Spot On: Going up against GTA

As Iron Man and Mario Kart Wii stare down Rockstar's 800-pound gorilla, top analysts and Secret Level's Jeremy Gordon weigh in on launching alongside the biggest game of the year.

For nearly 15 months, October 16, 2007 was a no-go area for game publishers. That's because during the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo, Take-Two interactive announced that day would see the release of developer Rockstar North's heavily anticipated Grand Theft Auto IV.

Given the fact that Rockstar had never failed to stick to an announced GTA release date, most publishers quietly shifted their schedules to accommodate the newest entry into the best-selling game series of the 21st Century. Even Microsoft moved up the release of the mighty Halo 3 to late September from its traditional mid-November slot to get a three-week jump on its rival.

Then, after keeping the industry on notice for more than a year, Take-Two did the unthinkable. In August 2007, with a scant 10 weeks remaining before launch, the publisher stunned gamers worldly by delaying GTAIV until 2008. The game's new, broad February-to-April window left publishers with Q1 releases playing a game of Russian Roulette, scheduling their releases with the chance they could be staring down the barrel of a 70 million-unit franchise.

When the chamber ceased its chaotic spin in January, two major games found themselves squarely sighted in Rockstar's reticle: Sega's Iron Man and Nintendo's Mario Kart Wii. With GTAIV staking its claim on Tuesday, April 29, Nintendo took to its traditional major release tack, rolling Mario Kart Wii out on Sunday, April 27. Sega, in turn, would be pushing Iron Man out alongside its big-budget film inspiration on Friday, May 2.

If nothing else, both Nintendo and Sega have star power on their side. If anyone could pull a drive-by and dent GTA sales, it would be Mario Kart and its Mushroom Kingdom cavalcade. Iron Man also has plenty of backup: the support of a major publisher, the story of one of Marvel's most popular comic books, and synergy with a summer blockbuster with a reported budget of $180 million. The film also has the X factor of white-hot advance buzz, thanks to a popular trailer and the talents of director Jon Favreau (Elf) and star Robert Downey Jr. (Zodiac, the upcomingTropic Thunder).

However, with GTAIV's 9.5 million units in potential first-week global sales and $400 million in reported preorders, both Sega and Nintendo must be feeling at least some trepidation about their own releases. While the Mario Factory declined to be interviewed for this feature, Jeremy Gordon, studio director of Iron Man developer Secret Level, was happy to talk about going toe-to-toe with GTA.

"It was late January when [the news] broke, that they were going to do a date change, I think the initial reaction was, 'Cool, GTA!' because we all play games and we're like, 'GTA's going to be awesome,'" noted Gordon. What's more, that enthusiasm never turned to dread or a consideration to attempt to duck the game to a different, less volatile week. "I think it would be naive to say there would be no impact on sales, but I don't think it's the kind of thing where we're like, 'Oh no! We're going to be half or we're going to be dramatically reduced.'"

Sega is casting its net as wide as possible with Iron Man, with versions appearing on the Xbox 360, PS3, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo DS, Wii, and PC. According to Gordon, Secret Level has been developing the 360 and PS3 versions of Iron Man for nearly 18 months, with the Sega-owned studio having ramped up its operations to accommodate the project. All versions of the game will be a third-person action adventure, where gamers will have the chance to climb into Tony Stark's machine of war in an open-world environment, wrecking carnage against equally high-tech villains in both land- and air-based combat.

Gordon believes that Iron Man will buck the recurrent trend of shoddy movie tie-ins, thanks in large part to the studio being able to get a jump on development due to its understanding with Sega. "If you're on a movie timeframe, it's super tight, and I think that's one of the contributing factors for why movie games kind of end up being crappy," said Gordon. "One of the acquisition specifications with Secret Level was to have us in the back pocket, so as Sega's heading into negotiations on an IP that they think is going to be really cool, it's not like there's then a horrific search to try to find an in-line developer. Instead, we can really be focused on making super high-quality games and be ready to go."

