Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Life and Times of Take-Two Interactive

Without a doubt, Take-Two Interactive is the company name on everyone in the game industry's lips these days. From attacking (and being attacked by) deranged lawyer-politicians from Florida in the legal arena, to realizing a net loss of $185 million in fiscal '06 (and subsequently announcing that they were up for sale), Take-Two hasn't had it easy of late. But the thing is, all that has just been the beginning of the current episode of ongoing turmoil and media coverage of the company's existence.

Stockholders kicked CEO Paul Eibeler to the proverbial curb last Thursday, installing Ben Feder as their new chief exec (although the plan is to replace him after the company gets back on track; possibly within a year). Other upper-level types were given the same treatment, with fresh faces stepping into fill the vacated (read: smoking) shoes. Among them was Strauss Zelnick (pictured), hand-picked by investors as the new chairman for the also-newly-formed board of directors. After such an extensive internal revolution, many are wondering if Take-Two should even be considering selling (no new news on that as of yet). Regardless, Take-Two's stock jumped after the coup, which is always good news for a company so far in the red based on the previous year (see above). Zelnick has stated that stability for the company is priority one, saying,

"We need to stabilize the company at the corporate level and give stakeholders, both shareholders and employees, comfort that we will maximize the value of the company."
Stability topping the to-do list, Zelnick has said that maintaining the books and keeping all the numbers straight (a problem for former CEO Eibeler) will be a constant priority, and that they are not ruling out reducing the workforce in order to streamline the company and make it more efficient:
"We will be candid with people about that. Running the company in an efficient manner is important to us and we think running a lean corporate operation will help shareholders."
All suit-and-tie matters aside, Take-Two released the first trailer mere hours after the takeover for their upcoming game Grand Theft Auto IV, due out October 16th of this year. That was late Thursday. The media sensationalists and politicians of New York City promptly went nuts on Friday morning. The NY Daily News claims that the "ultraviolent" game, set in a fictional city closely resembling NYC (dubbed "Liberty City"), has "little in common with reality." It's obvious that our esteemed colleagues at NYDN and those duly elected to office in the great city of New York are familiar with the concept of "fiction", and may or may not be aware of such precedents as books, feature films, and the ever-popular radio dramas of old. The three writers who penned the story for NYDN decided to include their own bit of fiction:
"In previous incarnations, players advanced through the game by killing cops, selling pornography to children and killing prostitutes."
Never mind the fact that there are no children in Grand Theft Auto titles to begin with to sell any pornography to...the story must be told! I imagine that the writers would claim artistic license if confronted, if only for irony's sake. Not content to let the press shoulder the responsibility of making silly public statements regarding the game, Peter Vallone---City Councilman for the city---said,
"Setting Grand Theft Auto in the safest big city in America would be like setting Halo in Disneyland."
While New York has been given the title of "Safest Big City", I believe that the crime rate is still slightly higher than that of Walt's family paradise. Setting GTA in New York is more like setting Crash Bandicoot in Disneyland, or setting Halo in the world of Invader Zim. And setting Halo in Disneyland would be more akin to setting GTA in a Cub Scout soap box derby---neither of which is happening (yet!). It's apparent that Vallone was not elected to his position as chairman of the Council’s Public Safety Committee solely on his ability to make accurate analogies.

Regardless of the setting or any fabrications designed by a sensationalist newspaper journalist, the fact remains that this is a work of fiction depicting fictional crime in an American city. Once again, the real problem is not the content, but rather the sociopolitical stigma associated with video games. Many films and other works have been based off of or involved crime and/or violence in major American cities, including New York City itself. Off the top of my head: the Godfather trilogy, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, American Psycho, Die Hard, Escape from New York, Shaft, Deuces Wild, King of New York...the list goes on. Fictional violence and crime in New York is not a new thing. "Liberty City" has been part of the Grand Theft Auto franchise for awhile now, but only recently has there been such an uproar over the game's supposed reflection on the Big Apple. As Flynn de Marco has said on the matter, if GTA IV were a movie and the city was being paid accordingly, you'd have not heard a peep from those that are up in arms today.

But Take-Two isn't just facing opposition from New Yorkers. In Denver, Colorado, the company lost the right to advertise for GTA on buses (Denver is one of a handful of cities citing this new policy), but has won the right to advertise on the train system. How? The Regional Transportation District initially refused to green-light the ads, but upon pressure from Take-Two (who argued that refusing to allow the ads infringed on their First Amendment rights), decided to pocket the money and put up the advertisements. Rocky Mountain News criticized the RTD for their decision, stating that the First Amendment is irrelevant in regards to advertising contracts. Brian Crecente (pictured), editor of Kotaku and formerly also a columnist for the Rocky Mountain News (he left RMN for reasons unrelated to this article; March 31 of this year was his last day with the newspaper), wonders why RMN didn't mention anything to him while they were writing their editorial, seeing as he was still working there as their gaming news columnist. It's not that he's slighted---it's that they're "deliberately missing the point of this story". Crecente had the opportunity to talk to Gavin McKiernan, the National Grassroots Director for the Parents Television Council, about the general issue. McKiernan stated that while they were concerned with the content of the games being advertised,
"The bigger concern is with the medium."
Essentially, video games are somehow inherently more harmful to the consumers than television or movies, which is the reason his group is not actively pursuing any restrictions on advertisements for, say, R-rated movies.

I suppose that means that Take-Two should start writing a screenplay. That's a movie ticket I wouldn't mind paying full price for, considering.

- Glock

Additional sources one and two.