You won't find too many exec interviews on Eurogamer - we usually leave that sort of thing to our friends over at GamesIndustry.biz. But we got the opportunity to speak to Ben Feder, CEO of Take-Two, at E3 this year. Seeing as he's a big deal, and his company publishes one of the most successful videogame franchises ever, we thought we'd give it a go. Read on to find out Feder's opinion of Jack Thompson, whether he thinks there's a line to be drawn with violence in games and what day GTA V is out. Maybe not the last one.
Eurogamer: Did you go to the E3 platform-holder conferences?
Ben Feder: Yes.
Eurogamer: Who won?
Ben Feder: Oh, I don't see it as a competition.
Eurogamer: But it sort of is. Everyone else thinks it is, really...
Ben Feder: Well, you can take their temperature if you like! I thought the presentation of the games was terrific. I thought there was some amazing content coming out of first-party and third-party. If I may say, Take-Two's got some amazing content coming up: BioShock 2, Mafia 2... Stunning games.
Eurogamer: There seems to be a renewed focus among the platform holders on exclusivity. What does that mean for third-party publishers?
Ben Feder: Exclusivity works on occasion - when you're launching a new franchise, for example, and you need to get support from first-party. It's one of the reasons we're partnering with Sony on the new Agent title. That helps us get the awareness up and helps us get users engaged. Obviously the trade-off is the installed base of the other platform providers. Sometimes that's a worthwhile trade-off to make.
Eurogamer: What about when it comes to more established franchises, as with the GTA IV DLC deal? Was that a deal you would repeat?
Ben Feder: It is; we're very pleased with the results. We've done a service for gamers by providing the content and we've also learned a little bit about what gamers want with respect to downloadable content. And we've learned how to extend the franchise beyond the initial release. We think episodic content is a viable business model for the long-term.
Eurogamer: Why haven't you released download numbers for The Lost and Damned?
Ben Feder: It's confidential to us and to Microsoft. We typically don't release those types of numbers. Microsoft did agree to say it was the largest download of any single title they've had in the first period in which it was available, so it's been a massive success for them.
At the same time, you do need to be an Xbox Live customer in order to download the game. That's one of the reasons we're releasing The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony on one single disc - to make that product available to all gamers who are interested in Grand Theft Auto episodes, not just Xbox Live Gold users.
Eurogamer: But it's still exclusive to Xbox 360?
Ben Feder: It will still be exclusive to Xbox 360.
Eurogamer: Sometimes there's a bit of confusion about what exclusivity actually means. Take the Fallout 3 DLC, which was announced as an Xbox 360 exclusive but is now coming to PS3. Could you ever see yourself going down that path with the GTA IV episodes?
Ben Feder: We don't really articulate the future of where these could go. When you talk about exclusivity, there's exclusivity forever, then there's something less than forever, and potentially that's what happened with Fallout 3.
Eurogamer: But no one's saying, "This is a lifelong exclusive," or, "This is a timed exclusive." Companies just say "exclusive" and then it seems that can mean different things. It all seems a bit made up.
Ben Feder: It's not made up; these are all relationship matters and contractual matters. When we talk about our relationships and our exclusivity for PS3 and Agent, for example, we don't disclose anything beyond what we've already said.
But we think it's important for us to be with Sony, and it's important for Sony, I think, to be with us. The game promises to be one of the best games available because of who's developing it, and because of the subject matter.
Eurogamer: Could we see GTA IV DLC on the PS3 in the future?
Ben Feder: We don't talk about that, unfortunately.
Eurogamer: Let's talk about Agent then. We were excited to hear about it at E3, but disappointed to have nothing more than a name to go on. Why did you decide to do that?
Ben Feder: I think it will be worth waiting for. When your readers - gamers generally - see what Agent is, what promise it has, I think it will be worth the wait.
Eurogamer: Have you played it?
Ben Feder: I have a confession to make: I'm not a hardcore gamer. But I've seen the game - obviously I review all the games. I think gamers will be blown away by it.
Eurogamer: Why go with Sony and make it a platform exclusive, instead of going for the largest installed-base possible??
Ben Feder: Because sometimes it's important when you're launching a new franchise to make sure you have the right support, so it really gets the user's attention and gets traction with gamers.
Eurogamer: How does Agent compare to the GTA series?