With Secret Level and Sega on the same page, Gordon says that the tight relationship shared by the dev team and the movie crew will be reflected in the quality of the title. "This is the first time where we actually got to partner up with film makers. We had Favreau playing the game, and we're like, 'OK dude, it's cool, you don't have to play anymore.' And he's like, 'No, no, you should do this and you should do that.' And we had Robert Downey Jr. playing the game, and I didn't even know he played games."

Downey's cowriting of dialogue for the game--and the film, reportedly--was especially important to the game's development, according to Gordon. "For most superhero movies, you're like where's the action, where's the action, let's get past all this boring crap," mused Gordon. "But I think [Downey] makes it just hysterical to watch. He's the glue of the film. And hopefully that's come across in the game. I mean, seriously, game dialogue can be a stretch sometimes. But having him cowrite the dialogue with us and say, 'OK, Tony Stark wouldn't say that. My Tony Stark wouldn't ever say that, he'd say this.' I think people will dig that."

Gordon also isn't worried about the M for Mature-rated GTA overshadowing the T for Teen-rated Iron Man in terms of mindshare. "I think it's interesting just in thinking about how people are going to play GTA over what time period," observed Gordon. "It's almost like the Madden type thing, where people are like, 'Oh, I'm going to get that, of course I'll be playing that.' The appeal that Iron Man has is to a broader audience, I don't think it is the kind of thing where it's either/or. I see it more as, to go back to the Madden analogy, it's like, 'Of course I'll do that.' But then, I think people are going to see the movie and be blown away. I don't think we're a direct GTA competitor."

Whether or not Mario Kart Wii and Iron Man are competitors has been a heavily speculated topic among analysts. Last year Janco Partners' Mike Hickey made headlines for saying Bungie and Microsoft wrecked box office sales for Paramount's Ben Stiller/Farrelly brothers comedy The Heartbreak Kid. Total silver screen sales for the weekend were a paltry $80 million, the worst tally since 1999. Hickey also believes GTAIV "could dampen the theatrical success" of Iron Man this year.

Pacific Crest Securities' Evan Wilson agrees with Hickey--in part. "There will be an impact on Iron Man's box office results because of GTA," Wilson told GameSpot. However, Wilson downplayed exactly how much of an effect the game's launch proximity will have on the film. "With only 14 million US consumers (less than 5 percent of the total population) that even have a 360 or PS3 to play GTA, there is an extremely large opportunity for Iron Man as well." Wilson also noted that Paramount, which carved out Iron Man's May 2 release date before Take-Two setup GTAIV on April 29, made the right decision in not shifting the movie's debut, as it would then have had to compete in a far more competitive environment with other big-screen blockbusters.

Not all analysts agree that Iron Man will feel GTA's heat, however. In fact, Lazard Capital Markets' Colin Sebastian and Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter believe box-office busts being linked to gaming is a dubious correlation at best. "I have a hard time believing that GTA will have more than a limited impact on Iron Man," observed Sebastian.

Pachter went one step further, calling the link "ridiculous," and then proceeded to do the math. "My guess is that Iron Man will do $50 million or more in box office the first weekend," Pachter told GameSpot. "That's 5 million tickets, sold to an adult population of 180 million in the US. Only around 15 million of these people own a PS3 or Xbox 360, or around 8.3 percent. That implies that around 8 percent of the addressable market for Iron Man has the potential to buy GTA, and only around 35 percent of these people will buy GTA. That's 3 percent of the addressable market for Iron Man. Of these, maybe one out of three is a big enough geek that they won't be able to pull themselves away from the game for two hours to go to the movie. That means a 1 percent impact on ticket sales. You won't be able to track this, but the conclusion is that the impact will be imperceptible, and further discussion is really futile."

