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Interview: Take-Two Aims For One New IP Per Year, But High Quality Needs 'Ample Time'
Interview: Take-Two Aims For One New IP Per Year, But High Quality Needs 'Ample Time' Exclusive
June 24, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander

June 24, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

At Take-Two, being asked continually by investors, analysts, media and fans alike when the next Grand Theft Auto game is coming out is a regular occurrence -- and corporate communications VP Alan Lewis says he can't blame them.

In fact, he tells Gamasutra, he'd probably ask the same question, were he on the outside looking in. But so successful is the highly-valued franchise that it's driven what he says are "misconceptions" about the company -- chief among them is the idea that the publisher truly only has the potential to profit in a GTA year.

The company in fact has several strong properties -- according to Lewis, Take-Two publishes 17 franchises that have sold over 1 million units, and eight franchises that have sold over 5 million units.

Beyond GTA, the company's studios have made multiple titles that many critics agree have been groundbreaking, from the BioShock franchise to its latest success, Red Dead Redemption, which recently shipped 5 million units.

Yet despite the publisher's generally-high quality ratings, its shares have seen some volatility in non-GTA years, which analysts credit largely to the company's long development cycles, the presumed high costs associated with them, and tendency toward frequent title delays (most recently, Max Payne 3 has slipped out of this fiscal year) in the name of quality investment. Wedbush's Michael Pachter has called it a "lack of discipline".

But that's not how the company sees it. Red Dead Redemption was itself delayed past its originally-announced launch date, and now more than one critic has suggested it's an early contender for 2010's best game.

"The title had moved, as people know, and I think if you look at the quality of the game and what it's doing in the market, the fact is that it illustrates that to make a great game, sometimes you need to give the developers ample time to make something great," Lewis tells us. "We certainly feel like it was worth the additional time that was put in. Not only the quality, but the consumer response has shown us it is worthwhile to do that."

Lewis stops short of calling Red Dead's success a vindication of long development cycles or title delays, but says it indicates somewhat the merit of perceiving game development as "not an exact science; this isn't an assembly line," he says.

"We don't take the movement of any title lightly, but I think that what you're seeing with Red Dead Redemption underscores the fact that when you do have to make those difficult decisions, ultimately those results will benefit everybody."

That's not to say that the timeliness and "discipline" analysts have looked for in the company is not a going concern. "We've spoken publicly about our desire and need to improve upon our execution, and we've made strides in doing that," he tells us.

From his viewpoint, the company is investing a great deal of time and resources to nurture and curate a broad portfolio of high-level AAA titles, diverse but all of the same notable quality. It may take time to introduce and strengthen franchises like Mafia 2, Red Dead Redemption or Borderlands within a publishing slate that years ago was almost solely dominated by GTA, but the company expects that over time, a range of high-quality original IP will deliver the revenue stability investors have been seeking.

"Every year we're going to try to introduce at least one new IP that we hope over the long term will work well for us," Lewis concludes.

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Isaiah Taylor
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Huge fan of original ideas coming out of a studio willing to take time [and money] to develop these ideas. Discipline is a funny word. Did the studios who produced APB or Singularity lack discipline or are their other factors that prevent these million dollar projects from meeting deadlines?

Russell Watson
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Not one mention of the level of crunch that happened on that project. Wait, no, spotted it. He used the word discipline instead.

Mark Kilborn
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Extra time and money or discipline on the part of the devs? You really need both. You need a focused, disciplined development studio that's driving forward with a solid design and the muscle to execute. You need a publisher that is committed to quality, willing to devote the time and money necessary to deliver quality, willing to not throw arbitrary deadlines at a project and willing to keep their hands out of the pot unless intervention is REALLY needed (and if they think it is, they need to rethink it just to be sure).

It sounds like that's what Take Two is shooting for: find disciplined, talented developers and give them the resources they need to shine. Get enough of them working on enough interesting IPs (with the customer base to match) and you'll be doing well.

Problem is, this sort of approach requires a long term investment view. The investment attitude these days is generally short term, focused on the next quarter and ignoring the next five years. This is why you see behemoths fall.

Stephen Northcott
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If being late is what produces end products like RDR then more power to Take-Two for having the balls to stick to their guns and hold things back. It's a rare thing these days.

John Trauger
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Choosing to slip than ship was part of what made Blizzard's rep too.

Discipline takes two tracks I can think of (maybe more). If a crunch is a failure of management, it must therefore be at least partially a failure of exercising discipline in the ongoing process. Discipline in the sense of picking your head up from your little corner of the project to look at the landscape, past, future. Tech companies (not just game companies) are vulnerable to people adopting an uncommunicative narrowcasting view of their project.

And the're's also the discipline to execute overtime when needed on which much has already been written.

Mark Kilborn
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Crunch, in my opinion, is generally a failure of all involved. I've seen crunches where management has made mistakes, but I've also seen devs on those projects who are surfing the web half the day and not getting things done. Sometimes it's due to an unrealistic schedule imposed by the publisher, but it's the studio's responsibility to clarify that to them, and some seem terrified of their publishers. It's a weird political mess in which I've never really been involved. But it sucks when you're left feeling that you're crunching because everyone else made a mistake BUT you. When that happens, you start looking for a new job, and the studio you work for loses good talent.

It's in the interest of all to solve these problems. But we, as an industry, have to shift our focus to long-term thinking. That's hard to do in an instant-gratification market.

Mark Harris
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Actually, it's the pressure from long term investors that want stability from T2, not short term. The short termers are more than happy to buy when T2 stock falls during low revenue years and then sell off during GTA high revenue years when the stock rises.

The roller coaster revenue/stock price model is unnerving to those who wish to invest long term. No investor wants to lose his money. One worries about what happens if that big revenue year doesn't come? How long can T2 ride a high cost structure, unreliable revenue streams, and undisciplined forecasting (independent from dev discipline) if the games they spend so much on don't sell? They have been okay so far, but especially in an entertainment business you never know when the winds will change.

Personally, I think their strategy can pay off. If they introduce enough quality IPs and keep delivering quality games with staggered releases to stabilize their revenue stream then they will go a long way to curb that investor anxiety. It looks like that is what they are trying to do and I hope they succeed. Red Dead was a superb achievement and to me far outshines any of their other properties, including GTA and Bioshock.