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Commentary > Game Over
The return of 'Grand Theft Auto'
"GTA: San Andreas" should break sales records, but will it help Take Two shares?
October 27, 2004: 4:39 PM EDT
Game Over is a weekly column by Chris Morris

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) Since the PlayStation 2 hit store shelves in 2000, no game has sold more copies than "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" or "Grand Theft Auto 3". Change could be in the air Tuesday, though, when gamers get their hands on "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas".

Gaming industry analysts expect "GTA: San Andreas" to be the holiday season's biggest title, selling as many as 4 million copies by Dec. 31. With a retail price of $50 per copy, that could generate nearly $200 million in revenue for publisher Take Two Interactive Software before 2005. To put that in perspective, only four films have boasted box office earnings exceeding that amount this year.

The game is expected to represent up to 50 percent of Take Two's revenue in not only the company's fiscal fourth quarter (which ends Oct. 31), but its fiscal first quarter of 2005. Analysts, though, are shying away from the company's stock, citing a lack of momentum after the release of "GTA: San Andreas" and saying current share prices already factor in the forthcoming sales.

Southwest Securities downgraded the company from "Strong Buy" to "Neutral" on Oct 4. And a noted industry analyst at Bank of America Securities on Monday lowered Take Two (Research) from "Buy" to "Neutral".

"Now that 'San Andreas' has launched, we have decided to take an early exit off the highway largely due to a lack of product momentum for [Take Two] after 'GTA: San Andreas'," said BofA's Gary Cooper in an analyst note. "While it may be the largest video game of all time right now, there will be a day when GTA is supplanted by another game."

Though it faces some serious competition in the market this year (including "Halo 2" for the Microsoft (Research) Xbox and "Half-Life 2" for the PC), GTA has a few things working in its favor.

"Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" may attract critics, but it's also likely to outsell every other video game this year.

For starters, there's the overwhelming success of the previous two games. "GTA 3" (released in 2001) sold 5.4 million copies. "GTA: Vice City" (released the following year) sold 6.1 million, according to The NPD Group, which tracks video game sales in North America. Take Two said the games have sold 11 million and 13 million copies globally.

By skipping a 2003 release, Take Two (and its premier developer Rockstar) was able to build pent-up demand for the game. Also, in that time frame, Sony (Research) has cut another $50 off the price of the PlayStation 2, which has helped double that machine's installed base, thus doubling the potential audience.

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"GTA: San Andreas" offers a few new gameplay features as well. Whereas previous installments in the game have centered around one fictional town, this one will offer three cities to explore and offer a game world that's five times larger than its predecessor. The emphasis on character development will be much more pronounced this time, with the game's lead character adopting one of three distinct personalities, depending on your style. You'll also have to watch how your character eats, as too much junk food and too little exercise will have visible effects and will affect how your character moves on screen.

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Of course, it wouldn't be a "Grand Theft Auto" game without some sort of controversy and it's a safe bet the opponents of the first two games will find something to object to this time around as well. Set in the 1990s, "GTA: San Andreas" focuses on gang life and will feature shootouts with police officers and drive-by shootings.

Like its predecessors, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" will carry an "M" rating from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, meaning the game is intended for mature audiences aged 17 and over.  Top of page

Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.

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