Grand Theft Auto 5 has smashed its way into the record books by grabbing the largest ever first day takings for a video game, underlining the appeal of the medium as Sony and Microsoft prepare to launch a new generation of consoles.
The latest instalment of the British-produced franchise took more than $800m (£498m) worldwide on Tuesday. Billed as one of the most ambitious and expensive games ever created, the California-based crime epic has already more than recouped its $270m development and marketing budget.
Sales have left in the dust the previous $500m record set in 2012 by Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and beaten in a single day the $500m in revenue which Grand Theft Auto’s fourth instalment generated in its first week nearly five years ago.
“The last major Grand Theft Auto title sold just under 13 million [units] in the course of the year. This did that in a day,” said Daniel Ernst, an analyst at Hudson Square Research.
The success of a game which features mafia bosses, motorcycle gangs, man-eating sharks and cynical movie producers running riot in a fictional town loosely based on Los Angeles, has underlined once again the console’s ability to host entertainment franchises more valuable than those produced in Hollywood.
The biggest ever opening weekend for a feature film was achieved by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 in 2011, when it took $480m worldwide at the box office – a fraction of Grand Theft Auto’s single day achievement.
Described by the Guardian’s games critic as “a monstrous parody of modern life”, the title that unleashes the player’s inner thug with missions to steal cars and rob banks has defied predictions that lavish video game productions will soon be sidelined by a multitude of cheaper and more disposable smartphone apps.
News that consumers are still prepared to part with £38 for a single title will cheer Sony, which releases Playstation 4 in the United States on 15 November, and its rival Microsoft, whose Xbox One goes on sale a week later.
“No one title is an indicator of success of upcoming platforms,” said David Riley, executive director at market researcher NPD Group. “You can’t say because of GTA the industry would be saved. But it is a boost in the arm of the industry that it has needed for quite a while. We are going to have a great holiday season worldwide.”
In August, NPD found US sales of hardware, accessories and software grew year on year for the first time since October 2011, albeit by a modest 1%. But the boost was entirely due to new titles, with sales of consoles down 40%.
Take-Two chairman and chief executive Strauss Zelnick praised the Edinburgh-based team at Rockstar North which produces the GTA franchise for “setting the entertainment industry’s new standard for creativity, innovation and excellence”. He said in north America alone, 8,300 shops had opened their doors at midnight to make the most of the release.
Sony said Thursday it expected sales of its new PlayStation 4 console to reach 5 million units this financial year, about 40% more than its third console generated in the same period seven years ago. But smartphones already far outsell consoles, and less complex games like Angry Birds, Candy Crush and Dots are booming.
“A lot of kids don’t want $40 games any more, they want 40 $1 games,” Nancy MacIntyre told Bloomberg. A former executive at game studio LucasArts, she now runs a social-gaming network Fingerprint Digital.