GTA V: Proving Old Industry Rules Are Irrelevant

Street dates broken, price scalping, ratings ignored. The new generation of games consoles can't come quick enough, says Matt Martin

With the release of Grand Theft Auto V this week, all those tired old industry rules that have long been in place have finally been stomped into irrelevance.

Once again we see broken street dates, early selling, prices hiked on pre-release sales and toothless ratings systems. The release of GTA V shows the absurdity of the old video game business, where arbitrary rules are trampled by the masses - the 'Police Line Do Not Cross' tape snapped with the slightest push.

"Grand Theft Auto V is just another box that needs shifting. That carefully managed marketing plan means nothing - it's just plastic in an envelope. Send it out"

Retailers don't care about rules put in place by distributors or publishers. Amazon sends out copies of the game early because it can and it will. It's an efficient distribution machine. This is a company that doesn't pay tax - why on earth would it abide by an agreement that says it must only mail out a parcel on a particular day? The machine is greased, the product is ready to go. Grand Theft Auto V is just another box that needs shifting. All those years of development and that carefully managed marketing plan mean nothing - it's just plastic in an envelope. Send it out.

Second-hand retailer CEX capitalised even further. According to this BBC report the company was selling copies of the game before its official release today for 75 a pop. That's the video game equivalent of ticket scalping. But the customers are paying for it, right? Give the customer what it needs. Where did it get the stock from in the first place? I would guess it ordered bulk copies from an online retailer to sell at a higher mark-up because it's cheaper than going through the official distributor. Pre-orders of GTA V at Amazon were 34.99 with free delivery. Walk into a copy of GAME today and you'll pay 40.99. The mark-up on those games is pennies, not pounds - at least until the second-hand market kicks into life.

Thanks to online retailers, the game was in players' hands days before release, while others ramped up the price. Parents saw the latest must-have game and bought it for their under-age children. Here's a reportedly 11 year-old French lad weeping with joy because he's got an (early) copy of GTA V. He kisses the shrink wrap. Keeping the kids happy is more important than any nonsensical barriers, because age-rating systems are toothless. On the surface something must be done, but in reality they're an inconvenience to anyone but policy makers. It's 2013, don't tell us what we can and can't watch, we're not listening.

All of this has happened before. It happens all the time, in fact, and these flimsy rules, rarely adhered to, remain in place like a broken fence battered by the wind. When a game reaches a mainstream audience like no other, it highlights the absurdity and ineffectiveness of it all.

In part, this is just a tired industry propping up the old retail model because it has to. The video game world outside of bricks, boxes and trucks has long since moved on, and we can see that the next round of consoles from Sony and Microsoft are designed to bypass the wheezing retail model once they've Trojan Horsed their way through the shops.

Amazon has proven its unbeatable efficiency at distribution so it can be relied upon to get the PS4 and Xbox One hardware out. Once it's in players' hands, it becomes so much easier and convenient to sell digital games with systems built to cater to that world from the ground up. Even hardware specs become less relevant when the cloud begins to seriously factor into the equation a year or so after the hardware release. All those policies Microsoft u-turned on? They'll come back over time and you won't even notice or care if the convenience is there.

"The next round of consoles are designed to bypass the wheezing retail model once they've Trojan Horsed their way through the shops"

Look at games like Payday 2 or Dust 514 as precursors of what's to come. Or, more relevant to this conversation, The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony. Scale that thinking up, where games are preloaded and ready to go at midnight, and you bypass the early sales, the headache of scalping and price slashing, the chore of putting a game in an envelope, printing off an address label and mailing from one country to another. It's not even worth mentioning age ratings in a digital world, where dad's credit card is already being exploited by both players and games designers.

The hardware manufacturers know this, but they've had to wait until now to change the technology. The publishers have known this for a long time and some have changed. The recent changes at Sega - where it sits supporting the PC with a digital presence that can be applied to consoles later down the line - is a fine example, but there are others that will be following the THQ route to oblivion sooner than new consoles can save them.

The big issue for digital distribution on consoles will be pricing. Downloading Grand Theft Auto V on the PlayStation 3 costs 49.99 - a ridiculous price for sure, but not so high that it's been putting off customers. Services like PS Plus will soon come into their own, and the digital marketplace will stabilise once more companies show their support with content.

