Dozens of articles and blog posts have covered Grand Theft Auto V‘s $800 million in day one, worldwide retail sales. Virtually all of them have tried to make the point that this somehow proves that video games are now beating the crap out of Hollywood.
Hogwash. First order hogwash, at that.
First, let’s not quibble with the fact that GTA V has proven to be a financial success. Selling $800 million of anything in 24 hours is impressive. That the game will likely surpass $1 billion in a matter of days should prove definitively that video games are a major commercial force. Hit the jump for more on why the video game industry isn’t bringing down Hollywood any time soon.
Only, we already proved that over and over again with other high-profit game releases. Last year, when video games generated just under $58 billion in global revenue, we proved that. That didn’t even include mobile gaming.
That a video game made $800 million retail in a day is newsworthy, but it’s hardly earth shattering. It’s not telling us anything about video games as an industry (or art form) that we didn’t already know.
It most certainly is not telling us anything about the film industry.
Yet many members of the fourth estate just couldn’t help themselves. Perhaps they just needed something to compare it to, because they couldn’t quite wrap their heads around basic addition and division.
Slate.com, continuing its trend of lazy post-lets, published this doozy: “The game is expected to blow past the $1 billion threshold, making its sales figures the envy of other like-minded industries, namely Hollywood.”
Those 23 words represented 21% of the entire article. Take a moment to reflect on that.
Deadline Hollywood, which should know better, posted a piece not much longer than Slate’s and just as work-shy. It included the following: “The GTA V [sales] already sets it in front of Man of Steel, which with a worldwide haul of $663 million, is the [third] biggest movie of 2013 so far.”
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times wrote about Call of Duty: Black Ops II. That game was the previous holder of the single-day sales record, recording $500 million in its first 24 hours. “That game went on to reach $1 billion in sales in 15 days,” recounted the piece. “Faster, many observed, than the box office record-holder Avatar.”
Why are all of these bits of reporting so forehead-slap-inducing? Let’s start with the basic math.
The suggested retail price for GTA V is $60. You can find it for as cheap as $55, but you can also find a collector’s edition going for $150. Who knows what the average retail price paid was? Let’s generously go with the low end of $55.
At that price point, $800 million in sales adds up to about 14.5 million copies.
Now let’s look at Man of Steel, which Deadline Hollywood brought up. Let’s not even bother with its worldwide grosses. In just the United States alone, it has made $291 million, a mere 36% of GTA V’s single day sales
But the average ticket price in the United States is $8.38 according to the National Association of Theater Owners. So that measly $291 million totals out to just under 35 million tickets. Even with repeat buyers, that’s double GTA V’s audience, and that’s just the U.S.
If that same average ticket price was applied to worldwide box office, Man of Steel would have sold 79 million tickets. The Avengers, which bested the box office in 2012 grossed $1.5 billion around the world and $624 million here at home. That’s almost 77 million tickets in just America. Around the world, it was probably closer to 180 million.
It’s not as if one metric is inherently better than the other. But when somebody posts online, “GTA V made $800 million in a day! When was the last time you saw a movie do that?” you can guess they wouldn’t be gloating quite so much about the total number of people who ponied up to buy said game.
But did 14.5 million people see the biggest Hollywood blockbuster in just a day?
No, but that just makes a more damning case for video games, at least in comparison to movies.
Everybody lines up to buy GTA V on day one. They take it home and play it for days after that, but all the money is spent right then and there. Take a look at the drop off in sales between day one and day two for any major video game release ever.
Movies don’t work like that. You consume the movie more or less at the same time you buy your ticket, and the laws of physics and time cap just how many people can see a movie in a single day. There are only so many theaters, and only so many seats inside of them. There are only so many hours in a day – 24 of them, in fact – to fit those two-hour blockbusters.