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Take-Two’s game card: Grand Theft Auto

By Yi-Wyn Yen

There’s a lot riding on video game publisher Take-Two’s launch of the highly-anticipated game, Grand Theft Auto IV.

The game is Take-Two’s bargaining chip in its efforts to block Electronic Arts’ (ERTS) hostile takeover bid. Take-Two (TTWO), which rejected EA’s $1.9 billion buyout offer last month, raised its current quarter guidance for profits on the expectation of strong sales for Grand Theft Auto, which will be released April 29.

Take-Two on Tuesday reported net revenue of $240 million for the first fiscal quarter, which beat analysts’ estimates of $211 million, according to Thomson Financial. Take-Two forecasted $450-500 million for the following quarter with the bulk of revenue coming from GTA sales. The company’s shares rose 2.65% to $25.30 in after-hour trading Tuesday.

Take-Two thinks EA is low-balling with its offer to buy the company at $26 a share. “The EA proposal failed to value Take-Two’s extensive portfolio of top-selling brands and our extraordinary creative and human assets,” said chairman Strauss Zelnick on the company’s earnings call Tuesday afternoon. “[EA] ignored the tremendous operational progress we’ve made in the past year and our solid plan going forward.”

The company notified the Securities and Exchange Commission last Friday that it would sweeten severance packages for its full-time employees if a change in ownership results in layoffs. Yahoo (YHOO) has made similar moves with its efforts to block Microsoft’s (MSFT) hostile bid. And like Yahoo, Take-Two has been slapped with a shareholder lawsuit for rejecting an unsolicited offer.

Take-Two reiterated its position that it does not plan to talk to EA until after the release of Grand Theft Auto. When pressed by UBS analyst Ben Schachter if the company plans to change its stance, Zelnick replied, “We disclosed everything. It’s all out there in the public. There’s nothing new to say.”