By Joseph Leray

wrasslin

Take-Two Interactive, the parent company 2K Games, 2K Sports, and Rockstar Games, has agreed to publish future WWE-licensed wrestling games.

World Wrestling Entertainment-based games were previously licensed to THQ before the company went bankrupt at the end of last year. The 2K deal confirms previous rumors that Take-Two was interested in the property.
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Forget for a second that Rockstar Games released the almost-AO-rated game "Manhunt 2" on the Wii last year. (It didn't sell well anyway).

Rockstar owner Take Two hasn't really put much of its edgy content on the Wii. The 2007 and 2008 hits "BioShock" and "Grand Theft Auto IV," for example, both came out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 -- but not the Wii.

Never fear, Wii owners. Take Two's CEO said during a financial earnings call today that he now wants to make sure that all the company'slabels -- Rockstar included, it seems -- figure out how to back the Wii. Read More...

People are never satisfied. They always want to know what's next. Even analysts.

On a financial call disclosing Take-Two Interactive's fiscal year results, an analyst asked about what's further in the future for the publisher, including "Grand Theft Auto" showing up in 2010.

"[As for] GTA in 2010 -- it's just way too early to talk about [with it still] at full price at retail," said Take-Two CEO Ben Feder in response. "We're not saying no, it's just way to early to be talking 2010, especially 'GTA' in 2010."

Does anyone expect a new "GTA" in 2010?

The minds behind the "Grand Theft Auto" series aren't leaving Take-Two Interactive anytime soon.

The publisher announced renegotiated contracts with Sam Houser, Dan Houser and Leslie Benzies and "several other key members of the creative team behind the renowned Grand Theft Auto series" that will not expire until January 31, 2012.

In addition to keeping talent, Take-Two added new financial incentives for the "GTA" label with a new incentive compensation program for Rockstar Games mostly based on a profit sharing arrangement.

Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter has been speculating a bidding war would erupt within the industry over a new home for the House brothers, but Take-Two has successfully avoided that happening with today's news.

"The talent and creativity at Rockstar are unparalleled in our industry," said Take-Two chairman Strauss Zelnick in the press release. "Their dedication to making extraordinary games has captured the enthusiasm of millions of fans around the world and has contributed enormously to establishing Take-Two as a force in the global video game marketplace and advancing our goal to become the most creative and most innovative company in the industry."

For the time being, the Houser brothers remain at Take-Two. If they had left, however, where would you have liked to see them end up?

UPDATE: But are some people at Rockstar also getting a taste of independence? The press release mentions this intriguing other bit of news: "In addition, Take-Two has agreed to fund the future development of certain new intellectual property to be owned by a newly formed company controlled by key Rockstar Games team members and published exclusively by Take-Two."

Take a look at the first screenshots of the first expansion to "Grand Theft Auto IV."

USA Today reported last night that the first episode of "GTA IV" DLC, exclusive to the Xbox 360, is called "The Lost and Damned," and slated for release on February 17, 2009.

The article also said that the episode stars a new character named Johnny Klebitz, who's a member of Liberty City biker gang The Lost.

Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games confirmed these details in a press release, saying that further details will be announced soon. It is the first of two announced episodes, and it will feature a storyline that intersects with the original game, additional music and new missions, multiplayer modes, weapons and vehicles.

We've asked Rockstar about the price and the size of the download and will update you when we hear back.

[Update: Rockstar declined to comment further about the DLC at this time.]

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Don't expect Take-Two Interactive to throw their hat into music games just yet.

During a Q&A session at the end of Take-Two's second quarter financial results conference call, an analyst asked if Take-Two was considering entering the genre.

"Possibly," said Take-Two chairman Strauss Zelnick. "There's nothing that we've disclosed on the release schedule right now. Is it a music genre? Is it a rhythm genre? It all remains to be seen how that genre holds up over time, and that's terribly important when you invest in AAA properties that you expect people to play for over 20 hours."

Zelnick said Take-Two's thoughts on moving into the music game genre were better suited for a conversation over coffee, instead of nailing down any specifics.

The publisher has been very aggressive with music initiatives related to "Grand Theft Auto", but has little experience in the genre itself.

However, Take-Two is scheduled to release "Beaterator," a music mixing game collaboration with artist Timbaland, sometime in 2009.

bigdaddy.jpgToday in a conference call held by the Take-Two Interactive to discuss financial results for the first quarter of fiscal 2008, the company revealed that "BioShock 2" will be released in 2009, courtesy of a team that's not quite the one that made the first "BioShock."

Ken Levine, lead creator of the original will have a hand in 2009's "BioShock 2." Primary development of the game, however, won't be done by Levine's team at 2K Boston, but by the newly formed 2K Marin.

