Zelnick Interview @Mercury News
Dean Takahashi sits down with Take Two Interactive's new chairman post E3. No real GTA IV info, but he talks about GTA's importance for the company, his background with GTA/R*, Manhunt 2 being banned, AO titles and Wii's emerging casual gaming empire.
|Q: GTA IV. How carefully are you rolling out the impressions of that? I noted when I wrote about it, ĎHey, whereís all the shooting?íĒ|
A: Laughs. I think as we mentioned at the presentation, Rock Star has never actually done a public demo. Itís typically not something they do. They will do private demos. In fact they will be happy to do one for you. But in the public environment, they want to show off the look at the feel and not go into more depth. There is an element of a tease there.
Q: How do you look at this game as far as the importance for Take-Two goes?
A: Itís the largest franchise in the video game business. Itís terribly important to us. Of course. We have nine franchise that sell over 1 million units, including 2K Sports. We have Bioshock coming out for which we have high hopes. The Grand Theft Auto franchise is terribly important for the company.
Q: The expectations around this are so high. What sort of expectations do you want to set?
A: We said our strategy is to be the most creative, the most innovative, and the most efficient company in our industry. I donít think anybody in the company is uncomfortable with high creative expectations. What is terrific about this transition to next-generation for Take-Two is we are in the business of making games that explore the boundaries of the technology and what it can enable for consumers. One way to look at it is that is a high bar. But who better to surmount that bar than Rock Star. Consumer expectations are quite high.
Q: Since youíre talking to me for the first time, what made you decide to get back, or get into the leadership of Take-Two?
A: Back isnít necessarily a slip of the tongue because of all the old connections. This is my third foray into the video game business. The Grand Theft Auto franchise began as part of the BMG Interactiveís portfolio which was ultimately sold to Take-Two. People like Kristoff Hartman and Dan Hauser all worked for BMG. There is an element of coming home. To answer the question specifically, there clearly was an opportunity driven by the issues the company faced on the corporate side. We have a luxury of being in the video game business at a time when everyone knows what the next gen platforms are. Take-Two already had licensing agreements and a publishing program. I think the timing is pretty good and all analysts are pointing to 15 percent to 20 percent annual growth for the industry for the next few years. Having the wind at the back is always a nice thing.
|Q: What lessons do you draw out of the Manhunt 2 experience?|
A: Iím not sure. Perhaps. I donít know that there are lessons there. Itís a concern that we think a different standard may be applied to interactive entertainment than to linear entertainment. Manhunt 2 is set squarely in the horror genre for people over 17. Itís horrifying. We think it is no more graphic than the first Manhunt. Perhaps the only lesson is that oneís expectations arenít always borne out in these situations.
Q: Politically, you can view it as a step backward, as opposed to video games always moving forward.
A: Politically how?
Q: Similar to what you were saying, as video games grow bigger and bigger, you would think that a diversity results and people would embrace games for adults.
A: I think it creates an opportunity for us as an industry to reinforce the point that there are video games intended for adults and they should be labeled and marketed accordingly. We are utterly comfortable with that. From our point of view, we would have no trouble at all for a concept of an M-rating being for 18 and above instead of 17 and above. That would not trouble us if that gave people more comfort. We are not making these games for kids. These games are not intended to be sold to children. I have a strong philosophy about interactive entertainment having spent my whole career in entertainment. We are not just in the business of making entertainment. We are in the business of making art. I play every game that we make before it goes out. If I donít feel that it meets the standard of art and entertainment, I am hard pressed to be comfortable with it. If I do feel it meets that standard, I am comfortable with it. We are also in the business of making money. We invest a lot of money in these games and itís terribly important for us that we are able to bring them to market. We do need to have an appropriate rating system that tells parents whatís in the box. We also do need here in America to be able to bring our art to consumers if that is indeed the American way.
Q: One of the flaws here seems to be that even if you have the adults only rating, there is no way to bring the game out under that rating? It seems there ought to be a way to get that to a large market.
A: We think that too. If you canít, then the rating becomes irrelevant. That isnít good for the ratings association. It obviously makes it difficult for them. It makes it difficult for people to make video games. Iím not sure it is good for consumers either. The AO rating was not intended when it was developed to mean a non-rating. That wasnít the point. If you canít market it because you arenít allowed by the licensors or the retailers wonít carry it, then the rating doesnít have any meaning. Clearly one has to discuss what its purpose is.
Q: Is there an effect where you might self-censor yourselves and that this is a line being drawn. You should step back from it if you want commercial successes?
A: We really didnít think we were crossing the line. Iím the person that has to stand behind a product and say it passes our internal standards. I wouldnít say censorship. But we do have high standards for what we will do. We have to see it as art and entertaining and appropriate for the audience to whom it is being marketed. We do feel that way. Not everyone has to agree. But we feel that way and I stand behind those views. We take our social responsibility very very seriously indeed. There are plenty of lines we wonít cross. I donít watch. I would never be comfortable having anyone outside the company telling us we canít cross the line. I am very comfortable inside the company saying look, ďWe donít want to do this.Ē We have these discussions all the time. The creative people at Take-Two and both labels are incredibly focused on being responsible and also being creative. We have these conversations very cooperatively. No one was trying to make a point here with Manhunt 2 other than creating an incredibly entertaining interactive entertainment experience in the horror genre.
|Q: Were there some trends you noticed at E3 if you look at the games collectively?|
A: You wrote about the casual games market exploding driven by the Wii and its controllers and the good stuff Nintendo showed at E3. Itís a force to be reckoned with. We are releasing titles for the Wii. We are preaching to the converted. What one hopes to see at E3 is what I said earlier. This market is growing and becoming broader. Itís broader than many people give it credit for. E3 reflected that more than predicted that. Thatís a good thing. What does that mean for the interactive entertainment market? Well I think certain family oriented games will do fantastic. We are doing carnival games for the Wii. We feel great about that. We put out titles for the PSP and DS and continue to do so. At the same time, our strategy is to create engaging experiences and a significant number of our releases will be more oriented to the mature player. Very robust. Very deep. Very compelling game play. Like Bioshock or Manhunt 2.
Q: Can you do a triple A title for the Wii?
A: I think you can. Manhunt 2 is for the Wii.
Q: I guess so.
A: Nintendo showed yes that this hardware is good for all kinds of different uses throughout the family and that can include very edgy entertainment.
Q: I suppose if everybody started throttling back on titles for the PS 3 and making five Wii games with the same resources, a year or two from now we end up with a game glut?
A: I think it is a fair point. You havenít seen that happen much in the video game business because high quality games are hard to produce. It is sort of self selecting. Not to say there wonít be flops. A game glut. Given the cost of making games, itís hard for me to imagine. On the other hand, youíre right, entertainment businesses are highly competitive. When there is significant growth, people say wow and a lot of people dive in without knowing what makes a hit.
Q: Are there any new tidbits you can give me about GTA IV?