When it comes to the Grand Theft Auto franchise, success has never been an issue. The games fly off shelves and, basically, print money for Rockstar and Take Two. Just to toss a rough estimate your way for the sake of argument, 2008’s GTA IV has currently sold over 13 million copies. Given that GTA IV brought in around $500 million in its first week of sales (off around six million units sold), the fact that the game has now topped 13 million units sold, that means this single game has generated over a billion dollars in sales. However, not everyone is quite so doe eyed when it comes to the gaming juggernaut.
CNBC has an article running now that takes a look at GTA’s “slowing” success and attempts to figure out what might be causing it. The article sets its sights on the rather disappointing sales numbers of the GTA IV DLC The Lost and Damned and GTA: Chinatown Wars for the Nintendo DS. No official numbers have been released for L&D, but CNBC claims that experts have predicted the number sits close to the million-unit mark.
CNBC rightly points out that this should be seen as a bit of a disappointment, especially given that Call of Duty 4’s Variety Map pack topped a million units sold in just over a week. Of course, with more downloadable episodes on the way for GTA IV on the Xbox 360, there’s no telling what kind of revenues the game will generate down the line.
I think the article’s major misstep is trying to use the poor sales of Chinatown Wars (and Lost and Damned to some extent) to represent a seismic shift in the overall gaming industry. We might be living in the golden age of casual gaming, but there are a lot of "hardcore" gamers who fall under the "casual" umbrella as well, meaning that the rise of one category doesn't mean a direct decline in the other.
And let's be honest. Regardless of the fact that Chinatown Wars is a fantastic game that offers tons of DS-specific ingenuity, no one should have expected it to be a financial powerhouse. If it helps you sleep at night, just think of it as a brilliant experiment on Rockstar’s part that didn’t sell well, due in large part to the fact that the majority of DS owners are children, (and politicians have repeatedly told us that Rockstar and kids do not mix).
Honestly though, Chinatown’s poor sales mean absolutely nothing in terms of the future success of the GTA brand. One of the major reasons Lost and Damned hasn’t been as financially impressive as Rockstar would have hoped is that a lot of gamers are immediately hesitant of $20 DLC. And even though the price/content ratio of L&D was impressive, a lot of gamers most likely thought about that $20 going towards some new game coming down the pipeline and held onto their money.
It’s not that gamers have been suddenly turned off by the franchise, or that the ubiquity of the Wii or casual gaming has morphed the sensibilities of GTA's loyal fanbase. These gamers have simply shown that they prefer the kind of gaming experience that only a brand new GTA game on a next-gen console can provide.
What do you think these poor sales numbers mean for GTA and Rockstar going forward?