Grand Theft Blockbusters

We have all heard the tale by now. In its first month, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars sold a mere 90,000 units. That’s almost 2 percent of sales snagged by Grand Theft Auto IV its first week in stores. While analysts projected the title would sell as many as 400,000 copies, no one expected GTA:CW to perform as well as its consolebrethren. After all, it is just a DS game.

EvenNintendo says GTA: Chinatown Wars are "in line" with expectations. DS games have a different sales curve than consoles–it is lifetime sales that matter, the company notes. Regardless of explanations,many have concluded that this spells doom for mature content on the DS. Some would contend that the handheld audience doesn’t demand it.

But M-rated on-the-go gaming may not be what is at stake. The performance of GTA: Chinatown Wars may prevent other developers from committing serious resources to the platform. GTA may have signaled that there is no market for a DS blockbuster.

"GTA:CW represents a major commitment by a premier developer to custom-build a big new game for a system many of us thought could neveraccommodateit," writes The Brainy Gamer, Michael Abbott, on his blog. "As proof-of-concept of sorts, GTA:CW sends the clear message that if you know what you’re doing, you actually cansqueezean artful, content-rich sandbox game into the fun little device with the hinge. But if nobody buys it, that sends a message too."

If the sales trajectory of GTA:CW mimics that of, say, Professor Layton, than GTA highlights the different consumption habits handheld players have compared to their console-owning counterparts. If sales fail to pick up, it means the DS will remain the domain of role-playing games, puzzle games, and lifestyle titles because the risk of delivering blockbuster content to the DS is too great.

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