Tuesday 9 March 2021

GRAND THEFT AUTO and RED DEAD REDEMPTION publishers planning a major release in late 2023

Slightly older news now, but Take Two Interactive's 2020 financials confirm that the company has earmarked a massive $90 million marketing spend for financial year 2023-24, indicating the company is planning a high-profile game release in that time period. The favourite money is on Grand Theft Auto VI, although there are several other possibilities.

Take Two Interactive own Rockstar Games, the developers of the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption franchises, as well as lower-key franchises like Max Payne, LA Noire, Bully, Midnight Club and Manhunt.

The jewel in the publisher's crown is the open-world action series Grand Theft Auto, which has clocked up over 320 million sales to become the biggest-selling video game series of all time developed in the West (running roughly neck-and-neck with Electronic Arts' FIFA series). Only Nintendo's Mario and Pok√©mon franchises have definitively sold more games, along with puzzle title Tetris in myriad different formats. Grand Theft Auto V (2013), the latest game in the series, has sold over 140 million copies by itself and last year alone sold over 20 million units, a startling number for a game in its eighth year on sale. In contrast, the biggest-selling game of 2020 appears to be Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which sold over 30 million copies in just over nine months. The biggest-selling open-world game was Cyberpunk 2077, which shifted over 13 million copies in just three weeks.

The long tail on GTAV, driven by its hugely popular multiplayer component, Grand Theft Auto Online, is extremely impressive, and also fortuitous, as the constant release of new content has helped sate demand for a sequel. Instead of directly working on a sequel to the game, Rockstar instead prioritised a game in another franchise, Red Dead Redemption 2, which was released in 2018 to critical acclaim. RDR2 has also enjoyed high sales, with current estimates of just under 40 million copies sold. Although work on a sixth GTA game likely began some time before RDR2 was completed, it was reportedly still only in an "early" state a year ago.

GTAV's marketing budget is estimated at around $50-70 million and somewhat more for RDR2, so a $90 million spend would not be unexpected for Take Two's biggest-ever franchise.

A release from one of Take Two's many other studios is unlikely to warrant that kind of spend. Hanger 13 is rumoured to be working on Mafia IV, also likely an open-world game set in a fictional city, but that series is relatively low-key compared to GTA. Firaxis Games are probably working on XCOM 3 and maybe Civilization VII, but those turn-based strategy games are unlikely to warrant this kind of expenditure. 

An outside possibility is BioShock, a popular first-person action game franchise from the publisher. BioShock 4 has been in development for two years at Cloud Chamber Games and, with the last game in the series released back in 2013, it might be that Take Two want a big marketing spend to let people know the game is coming out. However, with a sale base of around 34 million copies combined from three games, the series again would not warrant that kind of marketing spend.

An outside possibility is that Rockstar are preparing an ambitious remaster of one of their other games, with the original Red Dead Redemption being most likely; much of RDR1's map and assets were remade in the RDR2 iteration of the engine for the sequel, making the task of remounting the game in the new engine much simpler. In addition, RDR1's development was famously complicated and left the game code in a state that made updating or revamping it very difficult, and impossible to port to other formats. However, Rockstar are preparing a major remaster of GTAV for release this year with nothing like the same marketing spend, also making that unlikely.

If Rockstar are not planning to release Grand Theft Auto VI until financial year 2023-24, that puts even a trailer or announcement still a long way off. More news as it is revealed.

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