The next few days could be very interesting for Take-Two Interactive as shareholders elect three representatives of investor Carl Icahn to the company's board of directors, which could herald some major changes to the way the company makes games.
Icahn, well known for attempting to impose his will on the companies he invests in, became Take-Two's second-largest shareholder in December 2009 and quickly moved to consolidate his position. In exchange for agreeing to vote for the company's nominated board of directors at the 2010 shareholder meeting, three current members agreed not to stand for re-election so that Icahn's people, including his son Brett, could take their place.
That meeting is now just two days away and so, quite possibly, are big changes for Take-Two. The company has a problem: It only earns a profit in years when a new Grand Theft Auto is released. During the 2008 fiscal year, which saw the release of Grand Theft Auto IV, the publisher had a net income of $97 million on revenues of $1.54 billion; the following year, it lost $138 million on sales of $969 million and another loss, albeit it small, is expected this year.
"We have a worldwide distribution and publishing footprint, and in a GTA year that cost basis is fine, but in a non-GTA year it's too high," Chairman Strauss Zelnick said in an interview with the L.A. Times. "We need to get bigger."
It needs to get faster, too. Take-Two is famous for building quality games and franchises, and for taking its sweet time in doing so. "We can make quality video games and release them in a somewhat more orderly fashion than we have done historically," he continued. "We'll stop short of a strictly annual schedule, however, because I think that is the enemy of pushing the envelope creatively."
This is where Icahn becomes a factor. Hardcore gamers are looking forward to the upcoming Red Dead Redemption and L.A. Noire but while they may be excellent, their development times far exceeded that of "typical" games, leading analysts to predict that they will never be profitable. Likewise, Take-Two itself cannot be profitable until it shortens those development cycles.
Will Icahn's people settle for a "somewhat more orderly fashion," or will they push hard for a more rigid (and successful) annual release schedule akin to that of industry rival Activision? Take-Two's boardroom has seen more than its share of drama in recent years and for better or worse, it doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon.