Monday, September 16, 2013

Looking at the Grand Theft Auto V Budget

Recently, the budget of Grand Theft Auto V, the newest entry in Rockstar Games' popular series of open world crime epics, came to light.

At a staggering US$266 million, Grant Theft Auto V is the most expensive video game ever produced.

Many video game stores throughout North America and the U.K. will be doing a midnight launch on the 16th of this month, ready to sell to crowds of excited gamers.

In the United States, reported nearly three million pre-orders for the game between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game.

It's clear that the popularity of the series hasn't declined since Rockstar released Grand Theft Auto IV in 2008. Global sales on the first day for that game totalled 3.6 million, a figure Grand Theft Auto V seems poised to surpass if the American pre-order totals are anything to go by.

Without information from Rockstar, it's hard to know where the majority of this budget went. Using big budget movies as a comparable model, the first big difference between a video game and a movie's budget is in the cast.

Amazingly, only one movie surpasses Grand Theft Auto V in terms of budget. At World's End, the third movie in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, cost US$300 million. The film's lead actor, Johnny Depp, is likely to have made more than the entire voice and motion capture casts for Grand Theft Auto V.

Disney is a company that has routinely thrown around hundreds of millions for its movies, especially in the last 10 years. Big budget movies can often be a gamble, and Disney isn't free from failures either. In 2012, Disney's John Carter made only around $US288 million at the box office, barely more than its $250 million budget (not including any money spent towards marketing).

Rockstar Games doesn't have to worry about this game being a failure. Estimates look at Grand Theft Auto V selling over 20 million copies in next year, and it should generate at least a billion dollars in revenue for the company.

Another interesting thing to consider about this budget is that it aims to bring an entirely different experience than a big budget movie. A movie lasts a fairly small amount of time compared to even the average video game (with a narrative); a game might last 10 hours, a movie will aim for two to three.

Some games find a way to provide 40+ hours of entertainment, whether it's through repetitive content or the narrative actually telling a story for that period of time. Grand Theft Auto V's epic approach to the crime-fueled thriller, as well as its focus on three protagonists (and at the same time) rather than one.

In a way, you can look at the budget of Grand Theft Auto V as being spread out over time, rather than a movie's is spread out over its numerous employees. Have you ever sat through the credits roll for a blockbuster film? They're long and just packed full of names, everyone from the Director of Photography to each individual artist from every firm involved.

Grand Theft Auto V stands to be one of the most successful video games of all time. Early reviews are lauding it from every angle. With its release looming, is this the start of an era of true "big budget" video games?

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