Grand Theft Auto 4Publisher: Rockstar GamesDeveloper: Rockstar NorthFormats: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PCRelease date: PS3, Xbox 360 29/04/08, PC 03/12/08Grand Theft Auto 4 was released on 29th of April for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles. Itsold 6 million copies worldwide making over $500 million in revenue. This case study looks at howthis success was achieved, how Rockstar created GTA 4, then marketed and distributed the game,and how the product was consumed.PRODUCTIONRockstar Games is vertically integrated company so not only do they publish games (fund, marketand distribute) but they also develop their own games. They have achieved this vertical integrationby purchasing already established development studios, renaming them and making them part of theRockstar Games structure.One such development studio is Rockstar North - formerly an independent company called DMADesign. Rockstar North are the developers of the Grand Theft Auto series which first started withGrand Theft Auto for the PC, was released in 1997.The game had a simple top down presentation and basic graphics but was distinctive in severalways. 1) Free roaming structure/ ‘sandbox’ game – the gamer was placed within a city and given freedom to do what they wanted – explore, do missions, cause chaos 2) Dynamic environment – the game was set in a city where the other inhabitants reacted to the actions of the character e.g. ambulances would turn up to the scene of accidents 3) Parody of America – the setting was a fictional US city that parodied the excesses of America culture. 4) Mature content – the lead character was a gang member who indulges in a number of criminal activities: murder, carjacking etc 5) Multi-action game – the game allowed you drive any car, take to the streets on foot and fire various weapons.These core concepts have remained consistent throughout the series that has seen many differentdevelopments the most significant of which came in Grand Theft Auto 3 when the game ditched thetop-down 2D presentation in favour of a 3-dimensional world.So successful had Rockstar North created the 3D GTA that GTA 3 went on to be the biggest sellinggame on the PlayStation 2.Two further games – Vice City and San Andreas – that used the same universe and game engine asGTA 3, were released to great critical and commercial success.Rockstar North began developing GTA 4 in November 2004, just after the release of GTA: SanAndreas. Grand Theft Auto 4 differs from the GTA 3, Vice City and San Andreas in the followingways: 1) It is set in a new rebooted GTA universe so it shares no characters with the GTA 3 universe. 2) It is a contemporary setting unlike the period setting of 80s Miami for Vice City or 90’s California for San Andreas. 3) The graphics are photo-realistic rather being stylised and cartoony. 4) There are no obvious film references in the story unlike Vice City (Scarface) or San Andrea (Boyz n da Hood) – Rockstar wanted to take gaming forward by being less reliant on
existing ‘texts’. 5) There is little character development in terms of appearance and skills, unlike in San Andreas when the size, haircut and abilities could be modified. 6) The scale of Niko’s success isn’t on the scale with previous GTA characters – in Vice City and San Andrea they work their way to the very top, but Niko doesn’t become ‘King of New York’ at the end of the game. 7) Rockstar used RAGE (Rockstar’s Advanced Game Engine) to create the game.Game EngineDeveloping a game is a long and complicated process that requires a virtual world with its ownlook, physics and rules, to be created. To do this a ‘game engine’ is developed that can create all thenecessary elements such as 2D or 3D graphics, physics, animation, sound etc. As this process isparticularly complicated many developers use existing engines used in other games. This then givesthem more time to work on unique feature such as characters, structure and gameplay.Rockstar previously used Renderware – a game engine developed by UK company Criterion. Butwhen Criterion were bought by Electronic Arts (a rival publishing company to Rockstar) Rockstardeveloped their own game engine and called it RAGE. The first game that used RAGE wasRockstar Present’s Table Tennis.Rockstar also used an additional animation engine developed by UK company Natural Motioncalled Euphoria to simulate realistic character movement and response.The use of these two technologies has made GTA 4 the realistic, visually stunning game it is. Ofcourse it require other new technologies such as new consoles that could run the game (PS3, 360)and new TV (high definition) to exhibit the game in the quality Rockstar intended.MusicThe game features 18 different radio stations, 3 of which are ‘Talk-Radio’, the rest play licensedmusic from artists such as Philip Glass, Black Sabbath, Busta Rhymes, Kanye West. It was reportedthat Rockstar paid $5000 per track and such was Rockstar’s determination to get right tracks theyeven paid a private detective to track down the relatives of the Skatt Bros. in order to get permissionfor one their tracks.Voice TalentWhile previous GTA games had celebrity voice talent such as Michael Masden, Kyle MacLachan,Frank Vincent (GTA 3),Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds, Lee Majors (Vice City), Samuel L. Jackson,Shaun Ryder, Chris Penn (San Andreas) – GTA 4 used relatively unknown actors to voice the majorcharacters e.g. Niko Bellic was voiced by Michael Hollick.Delay in the developmentGTA 4 had an original release date of 19th October 2007, but on the 2nd August 2007 Take Two(Rockstar’s parent company) announced that the GTA would not be completed in time. On 24th ofJanuary 2008, Rockstar confirmed the new release date as 29th April 08.The official explanation for the delay: ‘We all recognize that perfecting the game is vital and I canassure everyone it will be worth the wait. We owe it to the game’s millions of fans, to our dedicateddevelopment team, and to our shareholders to make sure that Grand Theft Auto IV is agroundbreaking gaming experience that takes maximum advantage of next generation technology.”However, Jeronimo Barrera, President of Product Development at Rockstar explains thatdeveloping for the PS3 was a factor in the delay: "Its really no surprise to anybody that the PS3 wasdefinitely a contributing factor to that.’
