With Grand Theft Auto V shattering entertainment industry sales records, the Houser Brothers and the team at Rockstar Games have once again justified the freedom and independence Take-Two affords them.
They've also got the gaming world wondering what they'll do next.
Few developers enjoy the privileges Rockstar does. Timelines are more flexible than at most studios. Getting a project greenlit is a cakewalk compared to most other studios. And its game budgets are the envy of the industry.
While there's almost certainly DLC in the works for GTA V, the bigger question is what Rockstar has in mind for its next big project. Here are a few possibilities:
New IP - Back in 2008, there was a lot of concern in the industry that the Housers and key talent would leave Take-Two. In December of that year, the publisher announced it had come to terms with the team to keep them in house. One of those terms was Take-Two would fund a new intellectual property "to be owned by a newly formed company controlled by key Rockstar Games team members".
Since then, no one has said or heard anything about the IP. Given Rockstar's notorious secrecy when it comes to development, that's not surprising. But don't think the developer has forgotten about that carrot. With its reputation higher than ever after GTA V, this could be the perfect time for Housers & Co. to bring out a new groundbreaking IP. As an additional bonus? New IPs tend to do best at the beginning of a console cycle.
Bully - Jimmy Hopkins has been off of gamer radars for seven years. And the issue of school violence might make this a subject that's too delicate to touch right now. But Rockstar has never been afraid of controversy - and this is a franchise that the team still loves.
Two years ago, I spoke with Dan Houser about the studio's philosophy of choosing which game to do next. Out of nowhere, Bully entered the conversation.
"We knew that we didn't want to start doing the Bully sequel instantly at that second with those guys - even though it is a property that, like Max [Payne], we adore and might come back to in the future, there was just no impetus to do that then. So we said 'you can do Max, and then we will see what we can do with Bully'. So it was really waiting for the slot to open up and the group to open up to at least start work on it."
Red Dead - When Rockstar announced plans to do a Western-themed game, even the faithful were skeptical. But Red Dead Redemption quickly made people forget the "Grand Theft Horse" jokes and crafted a nuanced action/adventure game that became a critical and commercial smash.
Rockstar San Diego has had three years to plan and start working on a sequel, but whether it has is another matter. While there's bound to be another Red Dead game down the road, it still feels a bit early (by Rockstar's historical timetable) to expect it in the next year.
Agent - First announced as a PlayStation exclusive in June 2009, Rockstar and Take-Two have been especially quiet about this stealth action game set in the Cold War ever since. In 2010, the publisher confirmed the game was still in development. This July, Take-Two renewed its trademark on the brand. But that's it.
It's possible Agent could have moved from the PS3 to PS4 - again, to take advantage of the openness for new IPs in the early days of a console. Heck, Agent might end up being the mystery IP Rockstar owns at this point. We likely won't hear anything about it until the ramp up to E3 2014 at the earliest, though.
Manhunt - Manhunt has its fans, but it has never been the sort of game that appeals to a larger audience like GTA or Red Dead. And it seems unlikely that Rockstar will return to it in the near future.
Rockstar North was the team behind it, though - and once GTA V's DLC is finished, they'll be looking for a new project. For that reason, if for no other, you can't rule it out completely.
Max Payne - Max Payne 3 was a sales disappointment. And Rockstar Vancouver, which made the game, has since been folded into Rockstar Toronto. But it's not the public reaction to the last game that makes a new Max Payne unlikely in the immediate future. It's the fact that the last game came out so recently.
"We like to take a little bit of time at the end of a game before starting a sequel, so we can wait for the excitement or disappointment and everything else of the experience to shake down and really see what we should do in the next game," said Houser in our discussion. "We have never really been annualizers. [Almost] every time we have worked in any kind of excessively quick time span, it hasn't been something we enjoyed or thought we were able to express ourselves properly or make it interesting. So that doesn't really concern us."