Take-Two takes over Civilization

Last year's mystery buyer of the popular strategy sim series is revealed as the publisher announces "a long-term, multi-title publishing agreement" with Firaxis Games.

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It's been a busy week for Take-Two interactive. Monday it acquired exclusive third-party rights to Major League Baseball and bought Sega's Visual Concepts studio, maker of the ESPN 2K sports games. Tuesday it announced it was folding Visual Concepts, its recently purchased Indie Built sports studio, and most developers currently under its Global Star division into a new subbrand, 2K Games.

Today, Take-Two revealed it will take over one of the most successful and acclaimed PC franchises in game history. In a statement released this morning, the publisher announced it has acquired "certain rights" to the Civilization series, formerly published by Atari. Take-Two will publish the next installment in the series, Civilization IV for PCs, in late 2005 under its 2K Games label. Take-Two will also publish all expansions for the game and will assume distribution duties for all previous Civilization games.

Although the deal came as a surprise to most, it was not totally unexpected. As part of its earnings report last fall, Atari parent Infogrames revealed it had sold the rights to Civilization to an unnamed buyer. "After the close of the first half on September 30, 2004, [Infogrames] sold the rights to its Civilization franchise for $22.3 million, generating a onetime gain of 15.5 million euros," read the report.

While impressive, the Civilization deal is just part of a larger agreement Take-Two struck with its developer Firaxis Games. Though the two companies would not reveal their pact's exact terms, they did say it was "a long-term, multi-title publishing agreement" and made specific mention of several popular Firaxis games, including Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, SimGolf, Gettysburg, Civilization III, and Sid Meier's Pirates!. The release also mentioned "additional PC and console games" to be named at a later date.

Having sold more than 5 million copies since it was first released more than 15 years ago, the Civilization series has consistently won plaudits from critics. Its innovative combination of civilization building, technological advancement, military conflict, and nuanced strategy has influenced many other turn-based and real-time strategy titles. When it ships later this year, Civilization IV will boast 3D graphics and all-new single- and multiplayer content. It will also let gamers create their own add-ons using the Python and XML scripting languages.

Analysts were quick to give their blessings to the new Take-Two-Firaxis union. "We view this news as positive for Take-Two, as it appears that the company is continuing its strategy to diversify its product portfolio," said Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan Securities. "We believe that [Civilization] is a high-quality franchise that can help them achieve that…[and] estimate that the next version will sell about 500,000 units in the US per year and another 1 to 1.5 million [units] internationally."

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