On Sep. 17, Grand Theft Auto 5 launched for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles. In the first 24 hours of its release, the game sold 11.2 million units, generating $815.7 million in revenue.
By Sep. 20, the game topped the $1 billion mark in sales, setting seven world records along the way, according to Guinness World Records. Not only did GTA 5 grab the title as the best-selling video game in 24 hours, but it topped other categories as well, including the fastest video game to gross $1 billion and highest revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours.
Rockstar Games, which developed and released GTA 5, is owned by Take-Two Interactive (NASDAQ:TTWO), which rose from nearly $17 a share to $19 a share in the days following the release of the game. It has since fallen back into the $16-$17 range, however. Will the company's new hit be enough to fend off the likes of Electric Arts (NASDAQ:EA), and Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI)? Let's find out.
A shift in the video game industry
Grand Theft Auto 5 has by all standards proven to be a major success for Take-Two. It also embodies the changes that have occurred over the past couple of years in the video game industry. The overall industry has fallen prey to cheaper games offered on smartphones and tablets, yet the "blockbuster" is thriving like never before.
The largest, most distinguished games have captured more and more of the overall market, as is evident from GTA 5's historic release. According to market researchers at NPD, the top 20 games in 2012 accounted for 41% of total US video games sales. This is nearly double from a decade earlier.
Take-Two's CEO explained the strategy his and other large companies in the space are executing. "At a time when people are bemoaning the fate of the interactive entertainment business, if you pursue a strategy of giving consumers the highest quality titles in the business, they will come out for what you have to sell." Edward Williams, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, labeled this approach that is being implemented by the largest developers as the "bigger, better, fewer" strategy.
Along with this blockbuster strategy comes large development costs, and potentially large losses. Evan Wilson of Pacific Crest Securities estimates the development costs on GTA 5 alone could have topped $100 million, with marketing tacking on an additional $50 million. He estimates the typical console game now breaks even at 4 million units sold at the traditional $60 price point, compared to 1 million units just a decade ago.
The companies at the forefront of this revolution
Three major video game developers control a good chunk of the video game industry and have utilized the "blockbuster" strategy the most effectively. These three are Take-Two Interactive, Electric Arts, and Activision Blizzard.
Take-Two Interactive's largest franchises are "Grand Theft Auto" and "Borderlands." Electronic Arts is well-known for its "Madden" and "FIFA" sports franchises, though it also controls the "Battlefield" series. The largest player in the industry in terms of annual revenue is Activision Blizzard, which commands the "Call of Duty" and "World of Warcraft" franchises.
Which of these companies presents the most intriguing investment opportunity? On a recent basis, Take-Two Interactive appears extremely attractive. The overall company itself is valued at $1.55 billion, and with Grand Theft Auto 5 expecting to produce more than $1 billion in sales, Take-Two appears cheap. The company's EPS is expected to jump $2.40 per share next year, compared to a negative figure this year. That would put the forward price to earnings ratio of the company somewhere in the 6-7 range.
Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard are much larger companies, with market caps at $7.46 billion and $19.11 billion, respectively. Both companies have displayed a great level of volatility in their top line over the past few years, however. From 2012 to 2013, sales are expected to drop 13.85% for Activision and 9.33% for Electronic Arts.
The Foolish bottom line
GTA 5's release was simply stunning, but it also reveals a growing reliance on the blockbuster in the video game industry. The three companies at the forefront of the industry have all utilized this strategy to delivering the best games to the market, but Take-Two is currently the only one that is compelling as an investment.
For investors in Electronic Arts, FIFA 14 sales are the next big thing to track. Activision Blizzard investors, on the other hand, are awaiting Call of Duty: Ghosts hitting shelves on Nov. 5.