Washington - The much-anticipated videogame featuring gangsters swimming with sharks, Grand Theft Auto V, is forecast to generate $1-billion (R9.6bn) in sales in a month, four times the sum spent in making it.
The title, five years in the making, cost Take-Two Interactive Software as much as $250-million to develop and market, according to research company Sterne Agee & Leach.
It hit stores on Tuesday and may top the $900m debut of its record-setting predecessor, estimates Colin Sebastian, an analyst with Robert W Baird & Co.
“There’s a lot of anticipation for this game,” Sebastian said.
The pressure is on game publishers to prove $60(about R500) titles that take years to build have a future in an industry shaken by cheap titles for Facebook, tablets and smartphones.
Since the last Grand Theft Auto broke first-day records in 2008, developers have cut jobs and slashed the number of titles they make, moving content online as they seek to avoid the fate of weaker players such as THQ, which went bankrupt.
“A lot of kids don’t want $40 games any more, they want 40 $1 games,” said Nancy MacIntyre, a former executive at Star Wars game studio LucasArts, now owned by Walt Disney. She runs a social-gaming network, Fingerprint Digital.
As new consoles arrive from Sony and Microsoft, the holiday season is a test for big, packaged-game franchises like Grand Theft Auto, Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty and Battlefield from Electronic Arts.
The smaller retail pie has pushed videogame publishers, like movie studios, to place monster financial bets on fewer titles. Developers spend years on a project, relying on high scores from sites like Metacritic, which compiles critics’ reviews, to spur purchases.
Some fall short. Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL 25 and Ubisoft Entertainment’s Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist, released last month, didn’t sell as well as earlier versions.
Development delays have meant that Grand Theft Auto, made for current-generation Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, is coming out two months before the arrival of these consoles’ successors.
The timing leaves Take-Two to navigate an “air pocket” in which gamers delay purchases while waiting for the new machines, says Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles. He estimates Grand Theft Auto V may sell 24 million copies, a million fewer than the previous version.
Take-Two hasn’t announced plans for Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4. By contrast, Electronic Arts has set upgraded plans for its holiday release Battlefield 4, as has Activision with Call of Duty: Ghosts.
As of March, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 had sold 154 million units worldwide, researcher IDC estimated. – Bloomberg News