It was the sixth highest-grossing video game last year and yet it’s not a new game at all. Grand Theft Auto V, the open world, gangster’s paradise from Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive continues to outperform all developer expectations and has shipped over 75 million copies since its initial launch in September 2013. Grand Theft Auto V has consistently been in the top 10 for game revenue each month, often at number one.
Hype for GTA V began soon after the release of its predecessor, GTA IV. Rockstar took a slightly different approach to its already popular formula by creating three protagonists instead of one, each specializing in different skills like driving, shooting or flying. Players have the option of completing missions to further the protagonists’ journey or simply explore the massive world filled with challenges of its own. While this is no different than previous games, the three characters offer more variety for play styles and strategy. By the time GTA V hit shelves in September of 2013, fans were so excited that the game broke industry sales records and became the fastest-selling entertainment product in history—earning $800 million in its first day and US $1 billion in its first three days.
The secret to GTA V‘s longevity is the seemingly infinite outcomes for play sessions. Gamers aren’t limited to playing alone, since they can join up with friends on Grand Theft Auto Online, a standalone multiplayer mode launched soon after that of the main game. In it, players can recruit crews of up to five people to explore the world together, engage in various activities and perform in-game heists. Grand Theft Auto Online is continually expanding through free updates that keep content fresh, such as new missions or holiday-themed items. Sure, a lot of games get updates—but this one receives as many as any other popular MMO today. Extensions like Import/Export released this past December open up even more possibilities for gamers to explore, collect and interact with one another. While GTA Online is technically a standalone game, it ties into the same environments of GTA V, keeping the main title in the minds of players on their adventures.
“[GTA Online] has been a really extraordinary story,” Take-Two Interactive CEO, Strauss Zelnick told [a]listdaily in a June 2016 interview. “The title is nearly three-years-old and the fourth quarter of the last fiscal year were respectively the best quarter and the best fiscal year ever for Grand Theft Auto Online in virtual currency sales. And those sales are obviously attracting engagement, and engagement is tracking delight, and that’s what we’re here to do. Grand Theft Auto V has sold over 65 million units. It remains the highest-rated title on Xbox One and PS4 and it has become clear that—for an age-appropriate audience—when you get new hardware, you need to have Grand Theft Auto. And when you have Grand Theft Auto, generally speaking, you connect to the internet. And when you connect to the internet, generally speaking, you try Grand Theft Auto Online. We’ve remained excited and gratified by it.”
Another aspect of the game’s ability to stay relevant is its re-release for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2014. In addition to upgraded graphics and new licensed songs added to the game, players could switch between third- and first-person view. Game Informer‘s Andrew Reiner considered the addition of first-person “another significant breakthrough for the series” in his review. To reward existing players on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Rockstar offered a number of rewards for those to upgraded to the new platform. Events, story lines and challenges were offered exclusively to those to transferred their save files to the upgraded platform. In addition to all their current progress, players were able to retain all special rewards earned from special editions. It’s not often a gamer will buy a title twice, but in this case, a lot of people made an exception.
Much like Minecraft—another hit that ages extremely well—Grand Theft Auto V has become not just a game, but a destination for friends and spectators alike. There is a massive following of streaming and modding communities that cater to both players and viewers, keeping the entertainment alive with countless outcome possibilities. Rockstar has tapped directly into this avid following by inviting popular YouTube stars to play Grand Theft Auto Online together from the developer’s official channel. The game is available on multiple platforms and its open world appeals to a wide demographic from teenagers to adults, making it accessible to more players across the world. As the game and its audience continue to evolve, GTA V evolves with it—and it will remain at the top of the charts.