With over $1 billion in sales in only three days, Grand Theft Auto V is already most successful game in history. But its online multiplayer mode, which went live yesterday, may re-write the rules for how games make money in the future. According to research firm SuperData, GTA publisher Take Two Interactive stands to make another $200 million from downloadable content and in-game transactions in the coming year.
The biggest chunk of that will come from upgrades and expansion packs, but players are also expected to exchange more than $40 million in real money for GTA’s in-game currency, which can be used to buy cars, guns, and even play the virtual stock market. Though GTA is not the first console game to try this, it is by the far the most high-profile. The entire video game industry will be watching, because companies sorely need to find ways to make money that go beyond selling shrink-wrapped boxes.
The astonishing success of mobile games—especially the way they make money through in-game purchases, upgrades and microtransactions—have spurred console-game makers like Take Two to follow suit. Encouraging consumers to spend money within the game extends the life-cycle of a title, and allows publishers to roll out new upgrades and additions without have to re-write everything from scratch.
There are limits to how much console game publishers can emulate their mobile brethren. Titles like GTA are so expensive to make that the “freemium” model— giving away the game, and charging only for upgrades and add-ons—doesn’t add up. The immersive gameplay makes it impractical to force users to buy extra lives, like in Candy Crush Saga. But there is still a lot that console makers and publishers can do to make it easier for gamers to spend money. ”In the past, in order to purchase something in an Xbox game you first had to buy Xbox Live points, then purchase the item,” SuperData’s Sam Barberie told Quartz. “That’s too many steps since you’d have to buy Xbox Points, then in-game currency, then the item.” Both Sony and Microsoft have said that their new consoles, due to be launched in the next year, will make such transactions easier.