Take-Two Interactive's (NASDAQ:TTWO) Grand Theft Auto V is one of the most expensive games in modern gaming, with a development and marketing budget of $265 million, but it is also one of the most profitable, selling over 36 million copies on the PS3 and Xbox 360 within a single year.
Now, developer Rockstar Games is getting ready to bring GTA V to the PS4, Xbox One, and PC. The PS4 and Xbox One versions will launch on Nov. 18, and the PC one will follow on Jan. 27, 2015. According to Rockstar, the three new versions will feature higher resolution settings, increased draw distances, enhanced environmental effects, denser traffic, along with new weapons, vehicles, and activities.
So, what does this new release of GTA V mean for Take-Two investors? Should they expect a big revenue boost this holiday season, or will any gains pale in comparison to sales of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions over the past year?
The business of GTA V
In fiscal 2014, GTA V was the biggest contributor to Take-Two's GAAP-adjusted revenue, which surged 94% year over year to $2.35 billion. Take-Two also reported GAAP-adjusted net income of $361.7 million, up from a net loss of $31.2 million in 2013.
The company also reported that 70% of all Internet-connected players played the multiplayer version, GTA Online, which generated additional revenue through microtransactions. That helped the company's digitally delivered revenue, which accounted for 16% of its top line, surge 45% year-over-year.
Take-Two, like most publishers, does not break down exact revenue figures by game. A game publisher usually generates about $27 in revenue for every $60 game sold, after retailer costs, platform royalties, and other fees are deducted, according to cloud gaming service OnLive. Based on that calculation, GTA V -- with sales of 36 million copies -- generated at least $972 million in revenue over the last year, which would account for 41% of Take-Two's top line.
How cross-platform GTA games fared in the past
However, a blockbuster game like GTA V can be both a blessing and a curse. While it helped Take-Two nearly double its annual revenue, it also became an impossible act to follow.
To understand the impact that GTA V for the PC, PS4, and Xbox One could make on overall sales, we should take a look back at how well previous GTA games sold across other platforms.
Grand Theft Auto III, which was initially released as a timed exclusive for Sony's (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 2 in 2001, sold 13.1 million copies. Take-Two launched the Windows version a year later, but it only sold around 10,000 copies. Its sequel, Vice City, was launched in 2002 as another timed PS2 exclusive and sold 16.15 million copies, but the PC version only sold 30,000 copies.
In 2003, Take-Two repackaged the first two games as the Rockstar Games Double Pack, which sold 2.5 million copies on Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox and 1.7 million copies on the PS2.
The last game in the GTA III trilogy, San Andreas, was launched on the PS2 in late 2004, followed by the Xbox and PC versions in mid 2005. It sold 20.8 million copies on the PS2, 1.95 million copies on the Xbox, and 910,000 copies on the PC. The takeaway from this era was clear -- GTA games sold the best on the PS2, poorly on the Xbox, and fared the worst on PCs.
But the tables turned with GTA IV, which launched for the PS3 and Xbox 360 at the same time in April 2008. The Xbox 360 version, which sold 10.7 million copies, eventually outsold the PS3 version, which sold 10.2 million. But the PC version, which arrived at the end of the year, only sold 820,000 copies. Therefore, based on past franchise sales, Take-Two investors probably shouldn't have high expectations for the PC version of GTA V.
What about the PS4 and Xbox One versions?
The main problem with the PS4 and Xbox One versions is that gamers who already finished GTA V might be reluctant to buy the next-gen version again. Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) and Bungie were also aware of this problem -- that's why they offered gamers who bought the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Destiny free upgrades to the Xbox One and PS4 versions.
We can gauge how much next-gen GTA V sales could decline by using two recently remastered games -- The Last of Us and Tomb Raider -- as a reference point. The Last of Us sold 4.9 million copies on the PS3, while the PS4 version sold 1.2 million. Tomb Raider sold nearly 3.95 million copies on the PS3 and Xbox 360, but only sold about 750,000 copies on the PS4 and Xbox One.
If we apply those same percentage declines to GTA V, next-gen sales will probably peak at around 8 million -- not too shabby, but definitely not enough to replicate its blockbuster performance last year.
A Foolish final word
In conclusion, Take-Two investors shouldn't place too much faith in the new versions of GTA V. Instead, they should look forward to other upcoming games like Civilization: Beyond Earth, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and Evolve to diversify its top line with new sources of revenue.