Grand Theft Auto 4: A $500M hit


The highly anticipated title from Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. has received stellar ratings along with criticism for its violent content. The game follows Eastern European immigrant-turned gangster Niko Bellic on crime missions around a fictional Liberty City.

The title sold about 3.6 million units on April 29, its opening day, bringing in roughly $310 million. This is $10 million more than what Microsoft Corp.'s "Halo 3," another blockbuster game, took in during its first week last fall.

The game has lifted sales of Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3, the two consoles for which it is available.

Without giving numbers, Microsoft said Xbox 360 sales jumped 54 percent in the week following the title's launch, compared with the prior week, and more than 2.3 million people played it on its Xbox Live online service.

"Retailers say roughly four out of every 10 Xbox 360 consoles sold also included the sale of a copy of 'Grand Theft Auto IV,"' said Aaron Greenberg, director of product management at Xbox 360 and Xbox Live.

Sony spokeswoman Laura Bakken said the company's 10 largest retailers have "all seen a pretty substantial lift" in PS3 sales, but she did not give specifics.

New York-based Take-Two is the subject of a $2 billion hostile buyout from larger rival Electronic Arts Inc., which Take-Two has repeatedly rebuffed as too low.

Take-Two's shares closed down at $26.26, above EA's tender offer of $25.74 per share, which expires May 16. Unless EA is willing to offer more, it seems "increasingly possible" the acquisition attempt could unravel, Janco Partners analyst Mike Hickey said in a note to investors.

Wedbush Morgan's Michael Pachter disagrees, however, saying the game's sales were well within his expectations.

"I don't think it changes the value of the company," he said.

"I think we are going to end up with a Microsoft-Yahoo situation," with Take-Two Chairman Strauss Zelnick believing the company is worth more and EA chief John Riccitiello disagreeing.

Three months after it first made an offer, Microsoft dropped its $47.5 billion bid for Yahoo Inc. over the weekend after the companies couldn't agree on a price.

Pachter said he expects the game to sell 12 million copies by the end of 2008. GTA's previous versions have sold more than 70 million copies worldwide.

Already, the game seems to be living up to its juicy past, which includes controversy over hidden sex scenes, sharp criticism from Hillary Rodham Clinton and a 2006 lawsuit that blames the game for three New Mexico murders committed by a 14-year-old.

For one, Take-Two sued the Chicago Transit Authority on Monday for removing ads for the game because of its "Mature" rating, which means it is not suitable for people under 17. And the game also caught the ire of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which seeks an adults-only rating because it lets players drive after imbibing in virtual liquor.

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