Nobody could have imagined just how successful Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto franchise would become.
Beginning life as a top-down 2D adventure in 1997, Grand Theft Auto has evolved into an action packed open-world extravaganza spawning five main entries and dozens of spin-offs. Each installment in the series has gotten better, with 2013’s Grand Theft Auto V the jewel in the franchise’s crown. A critical and commercial success, it quickly became one of the most successful titles released that year and has gone on to become one of the defining games of last decade.
The success of Grand Theft Auto V is evident in its sales, with the output recently crowned the biggest selling video game of the past 10 years. Last month publisher Take-Two Interactive confirmed an incredible 130 million copies have been sold worldwide, with a further 10 million units sold over the past couple of months alone. Not only has Grand Theft Auto V sold millions of copies, but it’s also recognised as the fastest selling entertainment title in history, earning a whopping $800USD million on its release day and a further $1 billion over its first three days of sales. If that’s not impressive enough, it’s also the third highest selling game of all time, coming in behind proven best and brightest Minecraft and Tetris.
So how did Rockstar manage to dominate the overly competitive gaming market with one title released seven years ago?
There are a number of factors contributing to the long-term success of Grand Theft Auto V, with early reviews going a long way to establishing the third person title as a must-play game. The critical acclaim validated the faith that gamers had in Rockstar, who had promised a title like no other in the series. Released at a time when social media was progressing to having an impact on pop culture, people took to their favourite social platforms and online forums and raved about the game, helping get the word out and drive sales.
The game itself really is like nothing that’s come before it. Rockstar created a beautifully developed open-world environment where players could do just about anything and get away with it. The gameplay is miles ahead of previous instalments, with the introduction of three main protagonists – the first time in the series where gamers could switch between characters – a major drawcard for players wanting a fresh experience in the series. Throw in an engaging single player campaign, exhilarating side missions and crass humour aimed at 18-30 year olds and you have all the hallmarks of a winning video game formula. Offering something for everyone, Grand Theft Auto V is one of the few titles that appeals to both hardcore and casual gamers.
Not only is V a fantastic game, but its release across multiple cross-generation consoles caused a huge boost in sales a year after its initial release. People who first purchased the game for their PS3 and Xbox 360 were encouraged to buy a copy when they upgraded to the PS4 and Xbox One a year later. Rockstar updated the graphics, added bonus content and introduced a first person shooter mode, effectively creating a remastered version of the game. This was a smart move by Rockstar, bolstering the initial sales and giving Grand Theft Auto V a second life on next-generation consoles. The Windows PC release was also well received and resulted in another surge of sales almost two years after its initial release, keeping it in the spotlight, in addition to an announcement last week that it will be adapted once again for the upcoming PS5.
The recent popularity of Grand Theft Auto V with streamers has contributed to its continued success. While many stream themselves playing the game online, a huge number of streamers have taken part in Grand Theft Auto V roleplay, a mod created specifically for the franchise where you take on the role of an entirely new character and experience everyday life in San Andreas. Think World Of Warcraft meets The Sims in the open-world and you’ll understand what this is all about. Many famous Twitch streamers have gotten involved, with one of the most popular servers, NoPixel, providing fans with hours of hilarious content and the chance to watch famous streamers interact, extending upon the legacy of the franchise.
While the critical reception, game mechanics, streaming success and release of Grand Theft Auto V on multiple platforms is all part of its enduring success, the biggest factor has to be Grand Theft Auto Online. First released in conjunction with the game in 2013, online was initially plagued by bugs and heavily criticised by fans. It took a number of years before the online portion of Grand Theft Auto V showed signs of improvement, with the additional content giving gamers a unique experience inside the Grand Theft Auto world. The online component has really come into its own over the past couple of years, with Rockstar dedicating the bulk of its manpower to frequently updating the online world by adding new game modes and missions.
2019 was easily the best year for Grand Theft Auto Online, as evident by the 20 million copies of the game sold. The major update for last year was the Diamond Casino & Resort, where players could visit a fully functional casino and participate in exciting missions and activities, as well as being delivered the ability to purchase a host of new items such as clothing, weapons and vehicles. It also featured the Diamond Casino Heist, the biggest and most complex Heist mission in Grand Theft Auto Online history. What sets the mission apart from your standard online play is that even if things go wrong during the heist, the mission doesn’t fail, meaning you have to adapt to the situation and work through the problems to pull off the job and escape. This adds even more excitement to the gaming experience and gives players another unique escapade.
While these are all valid reasons for Grand Theft Auto V’s continued success, it’s still an unbelievable achievement considering the amount of big money titles released over the past seven years. It continues to be hands down the most popular game of our generation, and with a sixth entry rumoured to be arriving soon, Rockstar’s grip on the video game market doesn’t look to be loosening.