But what a primitive business the current generation of consoles has left us. It's no wonder so many companies have collapsed this generation. Yet despite all of this, the games will continue to thrive. There are less franchises now, but Grand Theft Auto and its kind are stronger than they ever have been.

It's time to draw a line under it, move on from the misguided obligation to support a retail world that has for years exploited developers and kept publishers in a stranglehold. Look at the buzz around Grand Theft Auto V this week. It's smothering the mainstream media. It's an event to celebrate, a conversation starter far beyond industry circles, and it should act as a catalyst and wake-up call for those that aren't already on board. It's not too late for the console business to make a success with digital sales, and maybe even help pioneer a new way of looking at retail.

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Latest comments (23)

Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments4 years ago
Couldn't disagree more on age ratings, Matt. You're assuming they're solely a barrier, but their main use is information. You can't force parents to respect them, but that doesn't mean they aren't useful to inform decision making for those that do.
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Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.4 years ago
(I originally posted this over in the Critical Consensus article, but it's more appropriate here)

BBC Breakfast's coverage of the GTA V launch was very telling. They illustrated it with a YouTube video of someone being very excited to receive their copy in the post. Sadly that person was about eight years old, so Bill Turnbull had to hurriedly stress that the game was 18-rated. ;)

EDIT: Just found the reference to it in the article, the kid is eleven. But the point is that the tone of the news piece the BBC were using it for wasn't critical of his age, they were just saying "Look how excited he is!".

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Sam Brown on 17th September 2013 12:48pm

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Paul Smith Dev 4 years ago
I don't see a problem with anything you listed. CEX can set whatever prices they want. The only problem with people getting copies early is that I'm not one of them.
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Show all comments (23)
James Prendergast Research Chemist 4 years ago
But what a primitive business the current generation of consoles has left us.
I don't really understand the reasoning behind this statement - surely, the case was not made in the article. Do you believe that digital offerings will somehow improve sales? Do you believe that a few copies of a game shipped a few days early is going to hurt sales?

I don't even know what you're getting at in the conclusion of this article, Matt. The retail world (and Amazon) will still sell product codes in your imagined "Digital Utopia" that will somehow address all the current ills suffered by the industry. Publishers will still abuse developers and console makers will still get a large portion and even greater control over applications to publish on their platforms. Products will accidentally be sold for pennies at release (happens on Steam and Origin occasionally) or activated early. The big difference will be that lots of consumers will not be able to play when the game is supposed to be released in the digital world due to activation issues stemming from the volume of customers - especially for big games like GTA.

Basically, it's the same world we have today, only a few more issues for the majority of customers.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up4 years ago
We've known for sometime that no one can control content distribution anymore. Developers will find alternative channels on which to bypass these efforts, as will consumers as you point out. You mention next Gen Matt. I worry for any console developer who is developing hardware with such intent. They may become niche if they do not open up their content to wider audiences on other hardware. The only way to do that is to get out of the hardware control mentality and develop a software platform capable of running across devices. I still think Steam is best placed going forward. Great time for cross platform game devs though!

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Sandy Lobban on 17th September 2013 1:32pm

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Barry Scott Software Design 4 years ago
Did Amazon deliberation break the street date? I for one got GTA V from amazon today as expected.
I suspect this is a case of cock up, not conspiracy.
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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital4 years ago
Although I am a strong supporter of digital-only future, I must say it does not cure all the problems mentioned in the article and it adds its own set of issues.
For example, as mentioned, buying a game on the PS Store is now (at least in the Czech Republic) more expensive than buying the physical copy - preposterous! And once digital fully kicks in, a very few retailers (PS Store, XBLA, Steam) will control the whole market.

Digital won't fix irresponsible parents who buy games full of violence and drugs to pre-teens, and even the street dates are not safe, as we have seen with the GTA V on PSN.

The problem lies, as always, in the people. And I am not sure we can fix it. Other industries, like movies, learned to work with it, even use it. Games will need to grow in such manner as well. Otherwise we will remain an industry for kids, run by (adult) kids...
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 4 years ago
The other problem that "digital-only" has is marketing. Who's going to push all this content? Is it just going to be on the dashboard of each console? That's going to be a huge mess! Currently, retailers build a lot of mindshare for these products and that's on top of the marketing driven directly by the publishers and developers as well as magazines and industry/critic blogs/columns. Take that away and you're left with less marketing clout to reach the "mass market"... everything else is niche.

