gtaiv.jpgIt’s certainly in demand: tonight, before Rockstar’s creation hits store shelves, a few UPS workers were fired for stealing pre-ordered copies of Grand Theft Auto IV. There’s no doubt it’s going to set a new sales record for entertainment product starting tomorrow — perhaps $400 mil and 6 mil copies because it plays on both Microsoft’s Xbox 360 as well as Sony’s Playstation 3, way beyond the previous record-holder Halo 3. In fact U.S. retail sales of video games jumped 57% in March, and analysts predict increased hardware sales due to the new game release. So on the eve of GTA IV‘s release, I turned to my video game guru Keith Boesky, whose company is responsible for selling the most intellectual property and developers into the game business and who has opined on video game violence here as well as on video games versus movies here. Now he analyzes whether GTA IV has really got game:

“To put it lightly, if the other things made for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are called ‘games’, we have to come up with a new word for GTA IV. I think the word is ‘platform’. By every measure, GTA IV is orders of magnitude larger than anything else on the market, including with the critical scores. The fact you are reading this and know what I am talking about is already an indication of the scale. How many of you knew the second largest game on the Playstation, Gran Turismo: Prologue came out a couple weeks ago?

“The game business quantifies critical reviews and assigns scores. Metacritic.com, which also aggregates reviews for film, television, books, DVDs and music, is the game industry Q rating. The value of the property you are trying sell, as well as the ability to sell at all, is directly related to the Metacritic score of your last title. The Godfather is the only film with a perfect 100 on Metacritic. Today, GTA IV joins The Godfather in the 100 club (The 100 was for the PlayStation 3 version, the Xbox 360 scored slightly lower at 99). This is significant for a lot of reasons. First, GTA IV will have the critical praise of The Godfather, but it will have the box office of Titanic. While the direct relationship is not as unusual as film, it is still somewhat unusual in our business. In terms of the score, to give you a better idea of what a 100 really means, the highest average score for a publisher in 2007 was Nintendo’s 75.

“The scale of the praise is not as great as the scope of the game itself. If you are at all inclined to read about games, you probably heard about last year’s mega hits, Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3. If you play games, you are probably familiar with the critical darling and lesser hit, Bioshock. Each of these games run between 6 and 12 hours to complete, depending on how you play. GTA IV will take a player somewhere between 80 and 100 hours to complete – if they make it. The other games generate sales and justify a shorter single player experience with multiplayer capabilities. The play is infinite because you are playing against your friends – and enemies – thereby making the game new each time you log on.  This is a valid point and each of the games did ship with a number of multiplayer modes.  GTA IV trumps the competition again with 14 different multiplayer modes. If you don’t want to go on mission, you can walk, drive or fly around the city with your friends. Think about it like golf without all that fresh air and walking and stuff.

“The next significant leap occurs on the advertising side. While most games are trying to figure out effective ways to leverage ad revenue by placing products and promotions into games, Rockstar, famous for turning its back on industry practice, chose the Harry Potter route. If you look at their social network – yes they have one – www.socialclub.rockstargames.com, you will start to see some of the licensing opportunities they created.  J.K. Rowling could have put Jelly Bellies in her books, but instead, she created Bertie Bott’s Beans, and a ton of other stuff.  Rockstar’s games have always created their own universe and now, it looks like they are taking it to the next level.  The social site includes promotion for the Liberty City Marathon sponsored by fast food joint “Cluckin’ Bell Chicken”, FLEECA and others. There is also an advertisement for a new card game in the club. They didn’t stop there. Like I said, there is a radio network in the game. If you don’t like the song on the car you are driving, change the channel, and a new one comes on. If you like it a lot, pick up a phone in the game, call ZIT music service, and the song is tagged on Amazon for your downloading pleasure. There is a lot more, but you can see it for yourself

“The most significant impact will come from the city itself. Rockstar built their own high resolution, on line city called Liberty City. I remember sitting in a meeting when an agent just returned from the set of Polar Express. He was telling the film agents about the wonder of motion capture. No makeup, no hair, no lighting, just capture the movements of the actor, put it together in post, and you have a movie. Image Movers can only put new content out when a film is released, or someone is willing to distribute a DVD. They also can’t update the existing content on the DVD.

“But Rockstar can update and broadcast whenever they please. By the end of the year, some 10 million plus people around the world will have purchased the game and put it into their console. All of the buildings, cars, people, streets and even a radio spectrum are sitting on people’s consoles. It is a platform. Rockstar has the ability to ‘broadcast’ new missions or characters into the city and tell entirely new stories. If I want a new episode of Law & Order, I have to get the crew together, pay the actors, hire the location and more. If Rockstar chooses to make a cop show, they animate characters, or draw from the animation library, hire voice talent and send it out to the audience. The low cost would even make the Weinsteins cry with joy. And there is no concern about marketing, your audience is already there, and their billing information is already held on line.

“Imagine if you could make an impulse buy offer of new content to everyone who watched your TV show last night, or saw your film. No one outside Rockstar knows if this going to happen, but the possibility sure is exciting. This one really looks like a game changer – pun intended.”

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.