EA proposes Take-Two takeover

Megapublisher takes $2 billion offer for the Grand Theft Auto, BioShock, and 2K Sports owner to shareholders after Take-Two execs decline the deal.

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After last year's surprise announcement that Vivendi would be merging its games business (including World of Warcraft creator Blizzard Entertainment) with Activision in a staggering deal worth $18.9 billion, Electronic Arts' position as the world's largest third-party publisher was in jeopardy. It appears EA wants that distinction locked up for itself, as the publisher today proposed another industry-shaking deal: the acquisition of Take-Two Interactive for roughly $2 billion.

EA revealed that in a letter sent last Tuesday by EA chief executive officer John Riccitiello to Take-Two Interactive chairman Strauss Zelnick, Riccitiello offered the all-cash deal, which is a 64 percent premium over Take-Two's most recent closing stock value on the day of the offer. However, Take-Two's board of directors declined the offer, according to EA, which led directly to today's announcement.

"Our strong preference is to conduct a private negotiation," the letter stated. "If you are unwilling to proceed on that basis, however, we may pursue other means, including the public disclosure of this letter, to bring our offer and the compelling value it represents to the attention of Take-Two's shareholders."

Riccitiello was proposing a different message in November, when in a presentation at the Reuters Media Summit he suggested that acquisition opportunities in the gaming industry were drying up. That was just days before the announcement of the Activision-Vivendi union.

If the proposed Take-Two takeover were to go through, it would give EA control of some hotly contested industry territory. First and foremost, EA would have control of Rockstar Games and its controversial and lucrative Grand Theft Auto franchise, significantly beefing up its slim roster of hit games rated M for Mature. In addition to that, the sports gaming market would see tremendous consolidation, as EA Sports and Take-Two's 2K Sports label have directly competed in the football, hockey, baseball, and basketball markets over the years. They each have their own new boxing franchise in development as well, with 2K's Prizefighter answering the bell against EA's Facebreaker.

Shortly after EA went public with the proposed deal, Take-Two explained its reasons for declining the offer, saying the publisher had undervalued its array of franchises and creative talent, and that it wouldn't be prudent to enter discussions of an acquisition so close to the April 29 launch of Grand Theft Auto IV. However, Take-Two executives left room for a deal to happen, saying they would be interested in beginning talks with EA starting April 30.

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