Friday, July 25, 2008

Grand Theft... Vista?

My previous post addressed the possibility of another company bidding for Take Two (TTWO), a video game maker that currently has been offered to be bought out by Electronic Arts (ERTS).

Take Two's chairman said (in a press release) that multiple other parties were performing due diligence and TTWO was in early discussions with these potential suitors.

In my previous article, I threw out Viacom, as many pundits often cite them as wishing to become a player in the growing video game industry. However, I think that there's a more likely bidder.

I think that Microsoft is a likely bidder for TTWO. Microsoft already makes a video game platform (Xbox and Xbox 360) and also independently publishes video games. Years ago, they made a video game acquisition when they bought tiny Bungie studios, the company that developed the Halo series. Microsoft had already published the Halo games, but they decided to bring the production in-house to reap the benefits of vertical integration. I can't tell you how many dollars Microsoft has made, but Halo has now produced three best-selling games, and its exclusivity on the Xbox (it's also available on the PC, but no other console) has driven console sales too.

Besides Halo, Grand Theft Auto, TTWO's signature game, is the other dynasty of the video game universe. GTA IV, the most recent addition, released earlier this year, broke sales records that were set by Halo 3 last year.

Halo 3 generated sales of $170 million dollars during its first week last fall. (As previously discussed, virtually every component of creation, production, and distribution is internal, so much of this amount must fall straight to MSFT's bottom line). Compare that to a major blockbuster movie's debut weekend (the numbers are very similar), and the growing value of video games becomes clear.

However, that total, while impressive, is dwarfed by GTA IV's first week, as the game reported $500 million in sales.

For the mere cost of $2.5 billion (25% over ERTS's bid, or about $32/share), MSFT could absorb that massive revenue- and profit-generating game along with the rest of TTWO's portfolio. TTWO does make other games; BioShock was a surprise success this year, and its sports franchises, covering basketball, baseball, hockey, and tennis, are ranked highly and sell well.

Microsoft could become a serious player in the video game industry if they made a console and sold the two best selling games on the planet. Making GTA exclusive to the Xbox (like Halo is) would be a terrible decision, but providing some incentive, like an earlier release date, could drive additional Xbox sales too.

Such a takeover would be so insignificant to MSFT as a whole; unlike an overpriced Yahoo takeover, buying TTWO at $2.5b would only use up about 10% of their cash, in a transaction that's only as big as 1% of their market cap. However, their growing video game department would certainly flourish, growing to a point where it could be spun off if MSFT deemed that most profitable.

Microsoft has the cash, the takeover desire, and the rationale for making such a purchase. The Grand Theft Auto franchise alone is worth more than this current takeover price (which is why many people think that ERTS submitted the bid before the game came out, so that they could cap the share price), and TTWO has many other promising games and franchises that MSFT could continue to build and polish.

I'm long ERTS and now own TTWO calls, so admittedly, I have an interest in a higher bid (especially from someone other than ERTS). But it is in no way ridiculous to conclude that TTWO could, and should, be bought for a price much higher than it's current share price (high $24) and offer price (~$25.75).

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