Hopes Riding High on 'Grand Theft Auto IV'

Whole Industry Looks Forward to a Jump-Start

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YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- Move over, family-friendly video gaming: The next edition of "Grand Theft Auto" is here. And "Grand Theft Auto IV," arriving after years of a franchise drought with plenty of grown-up violence, profanity and prostitution, is expected to lift the entire industry even further, while putting the spotlight firmly back on the core gamer audience.
Despite the game's mature rating, retailers are looking for an April boost courtesy of 'Grand Theft Auto IV.'
Despite the game's mature rating, retailers are looking for an April boost courtesy of 'Grand Theft Auto IV.'

Analysts and industry insiders are predicting first-week sales of $350 million to $400 million, which would topple the $300 million record set by "Halo 3" during its launch last fall.

Infectious excitement
"'GTA IV' has been one of the most eagerly anticipated games [by] gamers as well as industry professionals. The excitement that these types of games elicit is infectious, and everyone gets a bit giddy just watching it all unfold. The industry has been riding so high of late, and this will propel it even further," NPD analyst Anita Frazier said in an e-mail interview. The gaming industry posted record sales in March of $1.7 billion, 57% over March 2007. In total, the industry is up 27% year-to-date.

Retailers looking for an April boost courtesy of "Grand Theft Auto" included GameStop, Game Crazy, Best Buy and Wal-Mart, with some outlets opening their doors at midnight in order to accommodate anxious gamers at the first minute of the official Tuesday release date. Many of the customers were undoubtedly carded under retailers' strictly stated guidelines for selling video games rated M for mature.

The game's M rating has also likely put a damper on widespread marketing activities, which have included a handful of teaser online trailers, along with targeted outdoor postings and billboards. Both publisher Take-Two Interactive and developer Rockstar Games have also kept a tight lid on preview content. Video-game reviewers, in fact, only got early play privileges under Rockstar employees' watchful eyes.

What's not to like?
So far, "GTA IV" has garnered almost perfect scores from those reviewers, who hail its first-time interactive play as well as superior graphics on the next-generation platforms of both Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360.

The game will likely provide a boost to both consoles, but the PS 3 -- on which "Grand Theft Auto" debuted in 2001 -- could use the lift, as it missed the last big hit, Halo 3, which was released only on the Xbox 360.

Indeed, if total sales are even close to predictions, they will most certainly lift the entire industry. Ms. Frazier predicted a "huge impact on industry sales results," and added that it's "hard to imagine how much better it can be particularly in these difficult economic times. But I think April's numbers will make even the most jaded industry watchers take notice."
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