In spite of having confirmed himself to be uninterested in video games as a hobby or pastime, Strauss Zelnick is pretty vocal about the state of the industry. As one of the more outspoken publisher leads, the CEO of Take-Two Interactive Software (publisher of GTA 5) Zelnick has often shares his insights on gaming, much more so than other ranking executives.
Be it related directly to Rockstar Games, 2K and the future of their franchises to general industry topics such as the proliferation of VR, Zelnick has touched upon many topics at conferences and in investor calls which are later publicized. He was the one who confirmed that Take-Two will take E3 by the storm and also alluded to Rockstar working on a new project.
The unfortunate delay of an official announcement didn’t put a lock on his lips, though. Ever since a number of AAA publishers began to publicly back VR with their own titles, many fans were questioning if Take-Two planned on carving out their own little plot of land in the all new country of VR with a Rockstar title.
Zelnick’s comments on VR questioned the true mainstream appeal of the new medium, citing the high price, large space requirements as well as unrefined mechanics (such as most games using teleportation instead of traditional movement). Due to these concerns, he said that Take-Two will keep away from VR until it is better established.
In his most recent comments, Zelnick visited the subject of the medium’s maturity and a return to the risky days of old. Some leaps of faith turn out well, while others manage to sink entire companies. This indicates a change in the mentality of publishers and developers alike.
That’s the nature of a mature entertainment business. The really good people do really, really well and then have the assets to invest to do really well again.
While most gamers have considered the industry to be mature for a long time now, the wider non-gamer opinion on gaming has been that the medium is a juvenile one. While this has pretty much been an unfair stereotype stuck on the industry, it was the commonly held belief for a long time.
While in some demographics, this erroneous view is still prevalent, as the leading entertainment industry in terms of revenue, gaming has risen in the mainstream view as a legitimate and mature industry. This might also be linked to the diversification of products, which is related to Zelnick’s comment regarding risks.
And those who don’t do well… they stumble and then they don’t have the resources to take the big risks again and then they’re not even in the game – that’s what happened with THQ, that’s what happened with Midway
For much of the past decade, AAA publishers tended to take the easy route out. Focus groups became the main and only venue for market research and the big successes were being aped left and right.
However, in the past few years, more and more divergent or original projects have turned up. The gritty brown modern military shooter standard has been replaced with a more diverse lineup of games coming from the AAA sector. This was probably influenced by the boom in the Indie industry where much of the creativity was pooled for years.
Zelnick also moved on to consider whether or not any of Take-Two’s developers could succumb to bankruptcy. Rockstar Games and 2K are the highest-profile developers under the Take-Two umbrella. Both are developers of highly successful franchises with plenty of prestige, however the two examples cited by Zelnick, Midway and THQ, were also in similar positions.
Will it happen with anyone in our current lineup? I don’t know, we have a pretty well capitalized group of competitors who make pretty good products but it could happen
He also brought up a counterpoint to his own argument. In spite of the general rule of thumb, there has been one legendary publisher and developer active in the gaming industry which is both taking risks and sticking to successful forms at the same time. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail, but they always innovate: Nintendo.
We’re believers. We never want to count Nintendo out. They do it over and over and over again. So we feel pretty enthusiastic actually
Nintendo has a pretty permanent and really strong lineup of games to its name – things like Mario, Pokémon, Zelda, Metroid and so on – with considerable brand recognition. New installments to these franchises are released every few years, with many of the same core gameplay elements.
However, Nintendo does change the formula sometimes, especially when it comes to hardware, though not always to success. The Nintendo Wii U sold way less than projected estimates, for example, however the company is moving forward with the development of the NX.
Zelnick’s comment about Nintendo “doing it over and over again” was actually aimed at Pokémon Go this time around. Granted, Nintendo only had a small part in the production of the AR game, but their stock value was doubled upon release nonetheless.
While Take-Two isn’t a publisher known to ape popular projects, based on Zelnick’s comment about opening up to VR if it is successful suggests he is ready to draw on the industry for inspiration. That said, don’t expect “GTA Go” to be a thing anytime soon (besides “GTA VR” is much more catchy!).
How do you feel Zelnick’s comments relate to the reality of the games industry?
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