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'Grand Theft Auto IV' steals video game record

Its $500 million in first-week sales blows away previous mark

May 08, 2008|Alex Pham | Times Staff Writer

The mob-themed video game "Grand Theft Auto IV" raced into stores and off the shelves, smashing previous game records with $500 million in worldwide sales its first week, publisher Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. said Wednesday.
That topped the previous high set last year by Microsoft Corp.'s "Halo 3," which took in $300 million in its first week. Take-Two said it sold about 6 million units of "GTA IV" during the first week, and 3.6 million units for $310 million on its first day of sale, April 29.
"We believe these retail sales levels surpass any movie or music launch to date," Take-Two Chairman Strauss Zelnick said. "This signals just how important interactive entertainment has become in entertainment writ large."

Comparisons with other forms of entertainment can be difficult because of the different price points at the retail level.

For example, sales of "GTA IV" approach the sales of the bestselling book "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," which sold 8.3 million copies in the U.S. within 24 hours of being released last July, according to publisher Scholastic Inc. "Deathly Hallows," however, came with a cover price of $34.99 compared with $60 for "GTA IV."

The first week of retail sales of "GTA IV" also rivals, in dollar volume, "Spider-Man 3," which took in $381.7 million in worldwide ticket sales during its opening weekend last year at the box office. But the average movie ticket price in the U.S. last year was $6.88.

"GTA IV," which has garnered accolades from reviewers and outcry from social critics upset by its edgy action, revolves around an immigrant protagonist who survives in a gritty urban jungle by running errands for the mob.

"It has incredible depth and tremendous characterization," said Scott Steinberg, founder of Embassy Multimedia Consultants in Atlanta and author of "Get Rich Playing Games." "You feel like you're the star of a Hollywood underworld epic. You just get sucked into the universe. Once it gets a stranglehold on you, it won't let go."

Some groups are not as enamored with the game, which features sexually explicit scenes and graphic violence. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for example, objected to the game allowing players to drive "drunk," making it harder for them to steer accurately.

The Chicago Transit Authority pulled "GTA IV" ads from its subway, leading Take-Two to sue in U.S. District Court in New York for breach of contract.

After New Zealand and Australian officials threatened to ban the game, Take-Two created an edited version.

"GTA IV" carries a "Mature" rating that is the equivalent of an "R" rating for movies.

Most retailers decline to sell such titles to buyers under 17 years old unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Those controversies have not hurt sales of the game so far and might have even fueled its notoriety, said Billy Pidgeon, an analyst with research firm IDC. Pidgeon noted that there has been less furor over the latest version of "GTA" than in the past, when the game provoked outcry from U.S. politicians who threatened to pass laws restricting the sale of violent games.

"People now understand games more," Pidgeon said. "They know it's just another form of entertainment, like movies or comic books."

Compared to movies or books, however, the cost of entry can be far steeper for games such as "GTA IV," which in addition to its $60 price tag also requires an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 console to play.

In Europe, the price is even steeper at 50 pounds in Britain and 70 euros elsewhere, helping boost the title's average selling price to $83 a copy, among the highest in the industry, said Ben Schachter, an analyst at UBS Investment Research.

The prospect of such lucrative sales emboldened Take-Two's board in February to snub a $2-billion buyout offer from rival Electronic Arts Inc., saying the bid vastly underestimated the company's value.

Take-Two and EA, whose outstanding offer expires May 16, declined to say whether they were currently in negotiations.

Analysts said "GTA IV" sales helped support Take-Two's argument, but only so much.

Take-Two shares fell 9 cents to $26.26 on Wednesday, barely higher than the $25.74 a share offered by EA.

"Certainly, it's not a negative data point," Schachter said. "But unless another bidder steps forward, I'm not sure EA needs to raise its bid."

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alex.pham@latimes.com

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