Grand Theft Auto will be fine without Dan Houser

Grand Theft Auto will be fine without Dan Houser

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Rockstar is losing one of its rock star co-founders, but the band will play on

The big news this week was that Dan Houser is leaving Rockstar Games. Along with his brother Sam, Dan Houser has been a key part of Rockstar and the Grand Theft Auto franchise almost since the beginning. The Housers have been seen as such a key part of Rockstar parent Take-Two's success that it has alluded to them in its annual reports under the Risk Factors section for well over a decade:

"We are also highly dependent on the expertise, skills and knowledge of certain of our Rockstar employees and other key creative personnel responsible for content creation and development of our Grand Theft Auto titles and titles based on other brands."

That said, I think the concern over his departure, particularly from Take-Two investors, is overstated. At one point, Rockstar was revolutionary in ways that could depend on just a handful of people, from PS2-era technical leaps to telling crime stories a step above the industry standard in terms of complexity, ambition, and vulgarity. The things Rockstar excels at now -- sprawling worlds packed with obscene levels of detail and an assortment of activities to keep players busy -- are massive team efforts by definition.

As for storytelling, I would argue that the rest of the industry long ago caught up to Rockstar, with everyone from indies and AAA alike routinely putting out work that is the equal of anything Rockstar has or could produce. As for Houser's specific sensibilities, the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption worlds and tone are so well established at this point and the ranks of video game writers so bursting with talent that I can't imagine it being difficult to find competent writers to accurately mimic the style fans have come to expect.

I have no doubt that Dan Houser was instrumental to Rockstar's success at one point, but I suspect that point has passed.

QUOTE | "After an extended break beginning in the spring of 2019, Dan Houser, Vice President, Creative at Rockstar Games, will be leaving the company." - Take-Two breaks the news to investors that one of the key creatives behind Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption is leaving.

STAT | $127.74 - Take-Two's last closing stock price before the announcement of Houser's departure Tuesday. As of Friday afternoon, it is trading down 11% from that mark at $113.10.

STAT | $7.58 - Take-Two's closing stock price the day Grand Theft Auto 3 released in October of 2001.

QUOTE | "The economy was changed in a way that didn't generate as much recurrent consumer spending." - Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick explains why NBA 2K20 saw increased engagement over NBA 2K19, but the company no longer expects it to set revenue records for the franchise.

QUOTE | "We didn't want people to feel like they were so trapped in this grind anymore." - Before the launch of NBA 2K20, the game's senior producer Erick Boenisch explained to USgamer that the game would be less aggressive about getting players to spend by speeding up their non-monetized progression.

QUOTE | "One big epiphany I had was that I pushed my own personal political beliefs in a world that was increasingly divided. Instead of the story being 'this game looks neat,' it became 'this is the game with the 'woke bro' trying to push his hacky politics on us with gender neutral bathrooms.'" - Boss Key co-founder Cliff Bleszinski reflects on why the studio and its debut project LawBreakers flopped.

QUOTE | "If you take your average 16-year-old CS:GO or Overwatch player, they don't know who the fuck I am, they don't care. The people who know me are like 30 to 40. Your average 25-year-old doesn't know. They're more excited about pro gamers, YouTubers or Twitch streamers." - Two months after LawBreakers' disappointing launch in 2017, Bleszinski downplays any suggestion that his reputation played a role in the game's struggles. Instead, he and his co-founder offered many, many other things that worked against the game.

QUOTE | "When you talk about Nintendo and Sony, we have a ton of respect for them, but we see Amazon and Google as the main competitors going forward." - Instead of asking to be measured against the two traditional console companies who have spent the last few years eating Microsoft's lunch, Xbox head Phil Harrison would apparently prefer to be measured against the retailer who has spent the past three and a half years spinning its tires on AAA development or the tech giant who charged people money for a beta-equivalent subscription-based game streaming platform and then stopped talking about it for an uncomfortably long time.

QUOTE | "Concerning Warcraft 3 Reforged, honestly, it's been a bit of a hard week. Our community has come to expect really amazing things from us, and we've heard from them that we did not achieve that bar." - Blizzard president J. Allen Brack weighs in on the Warcraft 3 Reforged debacle with the same amount of substance and care he gave his Blitzchung "apology."

STAT | Down 1% - Activision Blizzard's revenue forecast for 2020. While the publisher often sets its forecasts low, this raises questions about whether Blizzard will go without a major release in 2020 just as it did in 2019.

STAT | 5 out of 10 - The number of times in the past decade Activision Blizzard reported record full-year financial results and then had a round of layoffs less than two weeks later.

STAT | 6.8% - The average 2020 salary increase for Nexon employees, as negotiated by the publisher's Starting Point union.

QUOTE | "A lot of grown-ups tend to lean more into gameplay and challenging play than free role-playing where they pretend to be something. But it's actually a healthy thing to do for an adult as well, to actually play because that is where you sort of free up a lot of creative energy and that's where new things come from." - Light Brick creative director Karsten Lund talks about the Lego-owned game studio's focus and reminding adults what it's like to play.

QUOTE | "New consoles may likewise suffer supply issues from a prolonged disruption, ahead of their Fall 2020 planned launches." - Analyst Ken Rumph says if current coronavirus fears drag on, the various shutdowns in the supply chain could put Microsoft and Sony's new console launches at risk. Nintendo has already warned of Switch supply issues.

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Brendan Sinclair

North American Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry International in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at CBS-owned GameSpot in the US.

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