Critics of ultra-violent video games will not be the only ones watching carefully as the latest instalment of the Grand Theft Auto series is released: the suits in Hollywood are anxious that it may dent the profits of their summer blockbusters.
Grand Theft Auto IV, the latest in the 18-rated crime series, which sees players take on the role of eastern European tough guy Niko Bellic, is expected to break sales records. Millions of fans of the GTA series worldwide are expected to shell out about Â£40 each for the game, making it one of the biggest moneyspinners in the industry.
Though the series is known for causing controversy, thanks to its adult content and uncompromising attitude, it has become a favourite of gamers who lust after its realistic graphics and tongue-in-cheek humour. The effect on the games industry has been dramatic, with more than 70-million copies sold in just over a decade.
The latest instalment is likely to sell six million copies in its first week of release, which would make in excess of $1-billion profit for its creators and cement it as one of the biggest entertainment franchises of any kind.
Experts say the numbers underline the growing power of the games industry, which — with forecasts of $14-billion in games sales for the three major consoles in 2008 — is eclipsing other major entertainment industries, including cinema. In fact, GTA IV is expected to earn more during its first few days of release than the $400-million made by the third instalment of Pirates of the Caribbean, the Hollywood record holder, in its opening weekend.
The film magazine Variety has suggested the game’s success could affect interest in this year’s blockbusters, which may struggle to compete for the same audience of young men.
Iron Man, the high-octane movie based on the comic-book character, which is expected to be one of the year’s biggest action films, is just one of those which could be harmed by going on release the same week as Grand Theft Auto IV.
The idea that the film industry is threatened by the popularity of games is not new. An executive at Warner Home Video, Ron Sanders, told Variety recently: “Video games are a major source of competition for the disposable income of young males. We avoid releasing big titles on dates that appeal to young men.”
Fears of an economic downturn could see the battle develop further. Piers Harding-Rolls, an analyst at Screen Digest, said games were seen as “a safe haven of growth in the entertainment industry”.
“The games industry isn’t that impacted [by recession] because people like to sit indoors when they haven’t got much money,” he added. “Games are seen as good value, whereas box-office receipts can go down.” — Â