Ben Feder: It's a completely different storyline, there is completely different character development. It's a game about espionage, set in the 1970s. GTA is obviously more about an urban experience, a typically rags to riches experience. Very, very different storylines, very different character development. It's going to be very fresh for gamers.
Eurogamer: Are you pleased with how Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars performed?
Ben Feder: The DS, typically, has longer legs in the sales cycle. We're very pleased with how that game is continuing to sell in the market; it will be in the market for a long, long time to come.
Eurogamer: Nintendo has sold millions and millions of DS handhelds, but many of those have been sold to parents, children, ladies - perhaps an audience not typically interested in a hardcore game like GTA...
Ben Feder: There are 100m DS [units] in the marketplace. While it's true that many mothers and children own a DS, it's also true that many hardcore gamers own a DS. And what we try to do is make every GTA a unique experience.
Kudos to the guys that developed GTA DS; for guys that don't typically develop for the DS to develop a game that received the highest rating ever on DS, almost the first time in bat, is an enormous accomplishment. They've done a fantastic job.
The hardcore gamers who pick up GTA DS, even though they've played GTA IV and even though they've played maybe GTA: San Andreas, will get an entirely different experience. I would expect hardcore games who own a DS to continue to play and continue to buy the game.
Eurogamer: Can we expect to see more GTA games on the DS in the future?
Ben Feder: When we're ready to announced it, we'll announce it. Right now Rockstar's focus is on The Ballad of Gay Tony episode, Red Dead Redemption and Agent.
Eurogamer: What about the Wii? One of our readers was disappointed that GTA: San Andreas Stories wasn't announced for the Wii during the Nintendo conference. Are you looking at the Wii as a platform for a GTA game?
Ben Feder: Nintendo's been a terrific partner for us. We always look at ways in which we can bring our games to platforms that make sense for our games. We're eager to work with Nintendo to bring our games to their platforms. We just haven't yet defined the right title for the right platform.
Eurogamer: What lessons have you learned from the Manhunt 2 controversy? Has it made you more cautious about publishing games with violent content?
Ben Feder: Absolutely not. We firmly believe that games are art. A), we have the right to produce art. B), the consumer should have the right to make their own choices, providing the labelling on the package is clear about the content of the game.
Apart from that, I don't think it's the role of governments to determine what you or any of your readers can, or should, buy. They should be able to make their own choices. Government has no role in that at all.
We encourage our developers to be as expressive as they want to be in their games. Our position has not changed one bit with respect to how we develop games and how we market games and what role we think government should have.
Eurogamer: What about the argument from some critics that even if you accept games as an art form, you have to consider them differently to other art forms because they are interactive?
Ben Feder: I don't think it's a difference that makes a difference. It's not a difference with distinction. It's as if to say art as a painting is different than art as a sculpture. For sure they're different art forms and they use different mediums, but they're art nonetheless - they're forms of expression.
That, at least in the United States, is something that's guaranteed by the constitution, and in democracies in Western Europe there are very similar concepts about the ability for individuals to express themselves. If you stifle that, then society and the economy pay a pretty heavy toll.
Eurogamer: What if Rockstar came to you and said it wants to do a game about sexual violence against women, or a game in which children get hurt and abused? Do you say, "Well, you're an artist; go away and create the game," or do you say, "Well, actually there is a line, and we're choosing not to cross that line"?
Ben Feder: Look, I suppose there's a line somewhere. I don't think we've even come close to it. At the end of the day, we're also a commercial enterprise and we do intend to turn a profit with our games. That, in and of itself, provides a certain boundary beyond which we won't go.
I suppose there are more lines [beyond] which we'd be uncomfortable, but I don't think any of our games in the past, or any of our games that I've seen in development, come even close to that.
Eurogamer: Have you heard much from Jack Thompson recently? I know he's one of your biggest fans...
Ben Feder: Jack does what he does. One of the things I'm gratified about with GTA IV was that there was a lot less of that kind of talk, and much more of, "This is a masterpiece," "This is the Godfather of videogames," "This is an unbelievable game." The critical acclaim that game has received far outshadowed and surpassed any of the nonsense that we've gotten from some of our critics.
Eurogamer: When is GTA V out?
Ben Feder: When we release it, we'll let you know. But we haven't announced anything.
Eurogamer: Is it in development?
Ben Feder: I can't really talk about that.
Eurogamer: Oh well. We tried.