Rockstar Games didn’t play by the rules.
Not that anyone would expect the creators of the massively successful “Grand Theft Auto” franchise to operate like other game designers.
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And while that’s created an undeniable mystique around Tuesday’s release of “Grand Theft Auto V,” it’s also raised some questions.
Sony and Microsoft are about two months away from unleashing powerful new game consoles. Yet, the biggest release of the holiday season was designed for their aging workhorses, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360.
The old consoles are perfectly capable of delivering Rockstar’s vision, said Dan Houser, its vice president and the writer of “GTA V.”
“The fact that hardware’s so mature right now is exactly why we’re able to go on to the next level,” he told Japan’s Famitsu magazine last year. Besides, “All the best games for a console come out at the end of the life cycle, right?”
In a year that’s featured stunners such as “BioShock Infinite,” “The Last of Us” and “Tomb Raider,” he has a point.
The other advantage for Rockstar is the huge combined user base of the PS3 and Xbox 360, which translates into much bigger sales than “GTA V” would rack up among the new consoles’ early adopters.
“The demand for (new) consoles appears to be very strong,” GameStop CEO Paul Raines said. “But I think ‘GTA’ is a separate animal, and we will sell a lot of copies of ‘GTA V.’”
On the other hand: Won’t the absence of “GTA V” hurt sales of the forthcoming PlayStation 4 and Xbox One?
“People are going to buy new consoles because they’re ready for a new console,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. “They’re not going to say, ‘Oh, “GTA V” isn’t on it? I’m not buying it.’ Nobody is going to buy a new console just to play one game, and no one game is going to keep them from buying a new console.”
What’s new here?
Rockstar didn’t participate in the kind of public relations that typically accompany a big-budget video game. It didn’t show “GTA V” at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the annual convention where all the big publishers compete for attention.
Instead of a steady flow of previews across every tech news site on the Web, Rockstar carefully parceled out a screenshot here, an in-game video there. Many critics – even at some huge gaming sites – were frozen out of review copies.
Most gamers, then, didn’t know what was in “GTA V” until they started playing it. It’s set in the sprawling city and outlying areas of Los Santos, Rockstar’s tongue-in-cheek take on Los Angeles. The developers have boasted that the game’s virtual footprint is larger than all previous editions of “GTA” combined. Instead of one protagonist, players switch between three criminals: veteran Michael, twisted Trevor and newbie Franklin.
There is plenty of the franchise’s two cornerstones: driving recklessly and killing frequently. Beyond the usual mayhem, gamers also play golf and tennis or invest in the stock market. Houser has said the game is 100 hours long.
The game will also feature “Grand Theft Auto Online,” a separate multiplayer experience.
Wait ... online?
“Grand Theft Auto Online” is far more ambitious than anything Rockstar has tried in the past. The company described it as “a dynamic and persistent online world for 16 players that begins by sharing gameplay features, geography and mechanics with ‘Grand Theft Auto V,’ but will continue to expand and evolve after its launch.”
The bad news: It doesn’t launch until Oct. 1. The good news: It will be free to anyone who buys “GTA V.”
But will it sell?
Of course it will.
“Grand Theft Auto IV” shattered entertainment industry records, selling 6 million copies and earning $500 million in sales its first week of release in 2008.