Despite four strong titles known to launch in 2010, Take-Two still expects to lose money or break even at best -- though Signal Hill analyst Todd Greenwald says BioShock 2 looks like the publisher's best bet.
"The original was one of the best-rated games when it first came out in August 2007 and sold nearly 3 million units," he points out. "Bioshock 2, due out on February 9, has great brand awareness, should be supported by a huge marketing campaign, and is one of the most highly anticipated titles of 2010."
On the rest of what he calls Take-Two's "four horses," however, the analyst is less sure. Greenwald suggests that Red Dead Redemption, due April 27, is "challenged to sell more than 1-2M million units."
"While the game looks great and sports the Rockstar brand, the Western genre is a very tough category with a limited fan base; Red Dead Revolver only sold through about 1.5 million units, while Ubisoft's recent entry, Call of Juarez, sold through just 900k units," he says.
Adds Greenwald, "We are also wary about the fact that it has been in development for more than three years and will likely incur a very high amount of development costs."
That long development time is Take-Two's largest challenge for its big hits, most analysts say -- titles that would be profitable are less so when their cycles are too long and they don't release on time.
Greenwald says it's too early to project how Mafia 2 and Max Payne 3 will do, but he points out "the Godfather franchise hasn't done much for EA", selling less than 2 million units per iteration. Max Payne 2 sold just over 2 million units in 2003, despite the popularity of the original.
Take-Two investors care most about the Grand Theft Auto franchise, naturally -- as Greenwald puts it, "without question the biggest driver of the stock." But despite being one of the industry's biggest franchises, its iterations come out least frequently of all its fellow sales leaders, and have been even less predictable this console generation. With no official mention of the next game to speak of, it's hard to tell when GTA V will launch.
"At this point, we believe it will be in October 2011 at the earliest, and would not be surprised to see it come later, as the talented Rockstar team has likely had its hands full with the 2 downloadable episodes (Lost & Damned and Ballad of Gay Ton, which was released in October 2009), and is likely just now starting to work on GTA V," says Greenwald. And if the Rockstar North team has to help work on other titles -- Agent, L.A. Noire, or any other wholly-owned IP, for example -- it may take them even longer, he adds.