A determined effort to prioritize creating compelling content over an ambition to make money has allowed Grand Theft Auto V parent publisher Take-Two Interactive to thrive, according to CEO Strauss Zelnick. Speaking today as part of the Credit Suisse 2013 Annual Technology Conference, the executive said if you create content people love, they will flock to it and pay you for it.
"I have always been a believer in every entertainment business I've been in, that if you start by making consumers really, really happy, there's always an option to make money on that basis," Zelnick said. "Many of our competitors really do think first about monetization and second about what they supply; we think first about what we're supplying and second about monetization."
Zelnick previously served as president and CEO of music publisher BMG Entertainment. He has also worked in executive roles at Crystal Dynamics, 20th Century Fox, and Columbia Pictures.
In the case of Grand Theft Auto Online, which features microtransactions for the first time in the series, Zelnick said the extra items players can buy with real money are intended to "enhance" the experience and should not be seen as anything more.
"We've announced that we've sold-in over 29 million units of the title. I feel like we've gotten well paid for our efforts. Our focus with GTA Online is to delight consumers," Zelnick said. "The goods that we're selling in the game are intended to enhance the experience first and foremost; we are charging money for them, but the way we do business at Take-Two is first and foremost driven by this desire to delight consumers. That's why we have the highest Metacritic rating in the business for the past five years. And not just because we're altruistic and we love doing it. By the way, we really do love doing it; we're passionate about it."
Overall, Zelnick admitted that Take-Two has much to learn about microtransactions in online games and how best to support a digital economy at a massive scale.
"We're new to this business. Unlike some of our competitors, we are new to it and we're not afraid to be honest about that," Zelnick said. "We didn't build a massive infrastructure in advance of GTA Online. We had some glitches along the way as a result. As a result we kept the costs extraordinarily low as we explored this new marketplace."