"Ken is a terrific asset in the company," CEO Ben Feder stated. "He's a brilliant game developer. We're really excited to have him. He will be working on 'BioShock 2' and he will be working on a new IP. A lot of the work will be done at 2K Marin, but that's not to say that Ken is not involved. We think he's critical to 'BioShock' and he's critical to new IP in the company."

On 2K Boston and 2K Australia, the studios behind the first game: "They're working on another game."

Other news from Take-Two's earnings call, including bits about Rockstar and the EA buy-out attempt follow...

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Grand Theft Auto 2The past few days have not been the relaxing post-GDC weekend hoped for by the Multiplayer crew. Thanks, Electronic Arts!

The blogosphere has been digging deep into EA's public attempt to purchase Take-Two Interactive, but while most of the world is wondering "what's next?," Multiplayer figured it was worth a trip into the past, too.

How did a company responsible for some of our industry's most influential and controversial video games become a source of financial instability and a revolving door of managerial problems?

Take-Two emerged in 1994 with FMV-heavy adventure game "Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller" (a project we're sure Dennis Hopper was quick to forget) and 3D space combat title "Star Crusader." Both actually appeared on the ill-conceived 3DO platform.

Their first notable move -- in retrospect, at least -- came during the release of 1996's "Grand Theft Auto" from then-DMA Design (who they eventually purchased in 1998, when picking up BMG Entertainment's games division). Knowing how big the series would eventually become, the box art's description of the game is especially funny:

"Grand Theft Auto -- Murder, road rage, pimping, bank raids, hijacking, armed robbery, extortion, adultery, smuggling, petty thievery, drug busts, police bribes, unlawful carnal knowledge and double parking!"

I wonder if they'll bring back pimping in "Grand Theft Auto IV"?

While Take-Two is best known for "GTA" these days, that hasn't always been the case. Read on for more about how Take-Two became the Take-Two of today, and a look at the strangely simultaneous rise of "GTA" and corruption within the publisher's upper echelons.

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In a conference call to further detail plans to purchase Take-Two Interactive, EA CEO John Riccitiello offered some insight about his plans for the combined company, if the deal went through.

First of note for gamers is that Riccitiello said "I wouldn't change a line of code in 'BioShock' nor would I in 'GTA' or 'Max Payne'... what we would do is sell more of it." He said EA's distribution network could get those games in places Take-Two doesn't reach.

He also said the purchase was enticing for EA because his current company is "underrepresented in M-rated content." Getting the creators of "GTA," he noted, would suddenly give EA the top M-rated content in the world.

Riccitiello also name-checked Sid Meier of Firaxis and Greg Thomas of 2K Sports studio Visual Concepts and as valued members of Take-Two. Regarding the potential combination of EA and Take-Two's sports business, Riccitiello said that he thought highly of Thomas but that "in terms of the sports business, from any sort of organizational perspective, we think it is way too early to comment." He also shot down the idea that the purchase would leave EA without competition in sports, naming "Wii Sports" and "Hot Shots Golf" among the company's apparent rivals.

The lion's share of Riccitiello's praise during the call was for the top men at Rockstar Games, whose distinct publishing labels were cited as an inspiration for EA's current structural division. Financial analysts on the call tried to get Riccitiello to address their feelings that it would be expensive to bring Rockstar Games' management into the EA fold, but the EA CEO said the conference call wasn't the proper forum to discuss how EA could pull that off.

Riccitiello did reveal that EA's interest in Take-Two goes back quite a bit. He said that his first inquiry into Take-Two began last summer and noted that he put the brakes on an attempt by EA to buy Take-Two when he took his CEO spot at EA last April. "At the 11th hour I recommend the board not to pursue it," he said. He felt his own company needed to shift its own structure into its current four-division set-up before taking on Take-Two.

Riccitiello and CFO Warren Jenson also stated on the call that they were surprised at Take-Two's rejection of EA's offer. "It is our objective to make this a friendly deal," Jenson said. They said they expected someone to buy Take-Two, whether it's EA or not.

(On a side note, tomorrow will mark one year since Riccitiello was announced as the next CEO of EA, though he didn't assume the position until April. The executive has written quite a first year for himself at the publishing giant. )

ea_logos.jpgEarlier today, Electronic Arts revealed that the company is actively seeking to purchase Take-Two Interactive.

EA has also put up a website answering some of our questions about what it would do with Take-Two; we also got Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter to comment on what he thinks is an inevitable purchase.

Clearly, this possible merger concerns gamers. EA has been criticized for buying small development studios with successful IPs, only to have them produce second-rate titles following the acquisitions. The company has also been known to close down acquired studios if their titles don't sell well.

In fact, at the DICE Summit held in early February, we reported that EA CEO John Riccitiello admitted that EA "blew it" when it came to keeping top-notch studios such as Origin, Bullfrog and Westwood prosperous; all three studios are now defunct.

With that in mind, we decided to put together an overview of EA's previous development studio purchases:

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