GTA 5's sales are absurd, but don't defeat the industry's addiction to annualization

GTA 5 has, by my math, made nearly $2 billion since it released last month. That's absurd. That's more than absurd. That's put-it-in-a-straitjacket absurd. That's lock-it-up-in-Arkham-Home-for-the-Criminally-Insane absurd. That's kill-it-because-otherwise-it'll break-free-and-blow-up-a-hospital absurd. It's absurd. Truly absurd. It's so absurd that our office actually argued for like an hour over whether or not it was possible when it was revealed. But, honestly, it's not absurd enough to kill annualized game releases. 

When Take-Two revealed the sales numbers (29 million units in 30 days), many were quick to point to it as an example of the benefits of lengthy game development cycles. In a matter of weeks, Grand Theft Auto sold more than any Call of Duty game ever had. And that's some good evidence. While the industry seemed to live and die by the yearly Maddens and Calls of Duties and Assassin's Creeds, games like Grand Theft Auto can make billions of dollars in a matter of days. Or so the thinking goes. But after doing a little digging, I think it's safe to say that while GTA 5's sales are impressive (and absurdly so), they're still far from disproving the profitable benefits of yearly sequels.

Grand Theft Auto 4 has done quite well for itself since it launched in 2008--over the years the sales have snowballed into a monumentus 25 million copies sold. But games that size take a long time to make, and it's been five years since Nico Bellic first blew up Liberty City. How many copies has Call of Duty sold in that same period? Well, it's time for some MATH! Let's start with Modern Warfare 2; it was a huge hit in 2009, eventually going on to sell around 22 million copies. The next year was Black Ops, which came in at just under 20 million units sold. Modern Warfare 3 sold somewhere in the ballpark of 13 million copies the year after that, and Black Ops 2 sold a shocking 24 million in 2012. None have hit GTA 4's 25 million, but combined, they utterly eclipse that total.

Overall, that puts the Call of Duty games that have released since Rockstar's last Grand Theft Auto at nearly 80 million--and that's without counting the amount of money the publisher made on Map Packs, or handheld spin-offs, Call of Duty Elite, or anything else it managed to monetize in the past five years. As it stands, Grand Theft Auto 4 isn't as profitable as five years of Call of Duty--it was barely more profitable than one big one.

So let's go back to Grand Theft Auto 5, which, yeah, ABSURD! I have no idea how much it's going to sell when the dust settles--I can do some math, telling you that GTA 4 ended up more than doubling its first-month sales in the long run, and GTA 5 will likely do the same, but that ignores factors like the end of the current generation and PC releases and software droughts. Oh, and you can't forget that this next Call of Duty (and Madden, and Assassin's Creed) is releasing on both current and next-gen consoles, amplifying the sales potential by… like… a lot. I don't know, I'm not a math doctor. 

What I do know, though, is that the age of annualization is far from over, absurd sales be damned, so long as five years of Call of Duty is bigger than four years of GTA.




  • newarkd - November 3, 2013 11:33 a.m.

    You can't compare one game vs many games over a period of time without looking at how much each cost to make. Jeeze...If Grand Theft Auto costs as much as 5 Assassin Creed games then it made less money alright? It's not as simple as just looking at how many were sold
  • Eightboll812 - November 3, 2013 6:50 p.m.

    >>"If Grand Theft Auto costs as much as 5 Assassin Creed games then it made less money alright?" O master of the obvious, that's the point the article just made!! In case you missed it, the article asserts that GTAV made less money than annualized franchises.
  • shotgunalchemist - October 31, 2013 11:10 p.m.

    Something looked fishy about those CoD sales figures so done some digging and it would seem that MATH! might be getting sent to the naughty stool; MW2 - 23 (millions) BO - 24 MW3 - 26 BO2 - 22 Total sales - 95 Just strengthens your point even more.
  • rxb - October 31, 2013 1:18 p.m.

    Is there a reason you missed out Modern Warfare 1?
  • Eightboll812 - October 31, 2013 9:43 a.m.

    Speaking of GTAV's insane sales, how is it that LoZ: Wind Waker is sitting at the top of the "top games" list on the main page of GR??? I would think GTAV would be the #1, unless I'm missing something.
  • Meleedragon27 - November 1, 2013 6:55 a.m.

    The actual reason doesn't actually have to do with sales or anything like that - I think it has to do with the latest big game releases that GR has talked about in articles and the like. Since Wind Waker HD came out after GTA V (Sept. 20 vs. Sept. 17), it's higher on the list. At least, that's how I *think* the list works...
  • Eightboll812 - November 1, 2013 9:19 a.m.

    It must be something like that. I just recall Bioshock hanging on the top spot for months, so I thought it was based on sales numbers.
  • mothbanquet - October 31, 2013 5:16 a.m.

    Wow, some of these comments are...odd to say the least. At the end of the day, I'd say GTA's figures are hope and proof that the venture of releasing a grand game every few years is in of itself is profitable. Shit games don't sell, and all the detractors crying out against CoD so loudly (most of whom I'd wager haven't played them beyond two seconds of multiplayer, which I won't touch with a ten foot pole) would do well to look at the review scores awarded to all Modern Warfare and Black Ops over the past few years. The reason they sell is because they maintain quality, if not innovate it. Franchises like Guitar Hero are evidence enough of what happens when people get bored. Thanks for the article, Coop, it was a pleasure to read.
  • shawksta - October 30, 2013 7:55 p.m.

