'GTA 4' debut may be most lucrative ever

Grabs $500 million in first-week global sales

SAN DIEGO -- Take Two Interactive is touting "Grand Theft Auto IV" as the richest launch in entertainment history on the strength of a record $500 million in first-week global sales.

All told, more than 6 million "GTA IV" games have been sold since the game's April 29 launch, including a staggering 3.6 million units on the first day alone, generating $310 million in revenue just in the initial 24 hours.

The numbers easily surpassed projections from analysts who already expected record revenue, not to mention the $300 million in global sales achieved by the previous first-week record holder, Microsoft's "Halo 3," which bowed last fall. However, that game was only available on Microsoft's Xbox 360, while "GTA IV" is available on both Xbox and Sony's PlayStation 3.

" 'Grand Theft Auto IV's' first-week performance represents the largest launch in the history of interactive entertainment, and we believe these retail sales levels surpass any movie or music launch to date," said Take-Two chairman Strauss Zelnick.

A spokesman for Take-Two declined to delineate which specific releases the company was comparing with "GTA IV."

However, comparisons between movies, music, books and video games don't take into account the huge disparity in price points. "GTA IV" retails for $60 and up, depending on the market, while previous record holder "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" generated $404 million in its first six days in worldwide theaters last May largely on single ticket sales in the $10 range.

Contrary to speculation from many analysts, the bow of "GTA IV" did not hurt the Friday's release of Paramount's "Iron Man," which took in $100 million in its opening weekend in the U.S. alone.

"There is probably some overlap between the 'Iron Man' movie and the 'Grand Theft Auto' game audiences," said IDC video game analyst Billy Pidgeon. "But people are going to go to those blockbuster movies no matter what."

Said a Paramount spokesman, "It was silly to think boys wouldn't get off the couch to go see 'Iron Man.' I think this put that thinking to rest for good."

David Cole, president of market research firm DFC Intelligence, suggested these numbers will probably not have too much of an impact on Take Two's efforts to fend off a $2 billion hostile takeover from rival Electronic Arts.

"Everyone knew 'Grand Theft Auto' was going to be big, and so investors have already factored that in to their valuation of the company," he added. " 'Grand Theft Auto' is the reason why EA wants Take Two, and this proves that these huge game franchises are worth billions of dollars."

Michael Goodman, director of digital entertainment at Yankee Group, noted that early sales of "GTA IV" seem to splitting evenly on a global level, leaning toward the Xbox 360 in North America and Europe and toward the PlayStation 3 in other parts of the world.

"I think this proves that no one console owns it, and 'Grand Theft Auto' is now an open franchise," he said, "The real question going forward is how big is the vortex that is 'Grand Theft Auto.' Any game that is launching within two, three or even four weeks of 'Grand Theft Auto' is going to feel its effect."