[edit] This is assuming that my earlier comment regarding "codes" is invalid... in which case retail still exists and is a part of the ecosystem...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 17th September 2013 4:10pm

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Huh. I was a buyer and in retail late 80's, early 90s. This stuff happened ALL THE TIME back then. Nothing new here
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James Ingrams Writer 4 years ago
$295 million to make, at best $10 profit per game, that's 28 million unit sales to break even, give or take.

You'll see "units shipped" figures becoming "sales figures" and there will be all sorts of hyperbole about the game from the publisher that won't be true.

So let's not pretend it's just the retailers, etc. Th vieo games industry may be one of the most immoral industries out there!

I am a PC, by the way, so I won' get GTA V for at least 6 months. I'll probably actually wait for Game of the Year edition, or at least a reduced price!

After all, there was a ton of hype over Skyrim, but that didn't stop me buying it in a store for 1/3 the original price just 2 months after the release date!
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Max Kaftanati President, Galaxy Gaming4 years ago
So what is this, a scream of a soul?..
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Caleb Hale Journalist 4 years ago
People will definitely get more comfortable buying digital download versions of games in the next generation, but it's naive to think the entirety of the gaming retail space won't adapt. GameStop, here is the U.S., will already sell you a download version of just about any major title on the shelves. I think the current gen shenanigans of exclusive DLC to certain vendors could easily continue without the presence of discs. Retailers would still be free to offer discounts and promotions to get people to buy the download codes from them, so PSN and the Xbox games store are ultimately going to have to compete on pricing and incentives.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 4 years ago
@Todd: Agreed. hell, it happens with other media as well. Fun true story. Back in the early 80's I used to live on the upper west side of Manhattan and frequented a comic shop I forget the name of that a certain celebrity of the era also shopped at. I'd never seen him there and never looked to do so, but one day I popped in and there he was kind of pissed that the shop was selling a copy of the comic based on the new movie he was in a few days before its street date (and I think at a slight markup). That made the comics press at the time and I think it definitely hurt its reputation with that star as far as where he bought his books from afterwards.

Game street dates have also always been broken as far as I can recall from both living near and shopping at a distributor/retailer that always got in games early and sold them to anyone who came in to check out their stock (this is back in the 16-bit era). I can recall being able to pick up some titles a few days before their "official" dates. Hell, even in the Atari days, if a shop got games early... they usually SOLD them just because space was at a premium, many shops didn't have game displays and used standard showcases and with so many titles rolling in, it was best to move product so more could fit.

Anyway, retail needs to STAY around, I say if only because too many people it's still the ONLY way for them to get their games, books and movies because they're not in areas with decent connections, period.
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus4 years ago
I can't get fully behind the digital revolution until the ISPs are willing to meet me in the middle. My understanding is that GTA V is a very large - I've heard 36GB? - download. That's humongous. I have full anime seasons in HD that don't cost that much space. That download counts against my monthly download cap of 250GB a month, a cap that my ISP has said I have to adhere to, no matter what I want. Almost 15% of my cap, gone in one shot, and that's if everything goes well. To them, they're not getting anything from the download, so why should they help me?

I'm just not excited to give all of my control to the publishers. As of right now, I have shelves full of games that I control, 100%. This "new future" that Matt is excited about has very definite consequences for me and my ownership of my games. If I decide to get back into reviewing games full time - and honestly, after the "if it's not 10/10, you can go kill yourself" debacle, why would I? - then I now cede even more control to the publishers of that process. If I want to own my game, what happens when the console goes down, or later, goes away entirely? Will I be able to play my XBLA games once the 360 is fully sunset? What about price controls? If there's a game that's not worth $60 now, but I'd buy it for $30, history shows I'm SOL; that game isn't coming down by 10% for awhile unless it's an Aliens: Colonial Marines-like gong show. All of my power has gone away as a consumer.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game4 years ago
Amazon always state the expected delivery time for free delivery as 3-5 days, but often it arrives in 1. I suspect they allowed 3 or so days for delivery, and in some cases it didn't take that long.
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Sebastian Moss Editor -in- Chief, PlayStation LifeStyle4 years ago
@Christopher - 18GB download, but 36 needed to install on PS3
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 4 years ago
The MSM coverage of this game has been amazing. The most I have ever seen for a video game and more than most blockbuster films get. Rockstar has gone with a simple hook, "Britain's biggest cultural export" and the media have run with it. Whichever agency they used have done an excellent job. It certainly is a lot more grown up than their traditional Max Clifford inspired shock horror approach.
We seem to have reached the stage where gamers have reached senior editorial positions in the MSM. So we are getting a considered approach to gaming as culture at long last. This is a huge shift from the "for kids" approach that ignorant editorial staff have largely used up till now.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 4 years ago
I don't agree with most of your points in the article. For starters, just because not all parents follow the age restriction guidelines doesn't mean they should be completly thrown out as worthless. Also, just because some stores sell certain games early doesn't mean that the majority of stores don't still abide by that rule.

