The games industry has spawned its fair share of icons over the years. From PAC-Man to Lara Croft via Mario, certain gaming names have become every bit as relevant to modern popular culture as Batman films and LEGO bricks.
However, it’s fair to say that over the last 15 years no videogame series has shaken the modern world quite as much as Grand Theft Auto.
Grand Theft Auto began life as a 2D open-world action adventure in 1997, challenging players to execute gangland missions in urban settings, which was displayed from a top-down perspective. The studio behind this breakthrough hit was Scotland-based developer DMA Design, later to become better known as Rockstar North.
Despite the game’s adult yet cartoonish nature, GTA quickly built a cult following. Many praised the freedom of its open world gameplay (also known as ‘sandbox games’), which allowed gamers to drive and walk freely rather than follow a linear path. The game bore two London-set expansions, including GTA: London, 1969 – the First console videogame expansion pack.
However, despite spawning a popular full sequel in 1999, GTA would soon outgrow its 2D graphics. Behind-the-scenes Rockstar developers were rubbing their hands at the new technology afforded to them with the advent of sixth-generation consoles. They had far bigger designs at work – literally.
When Grand Theft Auto III rolled up on the PlayStation 2 in 2001, the game’s familiar mix of driving and shooting would be reinvented in 3D, powered by a sophisticated new engine that was developed by Criterion Games. Suddenly, the series’ sense of realism was enhanced tenfold, as gamers could ‘free-roam’ through a sprawling urban metropolis crawling with pedestrians, cops, rival gangs and traffic.
The face of gaming would be changed forever – and it was all down to Rockstar’s ambitious yet stupendously playable outing.
Although GTA III may not have been the first sandbox action adventure in history (1991’s 16-bit adventure Hunter is often mentioned as holding that accolade), the freedom it presented was unprecedented for the genre. GTA III not only dazzled gamers with an eclectic mix of side-quests, dynamic shoot-outs and random exploration, it also showed rival developers just how much power could be squeezed out of a sixth-generation console.
GTA III’s influence would begin to be felt everywhere over the next decade, from Spider-Man adventures to street racers, but GTA always stayed one step above the pack.
When seventh title Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas released in 2004, eager gamers made it the best-selling action adventure videogame at the time, selling more than 20 million copies worldwide.
But the series grew stronger still. And it was in 2013 that Grand Theft Auto V would conquer everything in its wake, establishing new milestones, not just for the series, but for gaming in general.
GTA V – the 15th release in the series – was set in a city loosely based on Los Angeles, USA, and offered three larger-than-life protagonists for players to control. The game continued the series’ trademark dark humour, slick cinematic cut-scenes and OTT action that it had become revered for, and cost around $276 million to make (including marketing costs) – the Largest budget for a videogame.
GTA V initially released on 17 September 2013, at this point just for PS3 and Xbox 360. Within 24 hours of release, the game had sold a staggering 11.21 million units across both platforms, becoming the Best-selling videogame in 24 hours and Best-selling action adventure videogame in 24 hours.
Similarly it also broke records for the Highest grossing videogame in 24 hours and the Highest revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours with first day revenue hitting $815.7million. This eye-popping sum shattered previous records held by blockbuster movies including The Avengers and Avatar. It also became the Fastest entertainment property to gross $1 billion, reaching that total in just three days after release.
With all this sales fervor, Grand Theft Auto V went onto become the Best-selling PS3 videogame too, with platform sales of 19.74 million, as of 20 July 2015. It’s also the second best-selling game for Xbox 360, sitting behind Kinect Adventures! with 15.35 million sales compared to 21.52 million.
Based purely on those PS3 and Xbox 360 sales, the game broke the record for Best-selling action adventure videogame – no mean feat given the number of enduring action adventure franchises in existence.
Enhanced versions of GTA V eventually released for Xbox One and PS4 roughly a year later to universal acclaim. The PS4 version stands proud as the Best-selling PS4 videogame, with sales of 7.19 million. It is also the Most critically acclaimed PS4 videogame with a score of 96.33% on Gamerankings.
Determined not to be left out, June 2014 saw PC gamers start up a petition pleading with Rockstar to port the game onto home computers. The campaign gained 728,144 signatures – the Most signatures for a videogame petition.
And Rockstar must have taken notice too, because a PC version released in March 2015. And it was certainly worth the wait. The game subsequently scored an aggregated score of 95.07% on Gamerankings, making it the fourth most critically acclaimed PC game of all time, sat just 0.81% behind that category’s record holder The Orange Box.
Although GTA V’s gameplay was instantly familiar to series stalwarts, it continued to innovate with a hub of new features, namely the Rockstar Editor feature, which gave PC gamers the opportunity to edit their own films using footage created in both the story and online multiplayer modes.
Around this exploded a whole new culture, with budding directors using GTA to shoot machinimas, comedy skits, music videos and even short films. Look out for the music video "The Mountain" by London synth group GUNSHIP (UK) – the First official music video made using GTA V’s video editor.
Grand Theft Auto’s popularity shows no sign of waning anytime soon. To date, it’s the Best-selling action adventure videogame series, far outselling the likes of fellow enduring giants Zelda, Resident Evil and Metal Gear with global sales of 156.59 million.
And of course, Grand Theft Auto V also continues to be the Best-selling action adventure videogame, now with combined sales of 45.69 million sales across all five platforms. Not bad for a 18-year old franchise.