How Long are GTA’s Legs?

How Long are GTA's Legs?

Two analysts with widely differing opinions have questioned just how deep the Grand Theft Auto phenomenon can run into 2009.

Janco Partners’ Mike Hickey this week estimated that GTA IV will sell an additional "5 million-plus" units worldwide during the course of publisher Take-Two’s fiscal 2009, indicating his belief that the 2008 blockbuster will have some astonishing legs moving into its second year of availability.

Hickey’s prediction considers 17 million hardware units sold during the year and a 30 percent software attach rate for GTA IV.

But Wedbush Morgan’s Michael Pachter isn’t quite as optimistic, citing that from June 1 through November, after the initial GTA IV hype subsided, attach rates for the game were a "respectable" but lower 10 percent.

"In order to hit Janco’s 5 million plus estimate for GTA IV next year, the attach rate would have to grow exponentially, or Sony and Microsoft would have to sell a boat load of hardware. We expect around 18 million units of hardware combined in the U.S. and Europe, so unless the attach rate grows to 30 percent, I think his estimate is a bit high," Pachter said in an e-mail to Edge.

Citing U.S. NPD data, Take-Two chair Strauss Zelnick recently said that GTA IV attach rates through early October for Xbox 360 and PS3 were the "highest ever" for the franchise at 32 and 28 percent, respectively.

Hickey responded to Pachter’s estimates in a Wednesday phone call, arguing that GTA IV does indeed have the "legs" to hit 5 million in sales this year. "Just look at Call of Duty 4. It’s something with critical acclaim and has already proven to have dramatic sell-through. If any game in the universe has the opportunity to have legs on the retail shelf, it’s GTA IV."

And after the holidays, new console owners who picked up more recent Q4 releases will look back at April’s GTA IV and add it to their library in 2009, Hickey argued.

The difference between GTA IV and Call of Duty 4, however, is that the latter has a highly popular online multiplayer component, which has helped keep the game fresh since its late 2007 release. GTA IV’s emphasis on online multiplayer isn’t quite as pronounced.

But Hickey expects that the upcoming Xbox 360 GTA IV downloadable content, The Lost and the Damned, will encourage uptake of the game.

"It’s phenomenal," he said. "It’s a compelling add-on and will continue to drive enthusiasm for the game. And you’ll have another one of those expansion packs, likely coming out in ’09."

He continued, "[We're confident in our estimate] because GTA IV has quality and the ability to stay relevant through extensive downloadable content. The Lost and the Damned looks awesome. It looks better than the original storyline."

It’s also worth pointing out that GTA IV is still selling at its original $60 price point, and once a lower price hits, the game could attract more mass market consumers.

Chinatown Wars

An even greater disparity is rooted in the analysts’ estimates for GTA: Chinatown Wars for DS. Launching on March 17 in the U.S., its content is decidedly mature-themed and a far cry from Nintendo-published, multi-million kid-friendly sellers like New Super Mario Bros., Brain Age and Pokemon.

But Hickey estimates that worldwide, Chinatown will sell 5 million units throughout the year. "We’re assuming it’s going to be a great game. It’ll also allow the DS to target a new audience. It’s a core gamer release, not a Nintendo release, so I expect it will drive hardware sales."

The DS’ massive installed base of over 84 million units worldwide, and expected growth throughout 2009, also helps Chinatown’s prospects, Hickey said. "Look at what Brain Age did for the female audience." Chinatown has the potential to become the hardcore equivalent to that game from a sales perspective, he projected.

Pachter isn’t nearly as optimistic. "I’ll be shocked if GTA: Chinatown Wars sells more than 500,000 in the U.S.," the analyst stated. Referring to U.S. data, Pachter wrote, "The top third-party titles are Hannah Montana at no. 16 (1.3 million units), Cooking Mama at no. 17 (1.2 million), the Guitar Hero bundle at no. 19 (1.1 million) and My Sims at no. 23 (1 million). Everything else below a million.

"Thus, if GTA Chinatown Wars is the most successful third party title ever, it will likely sell around half of the Janco estimate.

"There is something to be said for the fact that the top third party title is Hannah Montana. There is probably not a lot of overlap in audience for that game and for GTA."