I had a weird thought. I found myself wondering, “Could Grand Theft Auto V be dethroned?” I’m not a giant fan of the series, so this isn’t a question of quality. It’s a question of cold, hard success. Could Grand Theft Auto V, the most profitable singular piece of entertainment media of all time, ever lose that title? The answer, by my estimation, is probably not. Due to a variety of factors, I think that Grand Theft Auto V will be able to safely perch on its seat at the head of the table for years, if not decades to come.
Usually, I’m not thinking about what’s going on in the world of Rockstar Games. What brought this line of thinking on was a brief glance at the PlayStation Store sales charts. I noticed that for the month of January 2020, Grand Theft Auto V was dethroned, sort of. Bandai Namco’s latest anime romp, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, had been a runaway success, kicking off the year quite well for all us anime dorks.
But that isn’t what’s remarkable about that observation. What’s crazy isn’t Kakarot getting the number one spot. It was arguably the month’s biggest release, in terms of quality, brand power, and word of mouth. What’s remarkable is that Grand Theft Auto V was in the freakin’ number two spot. This game, that originally came out on the PS3 and Xbox 360, is in the number two spot on the PlayStation Store in January 2020. That’s ridiculous. How does any one game that isn’t Minecraft have that much staying power?
The answer is pretty complex. Grand Theft Auto games are pretty evergreen, for one. They’re sandboxes at heart, and this is the biggest one of those. The series also has a massively diverse audience (see the Fast and Furious film series for similar cultural ubiquity). Finally, the additional online, multiplayer mode is a massive factor. GTA Online has proven to be a powerful force in gaming culture, that is not only raking in money hand over fist, but always helping keep copies of the game out there in circulation.
Game consoles have a longer shelf life than you’d think. PlayStation 4s and Xbox Ones will sell well into the PS5’s life, as younger audiences and people with lower household incomes pick them up at deep discounts.. Undoubtedly, copies of GTA V (which will either be bargain bin grabs or digital storefront sale grabs will continue to sell. And with the upcoming consoles pushing backwards compatibility, that’s only going to keep this game relevant.
The power of GTA V as a cultural flashpoint is hard to describe. I’d recommend checking out a documentary from gaming channel Noclip that follows one community of GTA Online players. These folks have played together for years and have even developed a dynamic of kinship over the years. Everyone travels to one destination once a year for a massive cookout, and that’s just one squad. There are probably several more like it in various forms, always rotating people in and out and buying more copies for myriad reasons.
Games will come and go as usual, but the top of this mountain is going to be nearly impossible to climb. The numbers Grand Theft Auto V has done since its release are unfathomable. Think of every game you thought was a blockbuster success, and I guarantee it hasn’t come close. Month to month and year to year, GTA V won’t be at the top of the charts. But it has continued to be there, somewhere on the list, since launch day. And that only makes its cumulative peak grow. Perhaps, one day, something will come out and take the title. I hope I get to see what that is, because it will have to be tremendous to even come close.