Its first day in stores, on April 29, Grand Theft Auto IV, the epic video game from Rockstar Games, took in $310 million in sales. That accounts for around 3.6 million copies of the game sold, according to the game company. Grand Theft Auto IV went on to sell 6 million copies the first week on shelves, totaling $500 million in worldwide sales and smashing the $300 million first week sales record set last September by Microsoft’s Halo 3. The hype and anticipation of Grand Theft Auto IV has been unmatched since it was announced in 2006 and it is reflected in the game’s sales.
“The combination of free publicity and good gameplay is hard to beat,” says Noah Hayes, co-founder of theVGPRO.com, a citizen journalism site for the gaming industry. “Dozens of great games are released every year, but rarely are they as hyped, anticipated, and publicly scrutinized. GTA IV is the game your parents wouldn’t let you buy, only now you can; that’s irresistible to most of Rockstar’s core demographic.”
The franchise took off in 2001 when Rockstar Games released Grand Theft Auto III for the Sony Playstation 2. Previous games in the Grand Theft Auto series were top-down views of a two-dimensional world, but GTA III ushered in a 3-D open world environment allowing players to play the game they wanted. Whether it was to accomplish missions to move the story forward or just drive around the 3-D city, the player had that control. Then adding in the Hollywood elements of street crime ranging from carjacking innocent bystanders to carrying out hits for the mob, gave the game its recipe for success. No other title allowed the player to have that much power. Since March, the game sold 14.5 million copies, according to consumer and retail market research company NPD Group.
The game’s success, prompted other video game developers to copy its model of an open world environment as opposed to the linear style of gaming where a player’s only choice was to continue to move forward in the game. Now the open world environment or “sandbox-style game play” is pretty much a standard for video games.
Rockstar Games continued to excite players with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in 2002 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in 2004 which offered bigger cities to explore, more missions to complete and new immersive stories. These versions had sales that went through the roof — with Vice City selling 17.5 million copies and San Andreas selling 21.5 million as of March 2008 on both the Playstation 2 and original Microsoft Xbox, according to the NPD Group.
Expectations for any Grand Theft Auto title are high, but the difference for Grand Theft Auto IV is that it’s the first GTA title made for the new generation of video game consoles, the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. So far it looks like fans and critics alike are more than satisfied. Across the video game industry, GTA IV is continually receiving high marks and ratings and receiving praised from fans.
“One of the most overlooked aspects is the story telling,” Hayes said. “GTA IV has a well structured plot that rivals most Hollywood movies; it keeps the player engaged and surprisingly justifies most of the violence. The combination of a great story, visual graphics, and solid presentation make it a must buy for most fans.”
While expectations were high for game sales, both Microsoft and Sony also expected increased console sales. The millions of people who bought GTA games for PS2 and Xbox were waiting for a reason to upgrade to the latest and greatest in video gaming. The market competition between Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s Playstation 3 has been fierce for the last year and both are vying for the best place to have the Grand Theft Auto experience.
“’Grand Theft Auto IV’ has done incredibly well with 1.8 million units sold in the U.S. during the first week on the Xbox 360, which is roughly a two-to-one advantage versus the PS3 version of the game,” Aaron Greenberg, director of product management Xbox 360 & Xbox LIVE, told FastCompany.com. “Additionally, we had more than 2.3 million people connect to Xbox LIVE with the game in the first week alone. We expect this momentum to continue well into the holiday season, particularly when exclusive downloadable episodes become available on Xbox 360 this fall.”
According to Microsoft, Xbox 360 console sales went up 54 percent week-over-week as a result of GTA IV’s success and roughly 40 percent of PS3 and Xbox 360 console sales were selling with a copy of the game in the two weeks after its release.
“Clearly, the tremendous legacy of Grand Theft Auto on PlayStation, combined with the blockbuster launch of Gran Turismo 5 Prologue packed a one-two punch with consumers at retail last month,” says Sony Computer Entertainment America CEO and president Jack Tretton. “The proof is in the numbers and, in April, PlayStation 3 hardware sales experienced a 127% increase over April of last year. With exciting PlayStation Network innovations and our strongest console-driving titles of the year still on the horizon, PS3 remains on pace for a breakthrough year.”
The numbers will continue to rise as summer arrives and naïve parents buy the M-rated game (similar to an R rating for films) for their kids to keep them busy while on summer vacation. And as far as the Grand Theft Auto franchise, don’t expect many changes in the future. Do expect other gaming companies to adopt some ideas and concepts from the game for their titles.
“Rockstar has found a great formula. I’d be surprised if they changed things too much in the future,” Hayes says. “The next version will have a more immersive world with a greater attention to detail. The core gameplay mechanics won’t change and that’s a good thing.”