Take-Two Interactive's Grand Theft Auto is the gift that keeps giving.
The fifth installment of the popular game series, which lets players commit crimes and perform other strange and outlandish activities in a virtual reconstruction of Los Angeles, performed well into the holidays with 45 million total units sold, the company said Tuesday, despite an original release date 17 months ago.
Take-Two subsidiary Rockstar Games released the game first on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game consoles in September 2013, knowing full well that it could re-release the game as an updated version for newer game hardware the following year. That newer version accumulated 10 million in sales in just a month and a half since its November release. GTA V, as it's called, was thewhen it first came out, earning $1 billion in three days.
The decision to release the game twice is proving to be one of Take-Two's biggest financial boons to date, helping pull the company well past Wall Street expectations for its fiscal third-quarter earnings reported Tuesday.
Take-Two isn't done with GTA V yet, either. The company plans to release the game on the PC platform in March, marking a long-awaited release for gamers who forgo consoles for playing titles on their home computers. The company will also release a new game, Evolve, that will help boost sales in the following quarter as well.
"Looking ahead, we expect that our fourth quarter will provide a strong finish to fiscal 2015, which is lining up to be one of Take-Two's best years ever," CEO Strauss Zelnick said in a statement.
While Take-Two can rest assured that its GTA franchise is alive, well and flying off shelves, the publisher is increasingly eyeing the money it makes from its titles over time from sales made within the game. For instance, GTA comes with a social online component, allowing players to play and compete with friends and strangers over the Internet. The service was the largest contributor to Take-Two's sales over the Internet, which grew 64 percent year over year to $217 million and now represents almost a quarter of the company's quarterly sales.
This shift follows an industry trend with other large game makers, like Electronic Arts, which also saw a huge boost in revenue from sales over the Internet in its latest quarter. These companies are beginning to see success in the games industry as less a matter of selling the most units and more a question of how to get gamers to play a single game for longer -- and spending real money in the virtual worlds as well.
Overall, Take-Two said sales in the quarter ending December 31 were $954 million, up almost 20 percent from $768 million in the year-ago period, after adjustments for deferred revenue and other items. The company's profit came in at $1.87 a share, up from $1.70 a share a year ago.
Analysts had expected the company to report on average a gain of $1.52 on sales of $798 million, according to surveys by Thomson Reuters.
Investors responded favorably on Tuesday, sending Take Two's stock up more than 6 percent in after-hours trading. The company's shares have risen more than 75 percent so far this year.
For the fourth fiscal quarter ending March 31, Take-Two anticipates profit between 15 cents to 25 cents a share on sales between $410 million to $460 million, after adjustments. Analysts on average estimate fiscal third-quarter earnings of 25 cents a share on sales of $437 million, according to surveys by Thomson Reuters.
Take-Two has raised its fiscal year sales guidance by another $150 million to between $1.65 billion and $1.70 billion and increased its annual earnings forecast per share by more than 35 cents to between $1.65 to $1.75.