When Sega entered into an agreement with Take-Two Interactive to copublish its line of ESPN sports games last year, many industry watchers suspected the publisher was planning to sell off its internal sports studio, Visual Concepts. Those suspicions were confirmed just before Christmas when it was revealed that part of the codistribution deal allowed Take-Two to buy Visual Concepts, should it choose to do so.
Today, it appears the publisher has chosen to do just that. Following this morning's announcement that Take-Two had secured exclusive third-party publishing rights from the Major League Baseball Players' Association, Sega confirmed to GameSpot that it is selling Visual Concepts to Take-Two.
According to sources, Sega parted with the critically esteemed developer of ESPN NFL 2K5 and ESPN NBA 2K5 for just $24 million. That very low-sounding price is likely due to Electronic Arts' impending monopoly of NFL game rights and its 15-year exclusivity deal with ESPN, whose high-profile brand name will no longer give Visual Concepts' games instant recognition.
Though the exact terms of the deal were not disclosed, Take-Two will become the sole owner of Visual Concepts. It will also own VC's Kush Games subsidiary, which developed ESPN NHL 2K5 and ESPN Major League Baseball 2K5. Presumably, the studio will also create Take-Two's upcoming pro baseball game.
"The ESPN Videogames line has not been a key profit driver in the North American market for Sega," Naoya Tsurumi, CEO of Sega of America, said in a statement. "While Sega recognizes the strength and depth of the ESPN Videogames franchise, we must remain committed to growing content that will help boost revenues across all western territories."
In addition to news of the sale of Visual Concepts is the disclosure of a new agreement between Sega and Take-Two. The companies said Sega will distribute "select Take-Two published software titles in the Asian region including Japan," as well as bring sports titles developed by Visual Concepts "to amusement machines produced and distributed by Sega Amusements" in Asia. Certainly, an interesting twist to the news of the Visual Concepts sell-off.
GameSpot will have more information on this story as it becomes available.