How do you justify micro-transactions in a full-priced game? The trick, according to Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick, is simply to make a game that's so abysmally good people won't mind paying a little extra on top.
"Our primary goal is to delight consumers and create a great experience," he told investors in an earnings call this week. "As you know, GTA Online is a free to play experience and there [are] opportunities for recurrent consumer spending within the game, and no obligation of course."
GTA 5 has now sold 32.5 million units worldwide, rivalling annually released giants like FIFA and Call of Duty. "We have enjoyed an extraordinary economic result," reflected Zelnick. "But the starting point for that economic result is delighting consumers, giving them a fantastic experience. And that's our focus in GTA Online.
"And the reason that we offer an opportunity to spend money in the game is that's coordinated with a great experience. We are not making decisions in order to extract value, we are making decisions to delight consumers. And that includes creating value.
"Yes, we had some issues with the currency," he acknowledged, presumably in reference to Rockstar's war on "unfair" money hacks. "Those issues have been addressed and we are not really focused on whether the catch-up or anything of this sort. You know as long as people keep loving GTA Online it's going to be great for us.
Zelnick and co are "thrilled" by GTA Online's growth, which is "sort of novel for us around here" (Take Two is hardly known for its MMO-style services.) The publisher is "following metrics very carefully and we are growing our expertise every day".
"We made it plain that we prefer to expand resources after we see revenues not before," Zelnick noted. "It's protected us greatly. We are very disciplined. And that means we are learning as we go. But the watchword here is about delighting consumers and keeping them engaged, not about monetization. The monetization comes with the engagement."
Elsewhere in the call, Zelnick observed that GTA 5 has been little affected by the release of Xbox One and PS4 - there hasn't been a "fall off" in sales of the publisher's old gen games, he said.
Take-Two expects GTA Online to remain a big earner throughout this year, in what could be a hint at a forthcoming GTA 5 DLC announcement. "My own view is, I feel very, very optimistic about GTA Online and I think there is plenty more opportunity and we have made no bones about the fact that we have expectations for GTA Online in the fourth quarter, for example."
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