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.