As for GTA's impact on Mario Kart Wii, Pachter believes the impact will be negligible. "I think that the Mario Kart Wii audience is completely different from the GTA audience," observed Pachter. "Yes, both are hardcore, but the former game is a Wii exclusive, and the latter is a PS3/360 exclusive. Only hardcore gamers with a Wii and one of the other consoles will be affected (this can't be more than a small percentage of the Wii base), and anyone hardcore enough to own two consoles won't be put off by the launch timing of these games."

Sebastian likewise concurred, saying not only that GTA and Mario Kart Wii's differing audiences will make the matchup a nonissue for Nintendo, but also that the release may in fact have a positive impact on sales. "If anything, [Mario Kart Wii] can probably benefit from the additional foot traffic in stores that week, from those gamers who own a Wii in addition to their Xbox or PS3."

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479 comments
T-_-K
T-_-K

I think Microsoft and Sony bought Rockstar to make them release Microsoft's Xbox360 and Sony's PS3 versions of GTA IV. even if the price was high but they will win in the end because people will buy the consoles then still buy consoles games for the next console came out.

daabulls23
daabulls23

Even if Nintendo is not afraid of GTAIV being released, they still should have thought of a different date to release Mario Kart. However, it would have been hard to change the Iron Man release date since the movie came out as well.

brosim1104
brosim1104

I agree with Patcher's opinion about Mario Kart. As I commented a few weeks ago, i think that Ninty is actually trying to ''steal'' some of GTA IV 's hype by making noise with the fact that [ NINTENDO] isn't afraid of ''GTA IV '' ! All the analysts ''run'' to analyse this move and Mario Kart 's hype grew even bigger... Also his opinion about hardcore fans that own Wii and another next gen console is right. Although , I believe, owners of that piece are mostly Nintendo -hardcore- fans that also want a next gen console so that they can keep playing other favorite ,third party's franchises, like Resident Evil 5 etc, in the next generation. Nintendo is really good in marketing!!!

TRH4469
TRH4469

so ya i think that gta already took the cake on this one fellas. the iron man demo wasn't fun, i don't expect much from that game.

00Rambol00
00Rambol00

The gaming competition is pretty harsh. Nintendo are doing pretty well with the Wii, theres no question about that. Its now upto xbox 360 and PS3 to battle it out. Atm they are fairly matched With PS3 loosing a lot of profits on PS3 60GB model and xbox 360's being released earlier but majority of models having hardware failure (AKA 3 Rings of death, HD DVD drive pooing up etc), its been pretty bad for them both, you've got to admit. PS3 have some pretty good titles coming out for it MGS4 GT 5 KillZone SOCOM And Xbox 360... Gears Of War 2 Fable 2 Alan Wake What do you all think?

00Rambol00
00Rambol00

jlwarwick The reason Xbox 360 gets exclusive downloadable content is because Microsoft bribed Rockstar $50 million. Its pretty silly paying that much just for content but i guess thats Microsoft taking some millions of dollars out of their bank with having billions of dollars in their bank. Kinda pisses me off that Microsoft rips everyone off but i guess thats where they get their stinking money from

okassar
okassar

Lolz,going up against GTA...Mario Kart Wii is disappointing and is arguably a joke, and the Iron Man...I'm not even saying anything.GTA is on fire right now.

conti027
conti027

i have Mario Kart wii but i dont like it much the last Mario Kart was way better.

kos1085
kos1085

I have both GTA and MKW but right now i am playing GTA!!!

ihma
ihma

i have both GTA and MKW

xxyanlixx
xxyanlixx

GAMESPOT CAN YOU GUYZ PLEASE DELIVER OUR SINCERE REQUESTS TO ROCKSTAR AND TELL THEM WE WANT GTA 4 TO LAUNCH ON PC!

nunes123
nunes123

most people think that one of them is going to smash one-another but you never know they might all be equaly the same .....not....

TristanH12
TristanH12

honestly, would anyone really choose Iron Man over GTA IV or Mario Kart. The clear game to get is GTA...even if Mario Kart does promise online play and a large Wii ownership base.