Impact of the delayIt was bad news for both Sony and Microsoft (manufacturers of the PS3 and 360 respectively) asthey had both hoped the release of GTA 4 would drive the sales of their consoles. It was particularlybad news for Microsoft as they had paid Rockstar $50 million to ensure that future episodic contentwould be exclusive to the Xbox 360.Microsoft’s thinking was that consumer would choose to play GTA 4 on the 360 rather than the PS3(and so buy a 360 rather than a PS3) as the new content would only be available on the 360.For other games publishers it meant a restructuring of their schedules as many publishers avoidedreleasing any products around the time of release of GTA 4 as they thought consumers would onlybe spending money on Rockstars product.The delay helped some games such as Activision’s Call of Duty 4 which went on to be the biggestselling game for the 360 in the US between Nov 2007 and Jan 2008, an achievement that wouldhave been unlikely if GTA 4 had been released the month before.The change of release date also affected other media industries for instance some film companieshad avoided releasing films in that week. It was reported several Hollywood executives blamed thearrival of Halo 3 (X360) for a 27% drop in cinema ticket sales in the same month.Many experts feared that GTA 4’s release in April 08 would effect the revenue for the Iron Manfilm, however as the film went on to gross $98,618,668 in is opening weekend, these fears were alittle unfounded.DISTRIBUTIONGrand Theft Auto 4 was distributed in a conventional way for the games industry using high streetretail, online retail and digital delivery to ensure consumers could purchase it easily.RetailSpecialist electronic and gaming shops: Game, GameStation, Curries,Entertainment retail stores: HMV, Zavvi, FoppSupermarkets: Tesco, Asda, SainsburysOnline retailAmazon, play.com, gameplay.comPublisher’s online storeRockstargames.com/warehouseOnline content delivery systemDownloaded for PC (AND PC ONLY) from Steam.Where it wasn’t availablePlayStation Store (the PS3’s online store) or XboxLive Marketplace (the 360’s online store).GTA 4 was not available to download for the console as a game the size of GTA 4 (in terms ofdata) is not suitable for these services.OnLiveThis is a new service that is currently being tested in US, that uses broadband to stream games ontoconsumers PCs. The idea is that the consumer would no longer need to buy a physical copy of thegame or need a specific machine (console) to play the game.At the moment a game the size of GTA 4 could not be distributed in this manner as broadbandspeeds are not quick enough and the demand on the servers that would house the game would be toogreat. However, if OnLive is successful it could be another means of distribution – one that would
cut out retailers out of the chain of distribution and possibly publishers.MARKETING‘We were more heavily influenced by companies working in other media which had a sense of stylethat we admired - record labels, obviously, and clothing companies, which were obsessed withdetails and with an integrity between design, product and marketing. This is something that hasalways been very important to us: that the product, its packaging and public presentation should feellike the same thing, which is why we have always created all of our advertising materials ourselves,from TV creative to posters to promotional materials.’Dan Houser, 2002Rockstar have always been particularly strong at marketing as one of their main aims was to createRockstar Games as a cool and recognisable brand. As the above quote shows they create all theirmarketing and advertising in house rather than getting external agencies to do it. The idea is to havethe same people who are creative forces behind the product in control how it is presented to thepublic – ‘integrity between design, product and marketing’.For Grand Theft Auto 4 they used a number of strategies:(for more detail see the Marketing Powerpoint on the blog)Conventional MarketingAdvertising in print, TV, online and billboardsLarge mural painted in New YorkPoint of sale promotionsIf you pre-ordered GTA 4 with amazon you got a free GTA 4 licence plate.Special collectors editions were available that came in a GTA 4 duffel bag and safety deposit boxUse of the press‘Drip-feeding’ information to specialist press to ensure interest was maintained up to release andthat not too much information was given away that it would spoil the game for the consumer.Exclusive content given to magazines in return for covers.Interviews and coverage organised with the mainstream press. Eg. “Is GTA 4 Art” in the ObserverMagazine.Viral MarketingEmailing the address on the Wanted posters, teaser trailers advertising Liberty City PoliceDepartment and in-game cars.Spoof websitesGuerilla marketingWanted posters, stickers around New York City.Building relationships with fansitesGTA as a hardcore and fanatical following and since the very first GTA fans have created websiteto post news, reviews and information about the games. Rockstar communicate and support thesesites by giving them exclusive assets (screenshots, wallpapers) and access to the game.For GTA 4 several fansites were sent new assets and information, regular gifts such as promotionalT-shirts and stickers. Then just before the launch the editors of the fansites were taken on an all-expenses trip to New York to play GTA 4 before its release.
