The Art of Giving at Take-Two

A video game maker announces a firm release date for an upcoming title and the stock rallies 11% higher on the news? Are you kidding me?

The company is Take-Two Interactive (Nasdaq: TTWO  ) . And no, I'm not kidding you. Then again, there's a good reason why Take-Two is flying. Even if a vague April release date has been floating around since last summer for the highly anticipated Grand Theft Auto IV, yesterday the developer set an April 29 date in cement.

Let's hope that it's quick-drying cement. The title has been delayed a few times already. Take-Two may have had recent success with BioShock and Manhunt 2, but this is the franchise at Take-Two.

The notoriously mean-spirited franchise has almost as many critics as it does fans. Take-Two is used to the controversy, whether it's advocating schoolyard violence in Bully or the roughing up of CEOs in State of Emergency. The relentless carjacking in the Grand Theft Auto games is almost tame by comparison.

Despite the controversy -- or perhaps as a direct result of it -- the games have been huge for Take-Two. The stakes are even greater now since Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) has committed to paying $50 million to Take-Two for a pair of episodic installments after Grand Theft Auto IV rolls out.

As the bad boy of video games, Take-Two is in a unique position. This isn't to say that the big boys like Activision (Nasdaq: ATVI  ) and Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS  ) don't occasionally let the virtual blood spill in a few of their games. Even the family-friendly THQ (Nasdaq: THQI  ) has no problem putting out the alien-zapping Destroy All Humans and over-the-top wrestling titles. Majesco (Nasdaq: COOL  ) will take a break from the E-rated Cooking Mama games to help distribute the occasionally ruthless Bloodrayne title.

However, Take-Two's street cred as a rule breaker -- willing to test the limits of the ratings board the way it did with Manhunt 2 last year and often with the Grand Theft Auto line -- is valuable. As the gaming audience broadens in scope, skewing to tack on older gamers who may be immune to the shock value of intense games but appreciative of Take-Two's uninhibited style, Take-Two stands to be a big winner.

April 29, 2008? It's a beginning in more ways than one.

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