Take-Two taking over Visual Concepts?

Publisher's financial statement reveals it has the "right to acquire" the Sega-owned maker of ESPN Videogames; Amped studio deal outlined in detail.

When Take-Two Interactive announced it would copublish Sega's line of ESPN Videogames in June, many wondered how committed to sports games the Grand Theft Auto publisher really was. When the company lowered the prices of all ESPN titles to $19.99, analysts realized the company was deadly serious about challenging Electronic Arts' hold over the athletic genre. Apparently EA thought so as well, responding with a price drop of its own before acquiring exclusive rights to NFL teams and player likenesses earlier this month.

However, it was only this week that Take-Two fully revealed how committed it is to becoming a force in sports games. Late yesterday, the company released its annual report for the financial year ending October 31, 2004, during which it saw net sales of $1.13 billion and a net income of just $65.4 million. The report also outlined a previously unknown part of Take-Two's deal with Sega--a part which paves the way for Take-Two's purchase of Visual Concepts, the studio behind the ESPN Videogames, and its subsidiary Kush Games.

"Pursuant to an option agreement with SEGA, we have the right to purchase all of the outstanding capital stock of Visual Concepts and Kush," read the company's report. "The option is exercisable until the earlier of (1) March 31, 2006 or (2) the termination of our distribution agreement with SEGA. We are currently negotiating the option price, and we are continuing to evaluate potential opportunities in the market for sports titles." Were the deal to go through, Take-Two would own the rights to the ESPN Major League Baseball 2K, ESPN NBA 2K, ESPN NHL 2K, and ESPN College Hoops series. It would also own the rights to ESPN's next professional football game, which, due to EA's exclusive deal, won't be able to feature any assets from the NFL.

Take-Two's report also filled in the details of its recent purchase of Utah-based studio Indie Built from Microsoft. "In October 2004, we acquired certain assets from Microsoft, including Indie, the developer of the successful Top Spin (tennis), Amped and Amped 2 (snowboarding) and Links (golf) sports games, and the intellectual property rights associated with these products," it read. While the purchase was already known of, the price Take-Two paid--a surprisingly low $18.5 million in cash--was not.

Another sports-related revelation in the report was that Take-Two has acquired British developer Venom, creator of Rocky: Legends. The publisher quietly bought the studio, which was founded by former Rare staffers, in September for just under $1.3 million in cash. The Venom purchase means that Take-Two will directly publish golf, tennis, snowboarding, and boxing titles and copublish football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and college basketball franchises--evidence that it considers the sports genre fair game.

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