and public offerings. That’s more than double last year’s rate. I asked Zelnick what the consequences of this would be.

“I’ve been saying for a long time that I expect this sector to grow at a rapid clip for about the next 20 years because the average age of a gamer is still around 37 or 38. Yet people consume the entertainment,” he said. “They fell in love with it at the age of 17 for the rest of their life. So their cohorts going to continue to grow until it stabilizes and looks like all other entertainment cohorts. And that won’t be for about 20 years. So there’s plenty of room for growth. In terms of capital flowing into the business, that all depends on where the capital is going. Ultimately, this business is driven by great creativity. And in order to deliver an amazing interactive entertainment experience, you have to gather together a big group of really creative people. It’s not something that you can do with three people in a garage. ”

Maybe that last point was possible 30 years ago, he said. But today, it’s different.

“You have to have a worldwide marketing and distribution organization to turn it into something that consumers will actually engage with all around the world,” Zelnick said. “And that’s a high bar. There are very few companies that can do it. We are among that very small group. We’re proud of the way that we do it. But I would never assume away competition, or we’re, we’re nervous every day. We’re always looking over our shoulders.”

Game results

GTA Online has a combat-free social space with Los Santos Tuners.

Above: GTA Online has a combat-free social space with Los Santos Tuners.

Image Credit: Rockstar Games

Take-Two’s Rockstar Games label is about to launch Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy — The Definitive Edition on the PC and consoles on November 11. It includes remasters of Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

During the quarter, Grand Theft Auto Online continued to benefit from the release of the Los Santos Tuners update about underground street racing, While Red Dead Online released its Blood Money update.

NBA2K22 debuted on September 10. Also in September, PGA Tour 2K21 surpassed 2.5 million copies sold-in to retailers around the world.

For the upcoming slate, Borderlands 3: Ultimate Edition debuts on November 12, and Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands debuts in March 2022. Marvel’s Midnight Suns is expected to launch in the second half of 2022.

2K also expanded its presence in Montreal, Canada, to provide services support for games. Take-Two’s Private Division label released a physical copy of Hades for PlayStation and the Xbox platforms in August. And Take-Two is combining its mobile divisions — Socialpoint, Playdots, and Nordeus — into one division to lower costs. The next-generation console versions of Grand Theft Auto V are expected to debut in March 2022.

Outlook

Red Dead Online gets a major overhaul.

Above: Red Dead Online

Image Credit: Rockstar Games

Analysts expected fiscal Q3 (for the fourth calendar quarter ended December 31) earnings per share of $1.12 on revenues of $950.1 million, and full-year fiscal results of $4.59 a share on revenues of $3.41 billion.

Take-Two said it is raising its GAAP net revenue expectations to a target of $3.35 billion to $3.45 billion. GAAP net income is expected to be $320 million to $350 million, or $2.75 a share to $3 a share. Net bookings are expected to be $3.3 billion to $3.4 billion.

The metaverse and NFTs

NFTs are a flashpoint for Valve.

Above: NFTs are a hot commodity.

Image Credit: Fight for the Future

I also asked Zelnick for his latest thoughts on the metaverse and nonfungible tokens (NFTs), the biggest buzzwords of the moment.

“You’ve used two buzzwords and there are a few others that you could use. It all depends on how you define these terms,” he said. “So if you define metaverse as today’s version of Second Life, I’m not very optimistic about how it will turn out. I think those who bought real estate in Second Life probably regret that they did. If you define metaverse as the entire physical world will become a digital world, we will never leave our homes, we’ll be strapped into a chair in the morning, put on a headset and everything we did out there in the real world we’ll now do at home — I don’t believe in that.”

He added, “Those of us were stuck at home during the pandemic, which is to say all of us, were thrilled when we could get outside again. If you define it as a digital world that you can inhabit in a very real and in an ongoing basis, where you can be entertained or entertain in real time ,where you can engage with friends or make new friends where you can build communities where you can be told stories or tell stories where you can ride bicycles or motorcycles or cars and perhaps race them where you could engage in criminal activity or you could be a police officer stopping that criminal activity where you could have conference calls or sit at a casino table if you define it that way — then we have metaverse is here at Take-Two.”

And he said, “We have GTA Online. We have Red Dead Online. We have NBA2K’s online world. And I would argue that if you define the metaverse that way, we not only already are a metaverse company. We’re probably the largest metaverse company. In fact, I don’t know who would be larger as a metaverse company in terms of revenues and profits.”

Zelnick said Take-Two would continue to stay on the cutting edge of that definition of the metaverse.

As for NFTs — which use the transparency and security of the digital ledger of blockchain to authenticate unique digital items, he said he is a believer. As for the rate at which the big game companies are going to move into NFT games, Zelnick said some will move early and some will move late. He said people will learn what it takes to create a great NFT, just like people have learned how to create a great collectible.

“If you believe in physical collectibles, which I do, then you should believe in digital collectibles,” he said. “All collectibles rely on two things,. Rarity. And they rely on quality for their perceived value. So if you think that just by creating a digital asset that’s rare, you’re going to create value that will inexorably go up, you’re mistaken. That’s speculation. And people will be disappointed if they believe in that. If on the other hand, you believe that there are digital goods that are both singular or rare and really great, I can subscribe to that notion. I’m very much a believer in NFTs, but quality is going to be of paramount importance.”

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