Grand Theft Auto IV hits UK High Street

Consumers flocked to stores at midnight to get their hands on the latest in Rockstar's 66 million-selling franchise

Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto IV finally went on sale in the early hours of the morning today, as consumers across the UK clamoured to be first to play the latest in the 66 million-selling franchise.

After months of hype that saw console rivals attempt to claim the title as their own - Microsoft had promised to match the marketing spend of Halo 3, while Sony secured a tempting hardware bundle - the game is now expected to sell over 9 million units worldwide this fiscal year.

But while the money men are tapping at calculators and console rivals will be hoping to claim the highest attach rate, the consumers could only think of one thing.

"I'm all about GTA. I've been waiting for months, I pre-ordered as soon as I could," said 23 year-old John, who'd been queuing outside of Stafford's GAME store since 11:00pm.

"I usually only play sports games – FIFA and PES mainly, but GTA is different. Nothing comes close," he added.

While some specialist stores had only opened at midnight to allow in customers who had preordered the title, GAME, which had opened 260 stores to celebrate the release, was first stop for a majority of eager gamers.

In Guildford two GAME stores were open, and the queue at both had started at around 10:30pm. At the head of the line at the larger store was Neil Young, in his late twenties, who had preordered the special edition of the game for the Xbox 360.

"I just love sandbox games," he said when asked why he was queuing for the title. "Nothing is better than GTA, it's as simple as that. Having the ability to do anything you want, play the game any way you want - and the multiplayer is going to be good as well."

Further down the queue, Steve, Dominic and Cat had only been in the line since around 11:15pm, and although none of them had preordered, they were hopeful of grabbing a copy before the store sold out.

"It's a benchmark game," said Dominic simply, although all three admitted that had a single launch event taken place in London, as with previous titles, they wouldn't have travelled. "This is in our home town, so…" he shrugged.

As retail prepares for a manic day, there's expectations that there won't be enough copies of the game on shelves to meet demand, and that the game will continue to push hardware sales through the rest of the year.

"Whatever Rockstar put into the market will be gone day one, I'd like to think it will eclipse GTA: San Andreas," offered Steve O'Brien, MD of respected indie Gameshop. "Without doubt it's a hardware driver so sales even as far as the backend of 2008 will be incredibly strong."

Online retailers had already struggled to fulfil preorder demand. GAME, HMV and began to warn consumers they could not guarantee day one delivery, and due to demand GAME had begun picking and packing stock earlier than usual to make sure the postman delivered GTA IV on Tuesday morning.

But it wasn't just the specialist retailer reaping the benefits of a dedicated audience. Supermarkets hardly need a special occasion to open at midnight so long as consumers have got their wallets with them, and Asda in Wakefield had organised tickets for those who arrived early enough.

"The queue was the entire length of Asda. I got there at 10:45 and I was about 30th in line," said Christian, 35. "They only seemed to have about 40 tickets on each format.

"People who turned up just before midnight took one look at the queue and then went away again.

He observed that hype had probably helped fuel demand for the game, as crowds were bigger than at the release of the last console GTA title: "I was there when San Andreas came out at the same Asda. It was a bit bigger crowd this time, probably because of the stupidly high reviews."

For those that can't get their hands on their own copy this week, or simply want to cut back on games spending, rental companies have also seen great demand.

"The anticipation has been huge. Customers have been adding this to their coming soon lists since last Easter," offered Aaron Barrett, products and services director of "I think by delaying the release date and teasing us with the odd trailer has heightened the 'got to have it' value even more."

With perfect review scores hitting the web, hype surrounding the game isn't dying down, but the fans can finally get their hands on the game and make up their own minds. Grand Theft Auto IV is sure to remain a talking point and big seller for the rest of the year, and with exclusive episodic content due for the Xbox 360 version, the crime caper is likely to lead the videogames industry into 2009.

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