These two stories exist in the same world

S Aufrecht

In late 1997, BMG Interactive released Grand Theft Auto … In March 1998, convinced that its foray into video games had been a waste of time and money, BMG – under the instruction of owner Bertelsmann – agreed to sell off BMG Interactive.

… [Strauss Zelnick:] “When I joined BMG, we all were aware that recorded music was a mature business, and management said, ‘What do you think of [expanding into] the movie business?’ I said, ‘Look, I really enjoyed my seven years in the movie business, and I’m proud of my track record, but it’s a very challenged asset class. Let’s look at the next big growth business in entertainment – let’s get into video games.’ So we did.” … “We hired a team, and we started acquiring properties for distribution, and just on the eve of watching our first release [hit the market], Thomas Middelhoff, who was then [head] of Bertelsmann, forced us to divest BMG Interactive – over my noisy objections,” says Zelnick.

“I didn’t carry the day and we sold BMG Interactive for a penny, essentially1, to what was then a fledgling entertainment company called Take-Two Interactive.

Grand Theft Auto III … approximately $500m … Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has done even better … Grand Theft Auto IV … around a billion dollars worldwide … GTA V … [has] an estimated total retail gross of $3bn – $5bn … Red Dead Redemption [has an estimated] retail gross of over $600m. … Red Dead Redemption 2 … will … easily top $1bn in sales.

In 2007, Zelnick Media Capital led the acquisition of New York-based Take-Two Interactive. As a result, Strauss Zelnick became the video game company’s CEO & Chairman, and its largest shareholder.

Today, Take-Two Interactive, run by Zelnick, is one of the biggest players in video games, with an approximate market cap of $13bn. It owns commercial smash franchises including Bioshock, Civilization, Mafia and NBA 2K.

It also – thanks to probably the worst seven-figure sale in the history of the music business – owns Rockstar Games, Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption.

—Tim Ingham, Music Business Worldwide2

Great story, full-circle ending for a heroic protagonist. And yet, at the same time, in the same country, an alternate narrative:

In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, many of us live in quiet desperation. Farmers are committing suicide, and so are taxi drivers in New York City. That’s why in the battle for the soul of our country, we must win.

Most of us are sinking, and there’s no bottom. This is the ugly face of capitalism. That’s why so many people have joined the Democratic Socialists of America.

Why do so many of us live in pain because of bad teeth or bad backs, unable to afford medical care because an insurance or drug company rations it to make a buck? It doesn’t have to be this way, but a small elite benefits from the status quo. They keep all the rest of us fighting and killing over scraps with talk of racial superiority or bathroom scares, or fear of poor and working people in other countries.

We deserve better. We have a right to the wealth our labor creates. We demand democracy. And we demand freedom from struggling and toiling to barely survive, while a small group of the super wealthy live like modern-day kings.

—Maria Svart3


  1. $9 million
  2. Ingham, Tim. (2018-Nov-11). Was this the biggest mistake in the history of the music business? Music Business Worldwide. Retrieved from https://www.musicbusinessworldwide.com/was-this-the-biggest-mistake-in-the-history-of-the-music-business/
  3. Svart, Maria. (2018-Nov-06). Capitalism only works for the rich. We deserve to share the wealth: Democratic Socialists. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/11/06/democratic-socialists-america-we-deserve-share-wealth-column/1800923002