Analyst: GTAIV could best Halo 3's debut

Janco Partners' Mike Hickey says Rockstar's latest could "conceivably" ship 9.5 million in the first week, more than twice Microsoft's 4.4 million.

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In announcing Halo 3's first-week sales of $300 million, Microsoft called it "the fastest-selling video game ever." That record might be relatively short-lived, if a new report from Janco Partners analyst Mike Hickey proves accurate.

Hickey attributes the success of Halo 3 to a growing fan base for the franchise, a general demand for high-quality content, and the game's release early in the current generation's life cycle. Those same factors will be playing into next year's release of Grand Theft Auto IV, Hickey said. In addition, the Xbox 360 installed user base will be significantly larger by the time GTA IV comes out, and the addition of a PlayStation 3 edition of the game should boost sales significantly as well. Putting those factors together, Hickey suggests that the market is generally underestimating the next GTA game's initial success.

With Halo 3, Hickey believes Microsoft shipped 5.2 million copies of the game for its first week of release, and sold through 4.4 million. That leads to a 67 percent attach rate (percentage of all console owners who purchased the game) in the US, Hickey said. He believes that rate dips to 46 percent when adding in Europe.

Although Hickey doesn't think Grand Theft Auto IV will sell to as large a percentage of Xbox 360 owners, he notes that the expanding installed user base for the Xbox 360 and PS3 could offset whatever shortcoming there is. Even with a projected attach rate of only 20 percent (which Hickey stresses is very conservative), that would indicate first-week sales for the game of 3.5 million units. Hickey seemed more comfortable with a 30 percent attach rate, which would suggest first-week shipments of 5.3 million copies. But there's also a best-case scenario.

"If the upcoming release of GTA IV attached at the same rate as Halo 3," Hickey wrote, "the title could conceivably ship 9.5 million units of [the] game in the first week, producing an astonishing $466 million in sales." In such a case, Hickey projects first-week sales of the game would approach 8.1 million copies.

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