Wednesday, May 07, 2008

'Grand Theft Auto IV' steals video-game sales record

By Alex Pham, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 7, 2008
The mob-themed video game "Grand Theft Auto IV" raced into stores in high gear last month, smashing previous game records with $500 million in worldwide sales its first week, publisher Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. said.

That topped the previous high set last year by Microsoft Corp.'s "Halo 3," which took in $300 million in its first week. By comparison, "GTA IV" rang up $310 million in one day.

The game rivals other entertainment blockbusters, including "Spider-Man 3," which took in $381.7 million worldwide during its opening weekend at the box office.

"We believe these retail sales levels surpass any movie or music launch to date," Take-Two Chairman Strauss Zelnick said.

The game, which has garnered accolades from reviewers and outcry from social critics upset by its violence, revolves around an immigrant protagonist who survives in a gritty urban jungle by running various 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."

"Drunk driving is not a game and it is not a joke," the organization said in a statement.

The Chicago Transit Authority pulled "GTA IV" ads from its trains and buses, and New Zealand has threatened to ban the game.

Those controversies have not hurt sales of the mature-rated 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 overall furor over the latest version of "GTA" than in the past, when the game provoked outcry from lawmakers, who threatened to pass laws restricting the sale of violent games.

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