Take-Two CEO Ben Feder is not a gamer, unless you're talking Carnival Games. He and Board chairman Strauss Zelnick were brought in as turnaround experts during some very low times at Take-Two. The <a href="
">SEC was investigating, the company wasn't profitable, and many people were wondering if it could weather the storms.
Now, it's a different story — Grand Theft Auto IV and BioShock are some of the highest-rated titles on Metacritic, and Take-Two is the number three publisher in the industry. The turnaround strategy seems to be working.
Feder credits the success to focus on the part of the publisher's creative studio teams. "They had their heads down, not focused on what was going on outside of what they were doing," Feder said. One of those outside things is an ongoing and aggressive acquisition bid by Electronic Arts, which Feder declined to discuss.
He was happy to discuss GTA IV's unprecedented debut. Since he's a business kind of guy, I asked him how much he deals with the Rockstar team:
"I deal with them all the time," he said. 'We are really proud of [Rockstar's] performance, and they're proud of GTA IV. it's been an unmitigated success, not just from a financial standpoint but from a creative standpoint... it's stunning success on any metric."
Feder said Take-Two prioritizes giving its studios creative freedom - what's his strategy for nurturing that creativity in the publisher's studios? "We need to protect our creative folks," he said. "We need to make sure that the outside world doesn't interfere with their creative process. We then need to provide the resources, and finally, we cant get in their way... [by] putting something in a box whether it's ready or not."
"We serve no wine before its time. We respect their work and their creativity, and that's not a strategy that everybody takes in this business."
Letting that wine take its time often means delays, however. "Title slippage is the bane of this business," said Feder. "We may have gotten lucky in the past, but titles slip."
Does that mean we can expect delays, then, with titles we're expecting? "We're on track," said Feder. "We try to operate with financial discipline and operational discipline. First and foremost, we need to delight and amaze our customers."
Since Feder mentioned "protecting" the creative talent, we asked about the ways that GTA IV has been strung up as a social whipping boy in the past for the so-called horrors of violent video games. Does Feder feel Take-Two's done a good job of standing up for Rockstar's work?
"I think we defend our work all the time," he said. "First and foremost we need to start with the notion that an M-rated game is not for kids... don't call it a game then, call it interactive entertainment, but it's not for children."
"But one of the great things about GTA IV iis that the parameters of the debate have completely shifted. It's not about any of the controversy... because the initial reviews were, it is an artistic tour de force, a technological tour de force, a success on every stretch of the imagination, it stretches the definition of an interactive experience. That was the bookend by which all discussion began, so any controversy that came out had to combat all that positive momentum."
So is Take-Two finally winning the PR war? "I don't think of it that way," he said. "I think it was just a hugely impactful and culturally important product."