Rockstar Games has struck gold with Grand Theft Auto 5. Just this week it was announced that over 80 million copies have been sold worldwide, not counting games sold digitally. The last known number for profits from microtransactions stood at $500 million, and that was from over a year ago. Since then the number has likely doubled.
How Rockstar Succeeded with GTA V
GTA 5, instead of following typical sales curves, is selling more and more each year. But how has Rockstar achieved this?
The key lies not just in luck or fame or a knack for business, but in a combination of the three. Rockstar had a decade’s worth of fame and publicity to draw upon which helped immensely, however there is more to GTA 5’s explosive sales figures than that.
Its initial success back in 2013 came down to two things, mostly: fame and marketing. Since the first Grand Theft Auto title was launched in 1997, the franchise has grown to become one of most recognized gaming properties in the world and has truly gone mainstream. Non-gamers likely know what GTA is, and many will have played it too. It’s a household name and a part of popular culture.
Not All Good Times In Los Santos
GTA has also had its fair share of controversies, with several attempts across multiple countries to have its distribution limited or the game banned outright, though these never succeeded. Each attempt simply gave the series more publicity, so the very people trying to hurt the franchise helped it gain more sales.
In addition to the fame it started out with, Grand Theft Auto 5 was bolstered by a major marketing campaign as well. The sides of tall buildings were covered in posters, trams were emblazoned with decals and ads were plastered all over to herald its arrival. No wonder then, that half of the game’s $265 million budget was spent on marketing. In the end, it paid off for Rockstar, since GTA 5 reportedly made a 100% return on that investment within hours of being released.
But the initial sales aren’t where the story ends. We mentioned the importance of timing with the game’s release, and indeed, it was essential.
Rockstar Isn’t Afraid of the Cutting Edge
GTA 5 launched a mere month before the arrival of the now-current, then next-generation, consoles. It was obvious that the game was going to come to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One eventually, but Rockstar didn’t announce anything then. The result was that tens of millions of people bought GTA 5 for their PlayStation 3s and Xbox 360s.
Then, when the game was released on the new consoles, not only did millions of new customers pick it up, but a massive number of existing players upgraded to the new Enhanced Edition too. For this they got improved graphics, a first-person mode, larger GTA Online lobbies and improved access to cheats. This trend continues even today with people catching up to the new hardware and bringing their love of GTA 5 with them.
The cycle then repeated once more when the game arrived on PC in 2015, with some players even buying it a third time alongside the newcomers.
Video games traditionally sell the most upon launch, some time after which there is a drastic dip. While most titles only benefit from this launch spike once, GTA 5 had it three times. In between the various version releases, news about each upcoming edition kept the game fresh and new in the minds of potential buyers, and the hype didn’t die down even after release.
Trevor’s Long Game
GTA 5 – Funniest Switching to Trevor Moments
Keeping itself relevant was the biggest key to lasting success, since all the fame and publicity won GTA 5 its initial sales. This is where GTA Online, the game’s multiplayer component, comes into play.
In fact, GTA Online actually only went online a good month after the release of the game, so the initial sales are entirely attributable to the singleplayer portion. Since then, however, Rockstar has updated GTA Online with free DLC available to everyone. This kept it in the news, and it kept players from leaving, resulting in an active playerbase that only ever grew. All of which contributed to word-of-mouth publicity being a major factor in driving even more game sales.
Today, Grand Theft Auto 5 is riding a wave of its own fame. People are buying it because, hey, everyone else is playing it, so why not? And then every so often it pops up in gaming news because of the newest DLC that’s been released – the most recent example being the “Gunrunning” DLC, details of which were only revealed yesterday.
Rockstar structured GTA 5’s success in the most efficient possible way, and from where we stand today, it is showing no signs of slowing down.