As for price gouging, if people wouldn't buy a game for $100 that they could get for the normal $60 a mere 3 or 4 days later than their wouldn't be an issue. Certain people do stuff like that and while I think it's stupid and a waste of money some people could care less how much money they waste to brag to their friends that they got to play a game 24 hours before they did.

Ultimately all of these things have been going on for a long time and I doubt they will seriously harm the overall health of the gaming medium, particularly since the music and movie industries go thru the same issues. Digital might solve some of these "problems" but it is sure to bring on a whole host of new ones.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 18th September 2013 3:02am

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 years ago
and the award for "Jesus Christ of Video Games 2013 goes to..."

Reviewers might point to their articles detailing pros and cons of buying a game. Customers have long since given up caring about the game and instead "buy the hype" as if it was a commodity. Who has time to play it? Who cares about its quality? I just bought the hype and I feel still excited, go away. Do the Hare Krishna, baby.
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Mario Tommadich Software QA Analyst, Indie Game Developer 4 years ago
Sensible parenting starts in the first place at obeying the rules ourselves, so we can be a good example to our kids. There is always someone trying to beat the queue or trying to bend or break the rules, but that doesn't mean rules are useless. It just shows that some of us care more or less about how slippery the slope gets and that some of us care a little more or less about how much they exploit others. The great mayority still sees that by abiding to a common ruleset they serve a greater purpose of preserving fairness and order, so we shouldn't throw old values overboard only because of some people that can afford to buy an overpriced game for their 3 year old child on the black market :)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Mario Tommadich on 18th September 2013 10:05am

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David Spender Lead Programmer 4 years ago
This article surprised me. It is full of conspiracy and sensationalism. Amazon did not intentionally break the street date. Arguing against markups (or markdowns) is arguing against capitalism and supply/demand. Your proposition that the industry needs to tighten the thumbscrews for the good of the public (whether they like it or not) is disturbing.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Spender on 18th September 2013 2:11pm

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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 4 years ago
Proving Old Industry Rules Are Irrelevant... No I dont think so.

I dont think the situation of the entire game industry should be judged on the situation of one game alone. Yes something to look into, consider, research and discuss, but not base your entire game devlopment on. The nature of games is incredibly diverse and what works for one may not work for another.

I think the ratings system is relevant and I support it. Wether parents follow it or not its there problem and relies heavily on their parenting skills. I wouldnt buy an 11 year old kid GTAV. But if another parent does it, it goes to show just how great there parenting skills are and is a problem that probably go into other areas of how they raise their kid. And the problems the kid will have in the future shouldnt be judged on the game itself. But bad parenting.

The situation with early releases from amazon is just a mishap that can happen such as with early leaks of games like HALO4, Mass Effect 3and Gears of War2... all of which had early unfinished builds out on the street through torrents. And these were digital copies. It doesnt mean retail is bad.... geez man... get a grip. For the most part, the street dates were respected by most retailers and as far as Im concerned, there are 3 games stops in the mall I went with my friend to pick up his copy, and all the lines were outside. So yeah its suck that a few copies were sold early through amazon, but it doesnt mean retail is a failure as a whole.

I went to the midnight release of GTAV. If anything retail is still a relevant delivery method for games and goods. I personally enjoy midnight sales and the goodies they give out, the excitement of waiting on line(in a que). And while downloadable games are a welcome alternative, i dont see why the two cant co-exist. Retail games, do the same thing as a hand out, flyer or any sort of publicity material. They help sell games.

