The Key to GTA 5′s Success
The video game industry is growing at a startling pace in terms of revenue and reach. Games are becoming ever more mainstream and have more or less lost the stigma that they carried some years ago. Gamers aren’t “geeks” anymore because everyone is a gamer. And no single title better encapsulates this than Grand Theft Auto 5.
Rockstar’s latest major release – a few mobile remasters were launched since – has broken pretty much every sales record there is. The best-selling unbundled game of all time held, in total, the top spot on global game sales charts for 13 weeks. To this day, almost 4 years after initial launch, sales trends are pointing upwards, the number of active players is increasing and more copies have been sold than people live in all but two European countries (over 75 million, to be specific). Microtransactions alone brought in $500 million in profits – two years ago. The game has more than 8 million unique log-ins per week.
But how does a game hit those kinds of numbers? This measure of success is what every major AAA title strives towards, so why is GTA 5 the only game to have achieved it? In case the title didn’t give it away, this article will explore this very question. However, I guess many readers already have a different question: if some random gaming journalist knows the key to GTA 5′s success, clearly the sales departments of every AAA studio know it too, so why isn’t every major release selling like crazy? See, thing is, knowing is only half the battle.
With GTA 5, Rockstar was presented with a set of opportunities. Not every game is presented with these opportunities. In fact, few every are – especially with so many of them simultaneously. Rockstar took perfect advantage of these opportunities and was rewarded for it. A number of beneficial factors coincided and together provided the suitable environment for sales of GTA 5 to not only explode in a single massive burst, but rather enter prolonged eruption. Much like that of a volcano.
The first factor was a given, and this is what most other releases lack: mainstream appeal. The GTA franchise had, upon the release of 5, almost a decade of fame – or infamy – to its name. Over those years, it gained many fans, but more importantly, entered the public knowledge. Through controversies primarily, but also through popularity the name Grand Theft Auto became a household term, with people who never held a game controller in their hands recognizing it.
Such recognition vastly increased the potential customer base of the game. Winning the mainstream audience was key, as today they make up the bulk of the playerbase. These aren’t “gamers”, but people who buy whichever console most of their friends own and maybe purchase one or two games a year – usually FIFA and Call of Duty – and GTA 5. AAA releases hyped among gamer circles, like Horizon Zero Dawn and For Honor recently, never hit massive sales numbers like GTA 5 because the hardcore gaming crowd isn’t that big. Many people who bought GTA 5 would never even consider either of these other two games, regardless of marketing, reviews or popularity.
GTA 5 was also released at the right time – or, should we say, right times. It was a stroke of genius on Rockstar’s part to launch on five consoles, three different times over the course of three years. First, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions were released, the next-gen editions a year later, and the PC version yet another year after that. This was beneficial for several reasons. Firstly, it kept the game relevant, hyped, and in the forefront of public knowledge. The game was ‘coming soon’ for three years, which meant more media coverage.
This also meant repeat purchases as many a player would upgrade to a Playstation 4 or Xbox One console and then re-buy the game for their new system. In doing so they benefited from better graphics of course, but also got a new first person view mode, could play with more fellow gamers in GTA Online lobbies and unlocked brand new story mode cheats.
The most important benefit for Rockstar, however, was the triple launch-spike in sales. All games sell best upon release and the ensuing few days. Under normal circumstances products would enjoy this spike a single time, since they’re only released once. Having been released three times, GTA 5 benefited from these spikes three times, with the release of each edition. The timing of the game’s launch around the time of the turn of the console generation made this possible, and we don’t get one of those every year, after all.
The success of GTA 5 is almost entirely impossible to replicate because so many factors involved are the product of a unique set of circumstances. That said, we’re eagerly awaiting whichever game will eventually rise to beat these impressive sales records. In the meantime though, GTA 5 is getting comfortable in its throne.