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Take-Two expecting "another record year for GTA Online"

Rockstar's multiplayer mode keeps growing four years after launch; publisher dismisses concerns of cannibalization from Red Dead Redemption 2

Even after a landmark year for Grand Theft Auto Online, the future looks even brighter. In an investor conference call today, Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick said the company is "expecting another record year for GTA Online" in 2018.

Zelnick credited developer Rockstar Games who "has driven sustained engagement through the ongoing release of a rich array of free new content." When asked during the question and answer portion of the call how to get more people to spend money on games post-release, Zelnick said Take-Two is "focused on captivation and engagement, and if we get that right, everything else will follow."

Grand Theft Auto V, the open-world adventure which includes GTA Online, sold 15 million units last year to bump its lifetime sales to over 90 million. It was the third best selling game of 2017 in terms of units and the sixth in terms of revenue. Zelnick touted GTA V as "the standard bearer" for the modern video game business.

"In other past iterations of the franchise, there were potentially a couple of other extraordinary titles that clustered around it competitively," Zelnick said, but that hasn't been the case with GTA V given its unit sales and the enduring success of GTA Online.

The overwhelming success of GTA V should make it easier for Take-Two investors to stomach the latest delay for Red Dead Redemption 2. "Rockstar Games felt more polish was required" was the reason Zelnick gave for pushing the game back a second time. While there are never guarantees about games and release dates in this industry, Zelnick added that he's "confident [October 26th] will be the release date."

As for what happens when Rockstar has both its biggest franchises on the market at the same time, Zelnick isn't concerned that Red Dead 2 could cannibalize GTA Online's numbers, or vice versa. "We think each title stands alone," he said. "An entertainment experience competes internally, it competes externally, and it competes with unrelated experiences because entertainment is a want-to-have activity, not a must-have activity... We think each title stands alone, Rockstar Games is continuing to support GTA Online and the results reflect that."

However, it's still not known what platforms Take-Two will support in the future. Although Take-Two president Karl Slatoff said he is "impressed with the growth" of the Switch, they are not ready to announce plans for Red Dead 2, GTA V, or any other game making its way to Nintendo's hybrid console.

Another question was raised about a still-secret sequel to a major property coming at some point during this fiscal year. Zelnick was coy when asked if it was related to Bioshock or Borderlands and wouldn't commit to a release date, either. The only hint is that it's not coming in July because Zelnick said that's the one month Take-Two usually avoids for frontline releases.

Slatoff also touted Take-Two's relationship with independent developers via its Private Division program, which it expects to make meaningful contributions to revenue and profits going forward. The acquired Kerbal Space Program is the first game to fall under the Private Division label, but upcoming projects include an unnamed RPG from Obsidian, a shooter from V1 Interactive, Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey from Assassin's Creed creator Patrice Desilets, and an RPG from former DICE developers code-named Project Wight.

Finally, executives were asked about a return to the gridiron. Take-Two produces yearly WWE wrestling games and, with WWE chairman Vince McMahon bringing back the XFL, there was a question about whether Take-Two could get back in the football business. Prior to its acquisition by Take-Two in 2005, developer Visual Concepts produced the NFL 2K series for Sega, the strongest competitor to EA's Madden NFL games. When EA acquired exclusive rights to the NFL, that series fell by the wayside. Take-Two produced 2007's All-Star Football 2K8 without the NFL license, but it did not sell well enough to justify further installments. Zelnick didn't dismiss the suggestion of a return outright, only saying "it remains to be seen" if Take-Two will get back on the football field.