GTA IV does $500 million first-week

by Paul William Tenny

Thumbnail image for GTA IVTake-Two has claimed $500 million in first-week sales for Grand Theft Auto IV, above expectations by some, probably just about right for others, but very impressive regardless. On the other hand, are meeting expectations really all that much to celebrate? If you want to continue the flawed comparison of video games to movies, it's not really all that different in that specific instance. Everyone expected GTA IV to make a killing and it did. Everyone expected Spider-Man 3 to make a killing, and it did. Good for Take-Two and Rockstar, they've certainly taken a beating by video game/movie violence ambulance chasers and morally oppressive politicians that like to waste money. But really all they did is what they were expected to do.
Fears that GTA IV's mid-week release would keep audiences home were not only unfounded, but proven beyond any shadow of a doubt to be just about as wrong as a person could possibly be. Simply guessing would have yielded better results, statistically speaking. Iron Man pulled in about $201 million globally for 3.5 days ($57.4/day avg) while GTA probably averaged about $71.4/day. The thing you've got to remember though is that Iron Man will keep raking in huge numbers for the next three weeks or longer while video games typically make most of their sales in that first week and then very quickly plummet down to a more manageable level. In all likelihood, Iron Man will still out gross GTA when all is said and done, without accounting for DVD sales and syndication.

I still think this "largest one-week entertainment release" metric is still less than useless, given the only people that care about it are video game companies. What they really mean but refuse to say for fear it will sound less impressive -- and it would -- is this is the largest "one week video game release."

What's notable isn't what Take-Two and Rockstar did (with a price tag of over $100 million and a 3+ year development cycle) but how rare it is. This release alone is a lot like a Spider-Man, or Pirates of the Caribbean sequel -- you already know it's going to be huge and awesome and set some records. The thing is, it'll be another three years or more before another GTA comes out and meanwhile, Rockstar isn't putting out one massive hit after another like Hollywood studios do. If Take-Two with its various owned studios could do this once every summer, then that would be impressive in a way that would matter. That day, when the video game industry doesn't need to make up its own cool sounding metrics just to look huge, isn't quite here yet.

You can read more number crunching at The Reg, Ars, Joystiq, and the New York Times:

...with the New York Times thoughtfully informing us just how much money a gigantic corporation has earned from the release of one of the year's most anticipated games. That would be 500 million dollars in the first week, just so you know.

Game sales take a nosedive from first-day onward. I don't have a graph in front of me, but when I did this dance for the Halo 3 release, I remember seeing day-by-day breakdowns and finding that the eighth day was less than 10% of the first day in sales. If $500 million was the first week, the second probably won't even be $100, perhaps not even another $50 million. That's just the way things work when you can buy the game the instant it comes out and then play it totally at your leisure in your own home. When a movie comes out, you've got to go see it only when it's convenient for the theater to show it, and you actually have to go out to do it. Movies make probably 90% of their take on the weekends, going from $40 million per day on the weekend to $3-5 million per day during the week, back up into the 10's or higher again.

I'll say it again: game sales are not really comparable to movie sales. Just so you know..
in Games


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