Grand Theft Auto, a franchise in decline?

Ok, so maybe “decline” is a bit melodramatic, but in the wake of lackluster sales data for The Ballad of Gay Tony, Take-Two Interactive’s DLC follow-up to Grand Theft Auto IV, some are wondering if the developer’s flagship series has reached its peak. Broadpoint AmTech analyst Ben Schachter elaborates on this idea:  “…we must raise an even bigger question: has the Grand Theft Auto franchise peaked? Given the strength of GTA IV in 2008, the question may seem misplaced, but our concern is that the very highly rated new GTA content for Xbox as well as PSP and DS did not perform up to expectations in 2009. Now, we very clearly understand that these do not represent ‘true’ new GTA titles. However, the fact is that these were compelling titles, attractively priced, and reasonably well-promoted, yet they fell relatively flat.”

Michael Pachter from Wedbush weighs in, “Ben’s right that the DLC disappointed, but I suspect that the reason is that GTA games are so massive that a substantial majority of the GTA audience hasn’t finished the core game, so they don’t feel especially compelled to buy the DLC.

“My guess is that fewer than 20% of GTA owners finished the game so fewer were interested in DLC.”

Of course, there are issues other than GTA’s popularity at play there. Episodes of downloadable content do not represent the games for which they are released. Moreover, low sales may speak to Take-Two’s inability to effectively capitalize on the new content than on the popularity and demand for GTA games. Indeed, no one is presuming that sales for the inevitable Grand Theft Auto V will be poor. As to whether GTA4 represents the peak of the franchise’s popularity? Only time will tell if this series has truly passed into its denouement.