Wednesday, May 07, 2008

This bugs me every time

It's been confirmed that Grand Theft Auto IV pulled down over half a billion dollars in revenues in its first week. As always, one of the first things the publisher has to say about this is the comparison to a movie's box office:
Grand Theft Auto IV's first week performance represents the largest launch in the history of interactive entertainment, and we believe these retail sales levels surpass any movie or music launch to date.

Well, sure. I don't want to downplay the significance of GTA's success, because those numbers are ridiculous. But it's not really an apples-to-apples comparison. A video game costs almost ten times as much as a movie ticket. When a game grosses $500 million, that's not the same amount of popular success as a movie that grosses the same amount. The movie had to sell significantly more tickets.

Look at it this way: At $60 a pop, you're looking at approximately 8,333,333 units of Grand Theft Auto sold. That's not counting the more expensive collector's editions. Assuming an average ticket price of $6.88 (which seems really low to me), the same number of movie tickets would sell for just over $57 million.

Iron Man crested $102 million in its opening weekend (clearly, Grand Theft Auto did not impact its performance). Still using that average ticket price, that's about 14.8 million tickets. In other words, almost twice as many people saw the movie in three days than bought the game in one week.

Then again, $60 is a much higher barrier to entry than $6.88. It's asking more of a consumer to buy a game than to buy a movie ticket. By that standard, GTA's performance is even more impressive. Even so, it doesn't represent a cultural penetration that rivals that of a blockbuster movie. We're not there yet.


Daniel Purvis said...

Though videogames may not reach that mass audience, I'd argue it still receives the same cultural penetration through other means. For instance, GTA IV had a larger impact on the culture at large through popular media than even Iron Man.

Iron Man really didn't receive half as much hype or recognition as GTA IV. Heck, I forgot Iron Man was even released until someone mentioned they'd seen it, then I saw it and started telling people how awesome it was and the people I was preaching to didn't realise it had been released. These people were not necessarily gamers but did know that GTA IV was released due to it's media saturation.

I know it's not really what you're talking about in this post, however I do feel it's worth mentioning the impact of games as a whole.

I'd also like to mention that more people are exposed to the game than the numbers of sales. For instance, my dad has watched me play through missions in GTA IV and appreciated what it had to offer - he's a non-gamer and he was absolutely blown away by the lighting in the game - and a good number of friends have been over just to play GTA IV because they couldn't purchase it themselves.

What I mean is, like magazine circulation numbers take into account the number of people likely to read the magazine at a newsagent, at a friend's house, in a doctors office, the number of people likely to play GTA IV not reflected in the sales numbers if likely to be significantly higher. I'd estimate nearly twice as many, in fact. Six different friends who don't own a copy of GTA IV have spent a total of 40 hours (estimate) playing or watching at my house alone.

I do concede, however, that Iron Man is probably being viewed from harddrives across the globe by now, which would counter my point.

Mitch Krpata said...

Hmm, I didn't account for the friend/roommate factor at all. You're right, that changes things.

Another thing to consider is how much it cost to make the movie and the game. That could be a lot more pure profit for GTA.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this really bugs me too. You want to talk about culural penetration? "To be, or not to be", that's cultural penetration.

Measuring these things in dollars never really works. Ever couple of years, a new movie becomes the highest grosser ever. Is that because it's better than previous ones though, or just because ticket prices went up?

Plus, you can't "preorder" Iron Man like you can a video game. Many of those sales were made months ago, which makes the equation even more difficult. If people had to pony up $60+ on the day it launched, would it have sold as well? Possibly...but maybe not.

Anonymous said...

I think when the numbers and big statements are made, they're not indicating that games have achieved more mainstream appeal than movies. Instead they're just talking about the money. To businesses the fact that movies reach a much greater audience than videogames isn't important. It's the fact that videogames make more raw cash than movies that counts, at least on their behalf.

It would be interesting to compare the sales of GTA IV with the DVD release of Iron Man, seeing as that could be the more suitable comparison to make.

Anonymous said...

As much as I'm diggin' GTA, why does it, of all games, have to be the one to gross more money than anything ever? Why couldn't a game like Portal be a runaway popular success? I just feel like the GTA hype crazy train is just stealing even more legitimacy away from gaming in our culture (albeit for the wrong reasons).

Oh, and I agree that the constant comparison of games to other media is a joke. Developers/publishers/platform-holders should should concentrate more on the actual games than on the relentless oneupsmanship. I have a hard time listening to all of the platform holders bragging about how well they're all doing every month when the NPDs come out.