How Microsoft Used GTAIV To Save The Xbox 360 From Extinction

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GTAIV is upon us. After several years of holding breath, Rockstar’s Magnum opus is spinning on millions of Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles all over the world. It’s another successful multi-platform release. What gamer isn’t happy at this moment? Some gamers might not realize the fact that GTAIV being released on both of the next gen platforms has leveled the play field for both Microsoft and Sony. If you didn’t know the facts about why PS2 dominated the last generation, you should look at GTA3 as the sole reason.

When Microsoft first stepped into the console gaming arena, they were like a deer caught in the headlights. They gave us this huge VCR sized gaming system with tons of power and slim pickings for content. Everything they did was questioned. The included hard drive and impending pay-per-use Xbox Live was all new territory to console gamers. The only thing to do was sit on the fence and wait. Spec wise, it had much more horsepower than the PS2. People knew this off the bat, but where were the games? Was there going to be anything good coming out of Japan? What 3rd parties were supporting it? Why was Microsoft even bothering with console gaming when they were making so much from their Windows operating system?

A lot of things happened at the time Microsoft came out the gate with the Xbox. Sega had just stopped producing the Dreamcast, Nintendo had a loyal following with the Gamecube and people were still feeling the pain of the PS2 launch. Everyone was waiting for a reason to buy into the next generation hoopla. There were still many PS1 titles being released, but people wanted more Dreamcast because that’s where all the games were at.

In the Fall of 2001, GTAIII blessed itself on the PS2 console. It was a ground breaking game that deserved all of the accolades it was given. This was the first MUST have PS2 title and it was also the first real reason anyone needed to buy a PS2. This game was so important that Sony signed an exclusive deal with Rockstar to cock block this game from any other system for an entire year. That decision alone put a stillbirth on Microsoft’s ability to move Xbox consoles off the shelves. Not even Halo was enough to get casual gamers to buy an Xbox. If you were a casual gamer, you were buying a PS2 to not only play DVD’s, but also play GTAIII.

Microsoft didn’t see GTAIII on the Xbox until 2003. It was bigger, better and had more features on the Xbox. It sold very well considering the lower install base of the Xbox. By this time however, it was too late. The PS2 was already dominating the console world. GTAIII was a household name and it was the game that sent the PS2 into celebrity hardware status. Even after the game finally arrived for the Xbox, it continued to sell well on the PS2. Those single console owners that had Xboxes still got a treat with 720p resolution, better textures and reflections, but better hardware never meant better sales.

Microsoft knew better than to let this happen again. This time around they played their cards right. Several SKU’s and RROD’s later, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has become the definitive machine for JRPG’s, shooters, sports and 3D action games. Sony’s PS3 has been playing catch up since it’s launch. Everyone knew that the monster would awaken this year with games like GTAIV, MGS4, GT5P and many others on the horizon. 2008 was supposed to be the year of the PS3 and GTAIV was going to inaugurate it. The only catch here is that this would be the first time that a GTA game would have a simultaneous release on 2 different platforms. Not only that, but Microsoft secured $50 Million dollars of exclusive goodies for the 360 version. They didn’t shut Sony out, but they didn’t leave them with a means to compete on an even level with the same game. I think their intention was to lure fence sitters who were waiting for GTAIV to buy a 360 console instead of a PS3. So far everything has worked well.

The Xbox 360 has a high attach rate so it’s a given that they would sell a lot of GTAIV games. Some people still believe that GTA is recognized as a Playstation brand and will buy a PS3 to play it. What Sony didn’t realize is like GTAIII, this could have been their chance to blow past Microsoft. For Sony to not secure any exclusive deals with GTAIV, they have broken their momentum. They have given Microsoft too much room to shoot. Microsoft took advantage of that and have very strong sales of the GTAIV game and will have more coming this August to those lucky 360 owners. Whether Microsoft realizes it or not, just by having the GTAIV game on 360, they have secured a long and healthy life for the system.

You can’t deny that their are PS2 owners that have bought 360’s. The market is split like it’s never been before. Neither Sony or Microsoft have any IP’s that can quickly push them ahead one way or the other. It’s going to take some severe price dropping to pull out ahead. The only question now is can Sony afford another price drop this year? If so, are they ready to compete with a Premium 360 at a $299 price point? Only time will tell.

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