What If Grand Theft Auto V Was an Xbox 720 Exclusive?
It's a steal
GTA 5 an exclusive on the next Xbox? It's not as far-fetched as you'd expect. Join us for a bit of speculation, conspiracy theorising and fantasising - the results might surprise you.
Let's start with the facts. Grand Theft Auto V was originally due for a spring release. This implies Rockstar's preferred release window of April - the month that Red Dead Redemption, LA Noire, Max Payne 3 and the last GTA all launched.
Then, with mere months until release, it was announced the game would be delayed until September. The game needed more time for "extra polish", Rockstar said. Rockstar doesn't traditionally like to get involved with the Christmas blockbuster game bloodbath, based quite reasonably on the assumption that a Grand Theft Auto game will sell a ton whatever time of year it's released.
So delaying isn't ideal and this year in particular it's a big problem. We're already seeing trailers for next-generation games that are making even the prettiest Xbox 360 games look distinctly second-hand. The only situation in which this delay could be a positive for Rockstar, would be if a next-generation version of the game was to ship either simultaneously or very shortly after.
It's hardly surprising, then, people are already speculating that Rockstar's "extra polish" time is needed to bring the game to a next-generation sheen. If the game had been released in April as planned, fans would be expecting a PC version with better visuals around half a year later anyway.
With that in mind, put yourself in Microsoft's position. Every report so far suggests the Xbox 720 and the Playstation 4 are due to release late this year and that there'll be very little difference in terms of raw horsepower. What's going to win the next, very expensive generation is software and the launch period exclusives are going to be crucial to establishing a lead. People buy the same consoles their mates are playing on, so early adopters are enormously valuable.
And what could be more tempting than the definitive version of Grand Theft Auto V? We're not suggesting Rockstar would give up the game entirely to a single new console - the existing PS3 and Xbox 360 user base is where it will make its development money back.
But if the deal was just for exclusivity on the next-generation version, it starts to make a lot more sense. The initial install base of the new consoles will be tiny and losing sales on one of those consoles for, say, six months of exclusivity (while still raking in the cash from the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions) isn't going to make a big dent on the balance sheet.
So if you're Microsoft, why wouldn't you offer to write a big fat cheque and bankroll that extra development time? There's already a precedent for substantial exclusive Grand Theft Auto content on the Xbox platform - both Lost and Damned and Ballad of Gay Tony were Xbox exclusive downloads. And more than Sony, Microsoft understands the importance of securing exclusive third-party content, not only from Rockstar but Activision and Bethesda too.
Yes, it would no doubt be astronomically expensive, but if that translates into an early, potentially unassailable lead into the next generation, it'd be worth every penny invested. With every element of the industry getting more expensive, whoever 'loses' the next generation is going to be in deep financial trouble - far more profound than six months' development costs. The stakes have never been higher.
There's the odd complication, of course. While a next-gen version hasn't been explicitly ruled out, Rockstar did take the time to respond to 'conspiracy theories', claiming that the delay is just to polish the game and nothing more dramatic.
Regardless, it seems like a win-win situation. Rockstar makes a ton of money, absorbing a costly delay, and enjoys exactly the same profits from the current-gen version. Microsoft, meanwhile, gains a hugely compelling reason for consumers to choose Xbox 720 over a PS4 at Christmas, establishing an early lead in the eternal console war.
But what do you think? Is it plausible, or even possible we'll see a next-gen version of GTA 5 that is exclusive? Can you see an obvious problem with our plan for Xbox 720's world domination? Have we gone completely, irretrievably mad? Let us know in the comments.