The most successful entertainment product of all time is set to make its debut on a third straight generation of gaming consoles.
Grand Theft Auto V is on its way to PS5 and Xbox Series X this fall, but not just as the title we’ve known it as since its launch in 2013. “Next-gen” upgrades will be available for existing players, but a standalone version of GTA Online is headed to consoles as well.
For the first three months on new consoles, GTA Online will be a free-to-play PS5 exclusive. The roadmap also includes updates and new content exclusive to those consoles and PC, but for Louise Shorthouse, senior analyst at Ampere Analysis, the big news is GTA Online going standalone.
“GTA Online, rather than GTA V, is the real money-maker, and where players are spending their in-game currency,” Shorthouse told GameDaily. “Although currently you can only access the online version through buying GTA V.”
GTA V is the most profitable entertainment product--not just video game--of all time. In 2018, MarketWatch reported it had sold 90 million copies and generated over six billion dollars in revenue.
Now in 2021, Take-Two Interactive’s February earnings call noted the title had sold 20 million copies in 2020 alone, and 140 million since its 2013 launch. That’s almost 15% of all sales in the game’s lifetime in a single year.
“...In calendar 2020, more copies of Grand Theft Auto V were sold than in any other year except for 2013 when it first launched on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360,” Strauss Zelnick, chairman and CEO of Take-Two Interactive, said in the earnings call. “In addition, recurrent consumer spending on Grand Theft Auto Online outperformed our third-quarter forecast and grew 28% year-over-year.”
December’s launch of The Cayo Perico Heist content seems to have made a significant portion of 2020’s results as well, with half of its players engaging in that content in single player.
Shorthouse explained that one of the reasons GTA V continues to see such substantial sales numbers is because the premium edition of the game includes bonus in-game currency. When this version is on sale, Shorthouse said, it’s a cheaper way to acquire GTA Dollars.
So what is it that makes GTA V so special that players keep coming back for more, over and over? The answer seems to lie within GTA Online. New content is still releasing on a regular basis, in addition to serving as a social space during global COVID-19 isolation, nearly eight years after its initial release.
“GTA Online is regularly updated with new content--the game remains current, and as older players move on, younger players are simply ‘aging up’ into it because of its enduring popularity,” Shorthouse said.
With GTA Online becoming a standalone product, Shorthouse expects the lifespan of Grand Theft Auto V to lengthen considerably. The online experience, Shorthouse explained, lowers the barrier of entry for players interested in the multiplayer version, but put off by the premium cost of the single player game. Of course, launching on PlayStation for free--a tried and tested strategy--is another good way to boost player numbers and product lifespan.
At this point, there’s not a lot to say about Grand Theft Auto V’s success. It’s the most successful entertainment product of all time, full stop. As such, it was always going to transition to the new generation of consoles. It’s hit every major milestone imaginable, and it’s still going strong. Why wouldn’t Rockstar and Take-Two continue to ride that wave?
“There are no milestones left for Grand Theft Auto V other than those it creates. It is in a different layer of the atmosphere than other video games,” NPD analyst Mat Piscatella told GameDaily. “It will continue to do very well.”
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