SportzGamer73
SportzGamer73

lol iron man, i am almost 100% positive that GTA IV will smash on iron man.and Mario kart Wii does not hold a candle to it either. as a matter of fact, i don't think many games this year will.possibly Fable 2.

Dualmask
Dualmask

My intent is to get Mario Kart at launch, GTA maybe later when it's on the shelves used, and Iron Man...well, I generally don't play licensed games. As for my prediction, I'm pretty convinced GTA IV's sales are going to be phenomenal. Despite all the excitement around it, I doubt Iron Man will be anything more than a competent movie tie-in game (7.5 at best). I doubt very seriously that Mario Kart's sales will come anywhere near GTA's sales...but it would certainly be funny if it did happen. Either way, I don't really care which sells better.

Zarroc96
Zarroc96

Can't wait till Iron Man. Played the demo on XBL, it freaking rules.

SethandJeremy
SethandJeremy

mario kart wii and iron man need to show that their better.

jlwarwick
jlwarwick

y is 360 getting 2 epic eposods 2 down load and the ps3's not thats not fair ?

zell1
zell1

muhahahahahahahahahaha pitiful iron man Gta anit all that great sry to say this but ill take mario kart over Gta and iron man

cidhighwind100
cidhighwind100

is this some kind of joke? gta will kick iron man's metallic ass.

Morb
Morb

*Snicker* Mario Cart making a dent in GTA IV's sales.....that's so precocious and cute....he he he

MGGREVIEWS
MGGREVIEWS

IRON MAN is a movie based game and alot of people buy those kind of games when the movie comes out doubling the sales then..but GTA4 isn't really a movie bsed game (there is a movie called grand theft auto) But rockstar have made a good move realesing vice city stories and liberty city stories. both game lacked the san andreas edge but maybe they realesed those games to give us a taste of what GTA4 has because both game offerd something differnt to other. So IRON MAN is going to get thrashed because a game that hs really just started the game buisness dosn't stand a chance against a game that dates back to the ps1

milnet
milnet

If perhaps GTA 4 was being released on Wii as well would it be an issue. The other thing though as well is that the Wii has a ton of games that are no M rated that are selling big time and of that lot most of them are made by Nintendo as well which leads me to a bit of an off topic thing in that other publishers / developers don't have a chance against Nintendo.

S_Pac_316
S_Pac_316

I'll take Mario Kart Wii over GTAIV any day. But that's not to say that I won't buy GTA4 because I will. Just not on the first day.

kiblespoop
kiblespoop

Michael Pachter is a complete idiot. He sincerely believes that only 35% of the people with a PS3/360 will buy GTA? Halo is a 360 exclusive and a large majority of 360 owners bought Halo 3 soon after it's launch. Add the PS3 gamers to that amount, and possibly more 360 owners, and it's obvious that there is a large gamer base buying GTA.

DrakonGiga
DrakonGiga

No game should come out within fourteen weeks of GTA because they stand no chance

durge666
durge666

I want to get both. I played the Iron Man demo and IT LOOKS AWESOME!!

Stryder_18
Stryder_18

Gonna be funny when those little kids try to buy GTA, cause you know they are gonna be checking ID's like crazy on this one.

ryaz_weaponx
ryaz_weaponx

iron man VS GTA IV. ok now thts...........hmmmmmmmmmmm.....lets c.

360nly
360nly

(Mario Kart) (Iron Man) niga plz only kids play that stuff oh my bad here got a lot of them

LosDaddie
LosDaddie

oh well. Iron Man will do great anyway

frog154
frog154

How is Iron Man even on the radar?

HighlyToxic
HighlyToxic

Man, there's a lot of entertainment coming our way!

Siz2005
Siz2005

GTA 4 FTW, getting GTA anyway and as for Mario Kart, me not getting anyway.

Gadeos
Gadeos

What??? Man, I just spent almost 15 minutes reading this analysis wanna-be article.

