Video game publisher Rockstar has done it; it has conquered the formulaic leviathan that is the market. According to Forbes, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V has surpassed the considerable $1 billion sales mark in just three days, elevating the open-world crime opus from the status of “just another violent video game” to a “wildly lucrative violent video game.”
Perhaps I’m being unfair to GTA V. Perhaps I’m being biased or directional. It’s a stellar, immense, and astoundingly astonishing achievement because of its positional advantage.
Currently, Grand Theft Auto V is the fastest-selling media product of all time. Summer blockbuster films such as The Avengers, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 2, and Avatar (all oft-cited bastions of money-making movie magic) required at least 10 or more days to match this.
The speed of sales of this size means that the public needs to start taking video games seriously, not only as a generator of immensely lucrative products but also as a means of future market behaviors. Video games — and GTA V especially — may have several purchasing advantages over other mediums.
Consumers can preorder games for home consumption. Although preorder tickets for movies do exist, they are usually for the theater. Video games can increase their revenue considerably by providing incentives through the perpetuation of both a “keeping up with the Jones” relationship gamers have with each other as well as fostering a preorder culture.
Video games are multilevelled innovators. They can create and modify trends in the design of other video games as well as how these games transmit their messages or ideas because they are intertextual. Since video games rely on how the narrative is both constructed and interpreted by a wide variety of actors, a game can be tinkered much more noticeably than movies or books. Everything looks, feels, and seems new.
For a movie or a book, you watch or read, and the only changes are in how that narrative is constructed. For games, players can experience things differently by changes in the user interface, graphical fidelity, and interactivity on top of narrative shift. You play, but there are changes within how you play. Perceived change fosters a need for command and ownership — see Apple.
And video games have integrated a massive organic advertising culture into their product dissemination. Movies and books (though predominantly movies) still depend on digital and cross-media marketing paradigms to get their products out. Thanks to online stores such as Steam and Green Man Gaming, gamers benefit from (and in turn, depend upon) cloud, direct, and community marketing in addition to other forms of marketing. Hearsay and positional relationships (famous YouTubers, for instance) become important magnifiers of existing desires, and Let’s Players on YouTube can convince on-the-fence players to go out and buy games they expressed interest in.
Of course, these three (of many) facets of the video game market are arguably only effective when paired with video games; for instance, duplicating these sorts of advantages with books or films may not be as easy or as compelling because of the nature of other mediums. Regardless, these are lessons that other industries may want to consider.
Alternative arguments exist — stunted efforts of pirates, for instance, may be an argument some might bring up. The case study of evolution sim/strategy game Spore revealed that piracy does influence the time of considerable sales, even if the overall sales over a lengthier period may be questionable.
Likewise, GTA V might be sitting comfortably on a considerable brand name in the form of Rockstar. We may be hard-pressed to see smaller game developers achieve the same levels of success.
Nevertheless, one of the things to look out for is whether a comparable company can make lightning strike — if we find a similar set of numbers with similar practices, we might be coming to some sort of revelation, whatever that may be. If not, they we may be returning to the drawing board after all.