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Why the first Grand Theft Auto 6 trailer might be gaming’s biggest marketing moment of 2023

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Rockstar Games published the first official trailer for the hotly anticipated “Grand Theft Auto 6” on Dec. 5 — and immediately sparked a frenzy of excitement within the online gaming community.

It’s been over a decade since the most recent entry in the wildly popular “Grand Theft Auto” series came out in September 2013, meaning anticipation for “GTA 6” has been building for years. Rockstar titled yesterday’s trailer as “Trailer 1,” making it clear that the company is poised to launch a massive marketing campaign in the lead-up to the game’s 2025 release. (Rockstar representatives did not respond to requests for comment prior to the publication of this article.)

Here’s why the release of the first “GTA 6” trailer was arguably the gaming industry’s splashiest marketing moment of the year — just in time for 2024.

The key numbers

  • After an anonymous Twitter (now X) account leaked the trailer 14 hours early, Rockstar Games posted a tweet imploring viewers to watch the official trailer video on YouTube — and despite the leak, the trailer immediately exploded in viewership. According to Twitter’s official metrics, the post generated over 20 million views within its first hour; at the time of this article’s writing, the YouTube video is the No. 1 trending on the platform, standing at 75 million views and counting.
  • Rockstar Games, a subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive, stands to make an eye-popping amount of money from “GTA 6.” Collectively, “Grand Theft Auto” titles have sold more than 400 million copies worldwide, reflecting billions of dollars in revenues. However, the game will have to sell well to make up its rumored production budget of between $1 billion and $2 billion.
  • The release of the first “GTA 6” trailer has already been massively beneficial for Rockstar Games. The company’s YouTube subscribers jumped by 1.5 million within a day of the trailer’s release, reflecting a 23 percent increase in the company’s overall subscriber base, according to findings from the comparison website NZCasinoClub. The tens of millions of views on the YouTube video could earn Rockstar hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad revenue alone.

Cultural currency

The explosive response to the first “GTA 6” trailer shows how the “Grand Theft Auto” brand might be one of the most powerful intellectual properties in the video game sphere, or perhaps even in entertainment as a whole. Every iteration of the game has consistently smashed sales records and satisfied critics, and Rockstar has deftly made sure not to overload consumers with the IP — there’s no “GTA” television series, for example, despite the recent successes of video game film and television adaptations.

“Grand Theft Auto” is currently operating in a rarefied part of the entertainment landscape. It’s the “Star Wars” or the Marvel of games, and it’s difficult to think of other gaming properties with the cultural cachet to compete.

Potential for live service revenue

In the past, the majority of revenues gleaned from “Grand Theft Auto” titles came directly through sales of the game itself. “GTA 5” was sold for a standard price of $39.99 upon launch, and “GTA 6” will likely go for more, given the average cost of premium games has increased to something closer to $60 in 2023. 

But with “GTA 6,” Rockstar has far more opportunities to generate additional revenue beyond the initial sale of the game. In 2024, free-to-play games are likely to continue growing in popularity, and “GTA” has all the trappings of a successful live service game. 

In Take-Two Interactive’s Q2 2024 earnings call last month, CFO Lainie Goldstein flagged pre-existing “GTA” live service products such as virtual currency and premium memberships as a source of growth for the company, making it clear that Rockstar is well aware of the potential of this revenue stream for “GTA 6.”

“Our performance reflects better-than-expected results from ‘Grand Theft Auto 5’ and ‘Grand Theft Auto Online,’” Goldstein said.

A content bonanza

The most effective promotional channel within the gaming community is still individual influencers and their followings, and Rockstar Games will have no trouble reaching this audience with “GTA 6.” The release of the game’s first trailer after years of relative radio silence has made the trailer a must-watch for just about every streamer and influencer in the gaming space, and even a cursory search of “GTA VI” on YouTube reveals that top names such as Felix “xQc” Lengyel and Kai Cenat have already posted their own videos directing viewers back to the trailer. 

“Do not blame me,” Cenat told his viewers. “I am watching this video 10 times straight, for the 10 years I had to wait.”

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