After 'GTA 4' peels out, how much in its tank?


There's little doubt about the power of this week's launch of "Grand Theft Auto IV," but there is some question about the video game's legs.

"GTA 4" likely will smash the $300 million in global first-week sales generated by Microsoft's "Halo 3" in September, but how the game will fare by year's end is subject to debate.

"I think all the preorder programs now in place for these top titles really end up taking the long-term sales out of many games," said Michael Goodman, director of digital entertainment at Yankee Group. "So I don't think 'Grand Theft Auto IV' is going to have those kind of legs."

Many stores are opening up at midnight tonight to accommodate eager customers.

Take-Two, parent company of developer Rockstar Games, even suggested that worldwide actual game sales could reach 6 million units, generating $400 million for the publisher battling a hostile takeover attempt from rival Electronic Arts.

"Halo 3," for example, exhausted 67% of its total U.S. sales to date in its first month, and though NPD games analyst Anita Frazier said the game still sells 100,000 copies a month, it no longer is in NPD's top 10 monthly charts.

But David Cole, president of market research firm DFC Intelligence, stressed that "GTA 4" always has been a different type of franchise. "If you look at 'Halo' titles historically, they've always been the type of games that everybody rushed out to buy, but the 'Auto' titles have always had lots of legs," he said.

Because "GTA" depicts carjacking, murder and other content that has upset parents, Cole noted that many people forget "GTA" games are very accessible and have real mass-market appeal despite their M (for Mature) rating.

Cole said "GTA 3" not only was the best-selling title of 2001 but also the second-best-selling tile of 2002 — right behind "GTA: Vice City."

From Take-Two's standpoint, Goodman said "GTA 4's" expected massive sales will at the very least give it some breathing room in its efforts to fend off Electronic Arts' $2 billion hostile takeover offer.

"EA is going to have to either up their bid significantly or pull back for six months to a year and hope the 'Grand Theft Auto' hoopla dies down, keeping their fingers crossed that Take-Two is not on a winning streak," he added. (partialdiff)