    Its not sadly but oh well, it'll make games that arent annualizations much more sweeter
  • Satchurated - October 30, 2013 7:13 p.m.

    Well if you compare treyarch, infinity ward, and rockstar to each other, then rockstar is doing much better. Albeit rockstar is full of a bunch of active branches, they are each doing about as good if not better than both treyarch and infinity ward. So although grand theft auto comes out non-anually, there are still decent-sized expansions. (balld of gay tony, lost and damned) And if you throw in the non-gta games (red dead, la noire, max payne 3) produced by rockstar, then Rockstar is doing better.
  • winner2 - October 30, 2013 7:11 p.m.

    Good article Coop, it's a shame people aren't seeing the point of it. I'm not going to bash annualization since I love some AC, but the fact remains that we're deep enough into the big publishers wanting/needing as much money as possible regardless of if they have to annualize or not that they're not going to stop anytime soon. It's a numbers game, and in this case the numbers are pretty transparent from where I'm sitting. I just hope this trend doesn't ever completely squash the non-annualized franchises, because I love those too. I love lots of different games with different development stories, but I don't want big chunks of them to get pushed down or change into games I don't like because of a few annualized ones controlling the economics of it.
  • kylethemighty - October 30, 2013 6:04 p.m.

    This article just compared the sales of multiple games over a period of time against the sales of one game over a period of time. That's a ridiculous thing to do. I don't know why GamesRadar was like, "Hey, that seems like a valid point, let's put that on the internet."
  • EAC73 - October 30, 2013 7:22 p.m.

    You clearly didn't get the point of the article. He was just pointing out how profitable annualizing a franchise is compared to long development cycles. He is only comparing the numbers, which is sad that these numbers are true, but it is a valid point to make.
  • christina-tryhard-washburn - October 30, 2013 5:55 p.m.

    Call of Duty sucks, they produce the same game every year over and over and mindless drones continue to pay into it. They may make good money every year off the same idiots but like lost friend says, quality over quantity. I will wait another 3 years for an uncharted/Grand theft auto game over buying call of Duty crap every year. I still play the first three uncharted games. And prefer them over that trash any day of the week. To compare gta to cod is like comparing a corvette to a pinto
  • Eightboll812 - October 31, 2013 8:22 a.m.

    Heh. The only thing more irritating than Activision expecting me to pay $60 every year for a glorified map pack and then pay another $60+ for actual map packs to add to the map pack they just sold me, are all the idiot drones that try to justify it. I don't see as many doing that anymore, but for a while, if you made the point you or I just made, you'd see about 10 responses calling you an idiot and explaining all the innovation of the latest installment. "NO DUDE, THIS ONE HAS LIKE A GOLDEN GUN YOU CAN BUY WITH POINTS YOU EARN IN MATCHES (...and other stuff...), AND LAST YEAR YOU HAD TO EARN THE GOLDEN GUN WITH HEADSHOTS!" And I'm like, if it's so new and great, how come they still haven't fixed the lag issue where you can get shot a full second after ducking behind cover? I really am waiting for that franchise to just die already. Maybe, just maybe, Ghosts will be the last before if finally craters. But I'm thinking Ghosts will do well with next gen coming out. So maybe Ghosts II will be the final one. Maybe?
  • Unoriginal - October 30, 2013 5:43 p.m.

    Every christmas my next-door neighbour gets the latest CoD game and every single year we hang out and blast through the single-player and I love it every single time. A cheap blockbuster rollercoaster experience has become a part of the holidays now. People tend to demonize the annualization of games but in some instances I think it's just fine. Games like those that Rockstar and Naughty Dog produce are fantastic and I wouldn't want them on any other release schedule but do dumb-fun games like CoD really need 5 year development cycles? Hell no! Arguing if long or short development cycles are better than the other is just an unneccesary argument because different games require different cycles. Hell, would Ubisoft have had the resources for excellent titles like Far Cry 3 and Rayman:Legends if they hadn't financed it with procceeds from endless "Babyz 3D" games for the Wii that probably took a month to make and then sold like crazy because they hit every itch it's demographic of 5-year old girls had? I like the article Coop (gamesradar doing MATH?!), I just think the discussion is tired and uneccesary until one camp starts dominating over the other. Once we start seeing anual Zelda releases or Popcap starts 10 year development cycles then we can restart it. Until then I wish us arty people could stick to our David Cage and thatgamecompany games and stop criticising stuff that we don't even play.
  • GR HollanderCooper - October 30, 2013 11:42 p.m.

    MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATH. I was actually advised against doing math, too.
  • LostFriend - October 30, 2013 5:38 p.m.

    I prefer quality over quantity
  • mick-myers - October 30, 2013 5:32 p.m.

    An article written by a fanboy with nothing better to do. Cute. Wait till the sales numbers actually come in and we'll see how well this holds up.
  • awesomesauce - October 30, 2013 5:59 p.m.

    Bro i don't how to break it to you, but the sales numbers did come up. This whole article was nothing but numbers & facts. I know it hurts to say but even if, in your opinion, gta is better that won't change the fact that if 5 cod games come out in the time it takes to make one gta, then cod is going to outsell it.

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