Stryder_18
Stryder_18

Wait a minute there's a GTA IV, since when did this happen? lol actually this new GTA just looks like a rehash with better graphics, sort of looks like I've been there done that. I'll still get it, but I just might get bored of it pretty fast that's all.

hunter8man
hunter8man

I was looking forward to Mario Kart, but like many, I'm strapped for cash. I can't afford 2 games at the same time, so I will opt for GTA IV. But I have every intention of picking up MK before the year is out.

frankeyser
frankeyser

hmm I dont think the audience of GTA and Mario kart are two different.. I mean I am buying both... my buddy's mike and wagon are as well... Mario kart = fun, gta = fun... why not buy both?

mad_mercenary
mad_mercenary

Fortunately us Brits have been able to play Mario Kart for over a week so there wont be too much competition in Europe come April 29th. If you have a Wii and a 360/PS3, then get both games mentioned because they will be completely different and MK online is supoib. As for Iron Man, its basically Ace Combat, but instead of flying an F-22, you piloting a man dressed like The Terminator. 'Nuff said.

kendrene
kendrene

I'm not a GTA fan but I think that the other two titles cannot seriously compete with it. I'm waiting June to buy my next game....

Hvac0120
Hvac0120

Mario Kart is going to sell well. It may have a rough start, but give it two weeks and you will see boosting sales. The Iron Man game may not really be effected because I think the audience is a little different. (Plus the demo on XBL was ok, but repetitive - so the quality of the title is iffy) Both of these games are better for parents with children who need a new game to play. So, that market is going to be where the initial sales come from. It is my belief that people will eventually buy the games if they want them. It just might not help the games sales during launch week.

Thigeic
Thigeic

GTA IV is released like what? 3 days before Iron Man? I excpet I will need a break from gaming after 3 days stright GTA IV gaming. And Iron Man acctualy fits nicly into that. I dobut GTA IV will impact Iron Man at all, what I do on the other hand expect to see, is not a hige numbers on the movies as we all ways do, piracy is its enemey, they dont need to worry to much about games.

sidious
sidious

I'm a hardcore gamer with a limited budget now days since I'm on disability and my wife is a school teacher. But I own a Wii and a 360 (and I"m getting a PS3 for my birthday in May)- and I have already pre ordered my copy of GTA 4 and Mario Kart. They are just two games I have to buy. It is tough on the wallet that they hit so close together, but I keep up with these sorts of things, and I was prepared ahead of time. I also plan to see Iron Man on opening night. And so do all my GTA 4 playing friends. I think the only reason the box office may see a decline in numbers would be based on other factors besides video games, such as the quality of the films in the theater at the time (I mean come on, The Heartbreak Kid, an R rated comedy that was a remake of a film so old most people probably didn't even know it was a remake, and the film had iffy reviews and buzz going in... that is why it didn't make money.) Iron Man is a different story alltogether. The buzz is strong. The Marvel Comics films have all done well in the past. The trailer is amazing and the casting perfect. And the market for the film ties well with the video game market. The same types of people, by and large, that are buying Mario Kart or GTA 4 are the same types of people that would be excited to see Iron Man. If anything will stop or slow the sales of a film like Iron Man, it would be the fact people are broke cause gas prices are so high and movie tickets are expensive, as are games. So you may have some people effected by th economy that may have to pick and choose their entertainment choices. So if you are going to blame something, blame the economy. Cause most people I know, if they could afford it, would buy both or all three games and go see the movie. If they can get enough gas in their car to make it to the theater or the game store. lol.

Potts1350
Potts1350

haha with gta 4 up against MKwii and Iron Man they have no chance not many would choose iron man(another movie game....) against a famous series of games like gta

mfouad
mfouad

well GTA 4 and MGS 4 will be the best game of 2008!!

Xtatic324
Xtatic324

hahaha! i dont care what this guy says.. GTA is takin down Iron man! yyeeaa! lol