Can any game break the 'GTA IV' sales records?

Coming off the best single-day and one-week sales records in entertainment industry history, is 'Grand Theft Auto IV' safe at the top of the heap?

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
5 min read
'Grand Theft Auto IV' broke the all-time records for single-day and one-week entertainment industry sales. It looks like it could be tough for any forthcoming game to knock GTA IV off the top of the hill. Rockstar Games

Though Halo 3 held the all-time entertainment industry record for single-day sales for eight months, it could be a long time before anyone bests the record-shattering sales achieved by GTA IV.

On Wednesday, Take-Two Interactive, which owns GTA IV developer Rockstar Games, announced that the new game had raked in all-time records of $310 million on its launch day of April 29 and $500 million during its first week. The single-day figure shattered the previous record, set last September by Halo 3, of $170 million.

And given how quickly Bungie Studios' Halo 3 was reduced to second place, it stands to reason that even the monstrous pile of cash GTA IV has earned so far--it has already sold more than 6 million copies, Take-Two said--could be in danger from some game already in the pipeline.

News.com Poll

Great expectations
What has the best chance of breaking Grand Theft Auto IV's entertainment industry record for first-day sales?

Spore (video game)
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (video game)
StarCraft II (video game)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (movie)
Something else
Nothing will break that record.

View results

Among the games that are set to be released in the next few months that seem like potential contenders: Electronic Arts' Spore, Blizzard Entertainment's StarCraft II, Konami's Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, EA's 2009 version of Madden football, LucasArts' Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Activision's next Guitar Hero offering, Harmonix's next Rock Band version and Nintendo's Wii Fit.

And since we're talking the entire entertainment industry, there's also the small matter of the forthcoming Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull from Paramount and LucasFilm.

But according to several industry experts contacted for this story, none of those titles seems likely to score the kind of cash in a single day or single week that GTA IV did. So while one of those games, or possibly another one not listed might some day best GTA IV in total sales, it seems that its short-term sales records are safe for the foreseeable future.

"If you measure in terms of one-day sales," said Michael Pachter, a video game analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities, "there's likely nothing (that can break the record) until the next GTA."

In large part, Pachter said, that's because the GTA franchise has the significant advantage of being perhaps the world's most popular video game title that is available on multiple video game platforms. Indeed, many analysts have said that the game is not only selling well on its own, but is also driving sales of the consoles it can be played on, Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3.

By comparison, Halo 3 is only available for the Xbox 360.

"The special thing about GTA is that it's a cross-platform title and can leverage the install bases of both" consoles, said IDC games analyst Billy Pidgeon. "The fact that you could only play Halo on the Xbox 360 made a difference."

And beyond the cross-platform versus single-platform issue, there's also the small matter of the miniscule selection of full-fledged AAA games that simply attract huge audiences.

"Halo and GTA are fairly unique properties in the interactive entertainment world," said Colin Sebastian, a senior analyst for Lazard Capital Markets, "so it's difficult to say if anything in the next couple of years will reach these (early sales) levels."

That said, there's no reason to think that GTA IV will set or hold any kind of long-term sales numbers. While it's certain to make gigantic amounts of money and sell many, many millions of copies, it's not necessarily the kind of game that will sustain its sales over the long haul. Rather, it's the kind of game the attracts hard-core gamers, most of whom want to get it right away.

"If you measure in terms of lifetime sales, I think Wii Fit," Nintendo's forthcoming exercise game, could break sales records, said Pachter. "I think it's going to attach about a one-third rate to all Wiis, and globally, that means (since there have been 20 million Wiis sold), it'll pass GTA IV by the end of next year."

Some people are expecting Spore, the next game from The Sims creator Will Wright, to be a big winner for EA, particularly because The Sims became the best-selling PC game of all time and recently passed 100 million total units sold, counting all its expansions and sequels.

"Personally, I think Spore is going to be a huge influence on the games industry," Pidgeon said. "And I think it's going to do well. I don't know if it's going to be another Sims, but I think it will be broadly popular."

But Spore presents a couple of problems, at least in terms of whether or not it could be an all-time best-selling game. First, it is a PC--and Mac--title, not a console game. And secondly, according to Pidgeon, it doesn't seem an obvious choice for endless expansions like The Sims franchise is.

Another set of titles that could contend for the all-time sales records, though probably not the short-term records, are the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises, since they will likely have an endless supply of expansions and accessories. And they have long-term potential that even GTA probably can't match.

"Guitar Hero and Rock Band (are) franchises where, when you add the numbers up, they're just spectacular," said Pidgeon. "You see them played in bars, and (they present) a really interesting growth opportunity. There's a lot of room for exciting growth in that sort of product. That's the sort of thing you don't see with GTA.

And while none of the analysts interviewed for this article could see any already announced game topping GTA IV's short-term records, that doesn't mean it won't happen.

In fact, the timing of the GTA IV launch itself could eventually be why it gets surpassed.

"Part of this is also where we are in the hardware cycle," Pidgeon said, explaining that GTA IV was published when the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have only been out for a couple of years. Over time, as millions more gamers bring those consoles home, "it'll be easier for some blockbuster title to sell big."