I understand the relationship between publishers and developers can be a bit bad sometimes, but I think developers should speak out more about and try to do something about it. Because in the end I think a developer can do very well with a publisher that had a good attitude. I mean volition seems to be doing pretty good with Kick Media/Deep Silver. I think the problem is not in having a publisher, its just publishers having a better attitude. Cause Rockstar went ahead and said to the suits and investors that they wouldnt release GTAV until it was ready, going against their wishes of yearly releases. Instead of juicng the crap out of it, they took there time. Rockstar didnt let themselves get bullied. Of course this goes back to the success of their previouse games success. And I bet the suits wouldnt want there entire development staff from a succesful game walking out on them forming new studios like the guys from infinity Ward. They literally told Activision to fuck themselves and made Titan Fall which looks like a promising badass game.

PUBLISHERS CAN BE ASSHOLES TO THE DEVELOPERS... thats the problem. But a good publisher with a good attitude I think can actually do well for a developer, so its not prudent to want to do away with them entirely.

But then there is EA with Mirrors Edge 2. Which is clearly a game, the studio (DICE) wants to make and despite the lack of sales of the previouse one. However if a studio makes enough succesful games like it is with battlefield, its good to see a publisher let them do a game they want. And Im ok with waiting a bit between game installments from a franchise. It allows the team to get better ideas together resulting in a new installment that feels fresh. As a developer or creator, its always good to work on a project in which you have your heart in it as well. The other thing to be aware of is brands take time to build and you may not build a suffitient audience on your first attempt, but subsequent attemps can garner good results over time.

At the end of the day as a developer if you work on a succesful game you get a name and a reputation. The success of a game rides largely on the people behind them. And arrogence has never really produced good results for a publisher. When the shit hits the fan, they usually return to being nicer and listen more. As a publisher you dont want to be an asshole towards the people who create the bread and butter for the company, cause at the end of the day, your money is worth shit without the right people working on a project. And ultimatly, if the right people arent on a project it can outright kill and destroy a brand even many years in its life. If an IP is not taken care of properly, no matter how succesful it has been, its not invincible.

I dont know.... I didnt like this article too much... It was filled with sensationalist remarks and judgment calls... similar to digital is the future crap. Get to the point... yeah, a dad buying an 11 year old GTAv is dumb, but thats bad parenting, not a failure of the rating system... and yeah, a few early copies of the game slipped through retail, just like an early build of mass effect 3 slipped through the internet. Doesnt mean that form of delivery is bad. These are simply mishaps that happen. And the situation of Amazon selling early copies, is just a mishap.

Finally pricing... 49.99 for a Digital release? That is the situation of GTAV.... they sell it at that price because they can, because of the reputation, legacy and following the game has built since GTA3. Dont know for how long though, GTAIV is selling for 19.99 with both expansion packs. Again the situation of one game doesnt mirror the entire game industry. If the game industry thinks they are going to pull off the same thing with every game then they will have a problem. Its like making a game expecting it to make call of duty sales. Thats a failure waiting to happen.

The only reason the industry wants to get rid of retail is not to lower prices. Simply to gain a larger cut from sales. But i dont think its all in benefit of the consumer. The game industry is like pouring water in a bottle with a hole in the bottom. It will bleed money no matter what it does. They can cut retail, make it all digital, but I dont see the problems being corrected. They will complain all the time of not having enough money. I just think it boils down to the business end of things, budgeting issues and so on. Its not that retail is bad, or digital is the future or everything should be mobile or F2P... I think the approach to making games should be a bit modest. For example... expecting to sell 12 million copies and budgeting development around those sales targets is suicide. I remember when a game sold 1million, that was huge milestone. Now a days I think keeping it between 3 and 4 million is reasonable, with 2 million for unknown brands or new IP. Higher budgets can be made around succesful game franchises that are sitting on top of a huge pot of earnings from past games. Like I think its ok for a game like assasins creed to make a game on the scale they are doing simply because its a game that has generally sold well and they can afford to do it. And if they fail, the company or studio doesnt go down under cause its sitting on a pot of money that can soften the blow, giving them leg room to rethink, reposition and stratagize.

Edited 6 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 18th September 2013 7:34pm

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Kevin Danaher Associate Producer, EA Mobile4 years ago
Age ratings are also a great defence mechanism for not just Games but TV and Movies as well. The rating is there to inform families that children of a certain age shouldn't be exposed to the content, not to force them to adhere to that. If the case arises where certain content is said to have greatly affected the mind of the young person then the age rating should serve as a reasonable defence of the creative work, as there was forewarning of such an outcome. Developers shouldn't pay for bad parenting practices and the age ratings system is there to offer protection, to both consumers and creatives.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Kevin Danaher on 18th September 2013 5:21pm

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