Take-Two: All Aboard

On the heels of being named #93 in Business Week’s top 100 information
technology companies, Take-Two Interactive Software added yet another cog in its rapidly growing gaming
powerhouse. The New York-based publisher and distributor of games for the
PC, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and Game Boy, and Sega Dreamcast consoles
announced plans to acquire strategy game developer, PopTop Software.


Not much will change over at PopTop, as
its cozy ten person development team will remain comfortably situated in
the Show-Me State. Currently, all its attention is devoted to its newest
computer strategy game, Tropico,
scheduled for release early next year. Set on a tiny, remote Caribbean
island, Tropico puts players in the role of newly-inducted ruler to this
poverty-stricken, lawless isle. Make your nation prosper, build hotels,
mines, and factories, all while placating internal and external factions.
Fail diplomatically, and 3D gamers will end up with a revolt on their hands.


Tropico follows the gaming style PopTop instituted with Railroad Tycoon II, released
in 1998. In this simulation game, up to 16 players compete as powerful
railroad barons in a game of strategy that spans the entire world,
progressing through two centuries. Lay tracks, build stations, connect
populated cities to transport passengers or goods, schedule train routes,
and buy and sell stocks in a realistic, in-game economy. With half a
million copies sold since its debut, Railroad Tycoon II heralded PopTop
into the limelight, as its first title as a complete design shop.


Available in both PC and Mac versions, PopTop’s titles are published by
Gathering of Developers (G.o.D.), a game publisher launched in 1998
by five PC game makers seeking to turn the price-gouging publishing
industry on its ear. Offering developers feature billing on game titles, no
Wall Street earnings-induced deadlines, and royalties 50-60% higher than
traditional publishers mete out, G.o.D became an immediate smash hit.


Take-Two and G.o.D. have been partners since the
Gathering’s early days, having provided the independent PC publisher with
initial funding in 1998 and then acquiring a 20% stake in early 1999.
Combined with Take-Two’s Rockstar Games video console division, many of the
Gathering’s PC games, including Railroad Tycoon II, were able to spill over
into the PlayStation and Dreamcast markets as well.


Take-Two acquired the remaining 80% of G.o.D. just this past May, but like
PopTop Software, the Gathering also operates as a wholly-owned subsidiary.
The Gathering’s management and Dallas-based headquarters were kept intact,
as was its ‘developer first’ credo, while its reach was broadened
extensively through Take-Two’s North American and European distribution
channels.


For Take-Two, the G.o.D. acquisition brought a catalog of new titles for
distribution, including G.o.D.’s publishing of Apogee/3D Realms’ Duke Nukem and Ritual
Entertainment’s Heavy Metal
F.A.K.K.2
. Despite the tremendous growth opportunity G.o.D. presented
Take-Two, its stock price has steadily traded in a very narrow $9.50 to $13
range since the acquisition was announced.


Prior to April’s market downturn, Take-Two watched as its share price
looked to be on a run past $20, in conjunction with the game distributor’s
land grab of Israel-based Pixel Broadband
Studios
. With the market frothy for anything broadband, Broadband
Studios’ multiplayer gaming technology, enabling multiple players to engage
in real-time inter

active games without downloading or installing any
software, added to Take-Two a whole new dimension – the leap into online
gaming.


Already the $50 million Broadband Studios’ acquisition has made some
in-roads for Take-Two’s entry into new markets. Together, OpenTV
and Take-Two’s Broadband Studios’ subsidiary will soon
market the GameTV Channel, in which interactive TV subscribers will be able
to play a bevy of games, head-to-head against other broadband connected PC,
video game console, cell phone, and set-top box users.


Additionally, Broadband Studios signed an exclusive four-year agreement
with MTV to develop original games based on MTV’s hit TV shows like
The Real World, Road Rules, and Celebrity Deathmatch.
Microsoft also recently signed on, to distribute
select Microsoft PC games through Broadband Studios’ multi-player,
PowerPlay Network.


Take-Two continues to muscle its way into the gaming community through
consolidation and savvy partnerships, and the nascent online interactive
gaming space should get its time in the spotlight as more Web surfers climb
on board the broadband-wagon. With Take-Two delivering $0.13 a share profit
in its latest quarter, a penny better than consensus estimates, this gamer
may be worth a look-see.


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free to forward them to [email protected].


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