Few games offer the same stratospheric success as Grand Theft Auto V has for publisher Rockstar Games. Despite releasing what feels like a lifetime ago precisely six years to the day, the consummate open-world criminal sim remains one of the best selling games month after month.
With such success come coveted accolades such as the third best selling game of all time, trailing timeless classic Tetris and the best seller Minecraft. Rockstar has sold approximately 110 million copies of the game to date.
Grand Theft Auto V is the most lucrative media product ever created. A report published in Apr. 2018 by analysts at MarketWatch estimates total earnings at over $6 billion, bypassing even the highest-grossing movie franchises like Star Wars. We can comfortably assume that the number has grown exponentially in the intervening 18 months.
But, what is it about Grand Theft Auto V that fuels such a voracious appetite for its unique blend of ultra-violent depictions of the seedier sides of a modern metropolis and open-world driving antics?
The initial launch of Grand Theft Auto V is an oddity in gaming history. Rockstar straddled the PlayStation 3’s swan song and the fresh pastures of the PlayStation 4 launch, publishing versions of the game on both platforms. Second-copy purchases are a factor for those who upgraded to Sony’s latest console. A year later, Rockstar carried the game over to PC, where it once again proved a resounding hit with gamers.
But this dual generation release doesn’t account for the whole story.
At its core, Grand Theft Auto V is an excellent game. A rich narrative marries itself to a near limitless sandbox where the player can live out their most perverse dreams. In other words, a playground for our most violent and despicable desires that would not go down well in the real-world.
Allied to this solid foundation is the heft of the Grand Theft Auto name, a brand that breaks free of the claustrophobic confines of the gaming world to carve a permanent berth within mainstream culture aided in part by successive controversies plaguing the series.
Moreover, we can’t discount how great the game looks to this very day, especially when rendered through high spec gaming PCs. It has aged well.
But, Rockstar’s ability to regularly improve and update the multiplayer component, Grand Theft Auto Online, is the coup de grace that cemented the game’s ongoing popularity.
With no less than 35 substantial updates added to the game since release, all of them free, Rockstar has defined a model that keeps players flocking back in droves, and importantly, for the books, recurrent spending on cosmetics and in-game boosts. Player spending leads to resources to develop more content, which in turn leads to more profit – a self-perpetuating cycle.
Finally, frequent cameos in the news cycle help to keep it fresh in the minds of gamers.
One example is the sudden resurgence of interest in the game as the biggest streamers on Twitch took to role-playing within privately run Grand Theft Auto servers. Hundreds of thousands watched in anticipation as streamers of the ilk of Sodapoppin, Shroud, and summit1g found themselves in increasingly comedic scenarios in the mean streets of Los Santos.
The surge in interest led to players wanting a slice of the action, and although detached from the heavily-guided narrative of the base game, infused GTA V with a further lease on life. An active GTA V role-playing community spearheaded by affable streamers such as MiltonTPike1 and Vader continues to attract thousands of viewers regularly, despite the hype dying down as higher profile streamers moved onto the next big thing.
Grand Theft Auto V’s success is one we aren’t likely to ever see again, and however much we strive to pinpoint the exact thing that catapulted it to such lofty heights, it is difficult to define. It’s a blip in time where all the factors convened to conjure up the perfect recipe for ongoing success.
Rockstar continues to attempt a similar feat with Red Dead Redemption 2, but something is missing – a something that Grand Theft Auto V has in spades.
Last modified: January 10, 2020 3:32 PM UTC