EXHIBITION(See spider-diagram on the media-blog)Exhibition has a lot of crossover with both Marketing and Consumption as it concerns where thegame is displayed, shown and seen.The most obvious place where GTA 4 is exhibited is the consumer’s home as a PC, PS3 orXbox360 is needed to play the game and a HD TV is need to display the image.This is in contrast to many popular games that are designed for handheld machines such as the PSP,DS and mobile phone which can be played/exhibited anywhere. Also it’s not available for the Wii.So Rockstar are have a specific idea about where they would like it exhibited as they want theconsumer to be able to appreciate the amazing visual quality of the game and richness of gameplay.(It is important to note that Rockstar have created a GTA experience for the Nintendo DS in theform of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars which uses the top-down view that was last used forGTA 2 – so they are by no means ignoring the handheld market.)There are, however, many other ways GTA 4 is exhibited:Shops – in-store demo podsYoutube – mission walkthroughs, reviews, stuntsMagazines – mission walkthroughs, reviews, follow-up feature on GTA’s secretsGaming cafes – where gamers go to play GTA 4 onlineTelevision – adverts, news featuresLooking at the above list you can see the crossover with Marketing as many reasons for exhibitingthe game is for the purpose of advertising and promoting the game. Then there’s the different waysin which the game is consumed which leads to the different ways it is exhibited.CONSUMPTIONThis section examines what happens when the consumer has managed to get hold of a copy ofGrand Theft Auto 4 and the different ways in which gamers experience the game.Exploiting the GTA’s freedomGTA 4 is often called a ‘sandbox’ game as the idea is that all the tools for having fun are providedfor the gamer, but it is up to the gamer how they are used.The result of this is that everybody will play GTA 4 in their own unique way.For example: some will just cause mayhem, some will tackle all the story missions first, others theside missions, other will just explores, other will go just go bowling.Then there’s all the other variables to consider – which gun/car/radio station/clothes you allow Nikoto use – these will all be different depending on who plays the game.Parody of AmericaRemember GTA is written and developed by Brits – so much of the humour is British (whichexplains the reliance on innuendo) and its vision of New York focuses on the excesses in USculture. This means UK consumers will appreciate much of GTA4’s content in different way to USconsumers.Modding GTAGaming Mods (short for Modifications) are the work of fans (or developers) who understand theway a game is coded enough to change certain factors to alter the game.
It could be something as simple as changing costumes or environment textures, all the way throughto changing the structure and objectives of the game.The PC versions of games are the easiest to modify so there is vibrant mod-culture in the PCgaming world and one of the most popular games to modify is Grand Theft Auto 4. An examples ofGTA mods is a Spider-Man-Mod where Niko has been given a superhero costume and superhumanjumping powers.Modding is a inventive way of consuming GTA 4 – taking the game and using it to create a uniquegaming experience that wasn’t intended by the original developers.Use of the video editorThe PC version of GTA 4 a replay editor was included allows players to record and edit game clips,videos can then be uploaded to Rockstars Social Club website. Fans have used this as a tool tomake their own movies about life in Liberty City.Check out Kings of Liberty - The Chase is On, on youtubeAnd others at https://tv.rockstargames.comGTA 4: The Lost and DamnedThe Lost and the Damned is an episodic expansion pack for GTA 4 and is the first in expansionpack since London 1961 was released in 1999. An expansion pack is an ‘add-on’ to an existingvideogame usually adding new weapons, mission and extra characters. As it is only an ‘add-on’expansion packs need the original game to function – consequently you can’t play The Lost and theDamned without owning GTA4.The Lost and the Damned is only available via download through XboxLive and so is only availableto those who bought GTA 4 for the Xbox 360. Microsoft paid Rockstar $50 million to make TheLost and the Damned exclusive to their console as they felt GTA 4 would help boost sales of theirconsole.The plot of the The Lost and the Damned focuses on a new character and not Niko Bellic. Itconcerns the plight of Johnny Klebitz, a member of a biker gang called The Lost. His storyinterweaves with Niko and some missions are similar to Niko’s but are now played out fromJohnny’s perspective.This release is significant for several reasons: 1) It fits in with Rockstar assertion that the star of GTA 4 isn’t Niko – it’s Liberty City and they can use different characters to tell the story of city. 2) If The Lost and the Damned is successful you may see other games being released in Episodes – so rather than whole game be released, they would be released in smaller, most likely downloadable chunks. Publishers could then monitors sales of early ‘episodes’ before funding development of further episodes. 3) The amount of money Microsoft paid for the exclusivity of The Lost and the Damned shows how important GTA is to the games industry. GTA is such a strong brand that it compels consumers to go out and spend £200+ to buy a game console to play it.