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Grand Theft Auto V, Out Tuesday, Already Made $800 Million


More than $800 million. That's how much money the videogame "Grand Theft Auto V" earned in just one day. The last version of the game, released back in 2008, made a measly $310 million on its opening day. "Grand Theft Auto V" is also now on track to outearn the summer's biggest movie blockbusters in only a few days. So what's going on here? We're joined by Peter Rubin, a senior editor at Wired, to find out. Hi there, Peter.

PETER RUBIN: How are you, Audie?

CORNISH: So the first "Grand Theft" has been around since 1997, and the plot is you, the player, basically gets to be the criminal, right? You rob banks, sell drugs, arms with the goal of being the kingpin. And I want to understand the math here. How much does it take to produce a game like this and market it in order to make a profit?

RUBIN: Well, for a game that's known as a AAA game, as we call them in videogames, which is the highest-profile releases, of which "Grand Theft Auto" games certainly are prime examples, we're looking at tens, dozens, sometimes more than $100 million all told, between technological development and promotional costs.

CORNISH: And so making 800 million in this case is actually still pretty good even though you've spent, say, 200 million to produce the game, and several years.

RUBIN: Oh, certainly. Certainly. I mean, in one fell swoop, they're able to kind of get back three, four, five years of R&D.

CORNISH: Now, in the movie business, those big summer blockbusters are called tent-poles, right, because they prop up the rest of the year's films. Is it similar in the videogame industry?

RUBIN: It is somewhat. With the "Grand Theft Auto" franchise, the development studio, which is known as Rockstar Games, is owned by a larger parent company, Take-Two Interactive.

Take-Two Interactive has a number of extremely lucrative developers in its portfolio that make a number of very high-performing games, from hugely successful basketball franchise the "NBA 2K" series to the "BioShock" games to "The Elder Scrolls" role-playing game saga. So they have the time and the money to allow the game developers to take a little more time, like Rockstar, to take their time and do it right.

CORNISH: Now, in just a few months, there's going to be the new Xbox and a new PlayStation game console. And we're reading that they won't be compatible, right...

RUBIN: That's correct.

CORNISH: ...with these games, including "Grand Theft Auto V." So why buy a game that you won't be able to play on a new console in just a few months?

RUBIN: Well, I think the easy answer is people are going to buy this game, and they are going to spend X weeks of their life finishing it. And then they'll put it aside. But even putting that to the side for the time being, the fact that a game is coming out at the very end of a console's lifespan does not mean that those consoles are going to be immediately decommissioned from gamer shelves. PlayStation 2 continued to sell extremely well after the PlayStation 3 was released. So while the first sales are this initial rush of first-day and first-week purchasers, you're going to also be looking at a slow burn as a legacy title.

CORNISH: So "Grand Theft Auto" has always been incredibly controversial because of the violence, because the players and, people have argued, children are essentially kind of acting out violence against women, whoever. Are these big numbers a sign that "Grand Theft Auto" has outlived its detractors or is just mainstream?

RUBIN: I think I'm going to go with mainstream on this one. Certainly, "Grand Theft Auto" has its share of detractors. Even now with the new game, people are up in arms about this and about that. But $800 million is a testament to the fact that, at the very least, 12 million people were willing to go out and buy this on the first day, which, if you put it next to the music industry, albums don't go diamond on their first day. Albums don't go diamond, period. So the fact that they've been able to penetrate the zeitgeist at large is very, very telling here.

CORNISH: That's Peter Rubin, a senior editor at Wired, talking about the release of "Grand Theft Auto V." The videogame poured in more than $800 million on its first day. Peter, thank you so much for talking with us.

RUBIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.