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Why Grand Theft Auto Online Will Pocket About 30% for Its Believers

Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. (TTWO) is trading at its highest levels since the recession. Things are about to get even better for investors, if Bank of America Merrill Lynch is correct. The firm reiterated a Buy rating, but the $24 price target is actually the highest price target on Wall Street. It is also representative of almost 30% more upside ahead.

Rockstar's fan page shows that on August 15 it will unveil videos, including game play, for Grand Theft Auto Online. Merrill Lynch expects that this will be the biggest online experience for the franchise to-date. Analysts Justin Post and Ryan Gee said, "A strong downloadable content strategy could be transformative for the franchise and very important for Take-Two’s FY15 earnings outlook."

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It may be hard to imagine an MMORPG in the Grand Theft Auto context, but there may be something more than just a video game console and online experience. The report says:

The press speculates Rockstar is building a persistent, online world, similar to Second Life or World of Warcraft, and GTA Online will give each player its own online character/home to customize. At its core, we expect GTA Online will likely resemble GTA 4’s multi-player game with downloadable content enabling new single player and co-op missions, as well as competitive group play modes. ... It is unlikely that GTA Online will offer a monthly subscription service like World of Warcraft, but we would expect more opportunities for players to spend real money on character, vehicle, or weapon upgrades via micro-transactions.

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The report expects a base case of $250 million in digital for GTA Online. That is after $260 million for Call of Duty in 2012 and $200 million for Battlefield 3. Borderlands 2 was $100 million. Merrill Lynch sees Grand Theft Auto 5 shipping 19 million units during this fiscal year. The call here is for Take-Two to rise to $24 based on the GTA 5 launch and the possibility that a greater visibility on the digital revenue opportunity could be a near-term catalyst for the stock.

Take-Two shares closed up 0.5% at $18.66. against a 52-week range of $8.74 to $18.87. Its market cap is just over $1.6 billion.

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