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Analysts: With  Max Payne  On 'Back Burner', Will Rockstar Reveal  GTA V  In Fiscal 2012?

Analysts: With Max Payne On 'Back Burner', Will Rockstar Reveal GTA V In Fiscal 2012? Exclusive

February 9, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander

February 9, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Take-Two's succeeded at an important challenge: Demonstrating profitability and a promising release calendar even with no numbered Grand Theft Auto game in sight. But with the expiration of the company's Rockstar contract looming before the end of the company's next fiscal year, analysts have their theories on when GTA V will at last arrive.

Analysts long watched the company's progress against that key goal, and now try to measure the company's prospects for the fiscal year soon to begin (Take-Two recently moved its fiscal year-end date from October to March 31, which means the beginning of the company's fiscal 2012 is right around the corner).

No matter how well Take-Two performs at diversifying its portfolio, everyone will always want to know when a GTA is coming. On the call to investors following its third quarter results announcement yesterday, Take-Two was clear that it wouldn't offer speculation on any release dates, preferring to keep details quiet until it could offer clear windows.

Analysts find this a sensible strategy given the company's history of long development cycles with multiple delays -- but it also means there's no telling when the highly-anticipated GTA V will be announced.

Cowen Group analyst Doug Creutz finds it "highly unlikely" that it'll arrive in fiscal 2012 (before March 2012). But Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter says that the expiration of Take-Two's contract with key Rockstar North staff -- Sam and Dan Houser and their colleague Leslie Benzies -- in January 2012 means GTA V might materialize sooner than some people think.

"It seems rational to us that Take-Two management would have entered into the three-year contract only if there was some required delivery of GTA," he points out. "Equally, it makes sense that the three key employees would be motivated to deliver a GTA title before the expiration of their contract, in order to gain negotiating leverage for the next contract."

Pachter also points out that the hush that has befallen previously-announced Max Payne 3 also bodes well for the possibility of a GTA on the horizon; after several delays, information has notably ceased to emerge on the title and execs have stopped naming it in the product slate -- leading Pachter to believe that game is now on the "back burner", possibly to allow Rockstar staff who'd been engaged in its development to work on GTA V instead.

In the nearer term, Creutz believes there's some weakness in the company's portfolio for the year ahead: the lineup, which contains updates of familiar brands like Duke Nukem, X-Com and Spec Ops, is "unproven" and "aged", in his estimation, which could challenge earnings.

Further, he says NBA 2K11 did so well that it'll be tough for NBA 2K12 to compare well against it -- especially given "the likelihood that [Electronic Arts] will be back with its own NBA franchise." That's not even including the tough comparisons for which Red Dead Redemption's smash performance has set the stage.

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