The “Grand Theft Auto” series is, simply put, a juggernaut.
Its ongoing ability to both dominate sales at launch and retain those sales across the next several years is rare in the mercurial video game market. The “Grand Theft Auto” series is among the likes of “Super Mario” and “Madden” in this respect — it has a notoriously “long tail.”
The last game in the series, “Grand Theft Auto V,” is especially emblematic of this feat: It just shipped its 70 millionth units.
That ridiculously high number is shipped, not sold. But still!
We live in an era of mostly digital sales, where games launch at the same time online that they do in stores. We also live in an era where PC gaming is huge — Steam, the Valve-owned digital game store, has over 125 million active users.
Guess what they’re playing?
The game regularly charts on Steam’s current player list, often near the top. And Reddit’s largest gaming forum, /r/Gaming, often features highlights and bloopers from people still playing the game. All of which is to say one thing: We’re guessing there aren’t a lot of physical copies of the game collecting dust on store shelves.
Part of this continued popularity comes from the game being really, really good (it is!); another huge part comes from the game’s online multiplayer, “GTA Online.” The game’s developer, Rockstar Games, has smartly supported the game across the past few years, adding in free content and supporting the community. That support has paid off for Rockstar’s parent company, Take-Two Interactive — “GTA Online” is the company’s “single largest contributor” when it comes to “recurrent consumer spending.”
More clearly: “GTA Online” players are buying stuff in-game, and it’s bringing in a steady cash flow.
It’s no surprise that news of a new game from the folks behind “GTA” moved Take-Two’s stock price.
Keep in mind we’re not talking about a new “Grand Theft Auto” game; “GTA V” launched in 2013, and no new “GTA” game has been announced. We’re talking about “Red Dead Redemption 2,” a third-person, open-world game set in “America’s unforgiving heartland.”
It’s planned for a late 2017 launch on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but Rockstar is notorious for delaying games until they’re just right. Like “Grand Theft Auto,” the new “Red Dead” game will feature a robust online component — no doubt influenced by the outrageous success of “GTA Online.”
Whether Take-Two can replicate the success it found with “Grand Theft Auto V” is another question altogether. The most recent lifetime sales number we have on the first “Red Dead Redemption” is around 14 million — a major success for a relatively unknown franchise, and it was available on far fewer platforms than “GTA.”
That said, 70 million for “GTA V” is pretty much unheard of — Nintendo sold around 90 million units of all games it published on the Wii U, an entire platform (that it owns and operates, no less). If there’s better evidence that “GTA” is a juggernaut, we’ve yet to see it.