Commentary > Game Over
Duke Nukem vs. Take Two
Game developer and publisher wage a very public battle of egos.
June 11, 2003: 2:24 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The relationship between publishers and game developers can sometimes be a rocky one. But that animosity is usually kept fairly quiet, at least until the game has been released.

Occasionally, though, the hostilities boil over and the resulting public spectacle becomes a titanic battle of egos. We're in the midst of one of those fights these days, with Take Two Interactive and 3D Realms sharing the pugilistic spotlight. For the past several months, the publisher of blockbuster titles such as "Grand Theft Auto" and the developer of the wildly popular "Duke Nukem" franchise have been taking increasingly hostile public shots at each other. And there's no telling where or when - it might end.

Gaming icon Duke Nukem  
Gaming icon Duke Nukem

At issue is "Duke Nukem Forever", the franchise's long-in-development latest installment. In February, Take Two announced plans to take a $5.5 million write-down on their earnings due to the game's "extended development time". Last month, Take Two CEO Jeff Lapin told analysts in a quarterly conference call "we're in a wait and see mode at this point. ... Right now, we're just hopeful that [3D Realms] will finish it."

George Broussard, co-owner of 3D Realms, fired back later that day on the message boards of Shacknews, one of the larger gaming community and news sites, suggesting "Take Two needs to STFU imo."

If you don't read Internet shorthand, "imo" means "in my opinion". STFU means, well, "shut the [naughty word] up".

Later that same day, Broussard wrote "All we want to do is keep quite [sic], work on the game, and emerge later and show you what we're working on. We don't want hype. We don't want drama. We don't want Take Two saying stupid ass things in public, for the sole purposes of helping their stock."

The animosity has since gone back underground, though the ill will likely hasn't.

The issue seems to be the age-old one of art vs. business. 3D Realms knows it has high expectations to live up to. As a result, its employees religiously recite the mantra "when it's done" when asked in various forums when the game will be released. Take Two believes that a five-year development cycle is more than enough time to complete a game even one that changed its graphics engine mid-stream.

This 2001 shot is the last we've seen of the game. 3D Realms says it no longer represents the game's look and feel.  
This 2001 shot is the last we've seen of the game. 3D Realms says it no longer represents the game's look and feel.

Both companies are caught in a nasty Catch-22, though. 3D Realms says it is fully funding the game, which takes away any leverage Take Two might normally have. But 3D Realms can't shop the game to another publisher, no matter how frustrated it gets despite Broussard's claims that "we'd find a new publisher so easily it isn't even funny."

3D Realms is one of gaming's development powerhouses. Like id Software (developers of "Doom" and "Quake") and Valve Software (maker of "Half-Life"), it is financially solvent enough to not rely on publisher dollars to build a game. Aside from the money it earned on "Duke Nukem 3D", the developer also recently sold the rights to the "Max Payne" franchise directly to Take Two for "$45 million and kickers worth several million more," according to a March web posting by co-owner Scott Miller.

"Publishers deal with the independent streak in these guys in different ways," said John Taylor, managing director and analyst for Arcadia Investment Corp. "Look at way Activision handles id. It's done in a different way. They accept it when id says the game will be done 'when it's done.' Take Two has been a little more frustrated with 3D Realms because they've taken quite a bit longer than most. The last time anyone saw this game was in 2001. It's now a couple of years after they told people to start thinking about it."

Neither Take Two (TTWO: Research, Estimates) nor 3D Realms was willing to comment for this column.

Another shot from the 2001 game trailer.  
Another shot from the 2001 game trailer.

Most developers I contacted deferred talking about tensions with publishers. Paul Jobling of Eutechnyx, though, said it's unusual to see things escalate to this point.

"You can get a complete breakdown of a relationship, where the publisher and the developer can't stand the sight of one another - but that's usually more of a personal thing," he said.

Whether that's the case here is something only Take Two and 3D Realms can answer.  Top of page

Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Send him an email at

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