Grand Theft Auto 5′s Staggering Budget: $250 Million

By now you might have heard it, but in case you haven’t, prepare to have your socks blown through your bank account. Grand Theft Auto V cost a reported $250 Million to produce.

That news comes courtesy of a report in The Scotsman, and while the source of those numbers isn’t disclosed in the article, given the five-year development and the previous $100 Million budget for Grand Theft Auto IV, it’s probably fairly accurate.

It sounds like a lot of money, and it is. To put that in context, that’s more expensive than almost any major film production ever. Only Pirates of the Caribbean 3, at $300 mil, bests it. (Though in fairness, World War Z reputedly cost far, far more than the $190 million budget officially reported.*) It’s an absolutely staggering figure for any genre, but especially for video games, which as the thriving indie scene demonstrates can still be made on a shoestring. Undoubtedly, it will pay off hugely for Rockstar. Analysts are already predicting that GTA V will rake in more than a billion dollars in the first year.

If these predictions come true, it’ll be an impressive achievement for Rockstar in a long list of them. But to be honest I find it kind of scary. An investment this size, seeing such an enormous payoff, will make a lot of people rich, but it might also, finally, make that kind of success feel standard.

Once upon a time (say, pre-2006), the GTA series was part of a small category of games whose success was actually shocking. We’d seen specific consoles achieving enormous cultural significance – people still like to call those who gamed back in the 80s and early 90s the Nintendo generation. But until GTA III, we hadn’t really seen a game simultaneously codify an entire genre and become a cultural metaphor, while also enjoying ginormous sales that completely transcended subculture. And all without also being associated intimately with its specific console**.

Even after, there were only a few games in the same club. World of Warcraft, the Sims and a few others – feel free to name them in comments – for instance. Throughout the 6th generation, there wasn’t an expectation that a video game needed to sell like GTA in order to be considered successful. That began to change early in the 7th generation, once Modern Warfare came on the scene. From that point on, the blockbuster mentality began to creep in and since then, we’ve seen major publishers placing unrealistic metrics and goals on everything from broad-appeal shooters to niche-market survival horror games.

Already in 2013, we have two examples of how that mentality has infected the industry. Square Enix has had two healthy hits in the last year, the modest success of brand-new franchise Sleeping Dogs, and the best-ever series sales for Tomb Raider. In any other environment, these games would be crowed about and celebrated. Instead, the company considers both games to be disappointments, concerns so grave the company’s CEO resigned over them.

The culprit behind that disappointment is almost certainly the return on investment demanded by the publisher due to each game’s (presumably) high budgets. We don’t know how much Square spent on Sleeping Dogs, say, but we do know that Emma Stone and Lucy Liu’s voice talents didn’t come cheap, despite the fact they each appear in the game for all of about 10 minutes of gameplay. Sleeping Dog would have been the same game if they’d just hired less expensive voice talent, but one can’t help but think that chasing after Rockstar – SD is an open world crime game after all – convinced Square that famous names were needed to sell the game.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that Star Wars: The Old Republic met and then exceeded Electronic Arts’ measure of success – one million subscribers – but was still considered a disappointment. Largely because the game’s reported budget was between $150 and $200 million.

Most games will never come close to the sales enjoyed by the GTAs and Call of Dutys of the world, and that’s fine. Unfortunately, the industry is increasingly built on the expectation these types of sales figures are a possibility. Electronic Arts’ assertion that Dead Space 3 wouldn’t be considered a hit worthy of another sequel unless it sold at least five million copies (it didn’t, btw) is one of the more egregious examples of this trend, but it’s excessively common. And that is, for better and more often for worse, is partly the fault of Rockstar’s enormous success.

Like everyone else, I’ll be playing Grand Theft Auto V and thus, contributing to that game’s eventual billions-of-dollars sales, and it’s going to be a lot of fun participating in what will surely be the pop culture moment of 2013. But
while it’s been great fun watching video games go mainstream over the last decade, it would be a shame for that transition’s final outcome to be the end of any risk-taking.

Forget supposed spikes in crime, the “negative influence” of gaming on kids, or inappropriate content. The most terrifying outcome of GTA V’s success would be for extravagant spending to become mandatory.

* It’s worth noting that the GTA V budget likely includes marketing costs, while those film budgets are pre-marketing.
** This became especially apparent once GTA’s exclusive license with Sony ended.

Read more of Ross Lincoln’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @rossalincoln and @gamefrontcom.

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21 Comments on Grand Theft Auto 5′s Staggering Budget: $250 Million

Faye Slipht

On September 12, 2013 at 9:55 am

This is the only game this year that I’ve been excited enough to pre-order. And, unlike many other major studios (co*EA*ugh) Rockstar was smart enough to keep the game in development until it was as good as it could be, rather than shipping it months too early and forcing 3GB of patches on customers to fix bugs that should have never made it to shelves. Plus, in the UK at least, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than COD games at release (£34.99 on Amazon and £39.99 most other places, compared to £54.99 for most COD titles). It’s out two days after my birthday and I can’t wait.


On September 12, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Skyrim cost 60 million to make and made a billion in PC sales!! Wake up RockStar!! all these sales go with the paranoia of pathetic-ness that goes to PC players in a so called piracy phenomenon which does not stop sales. The console has poor sales record.

Lily Allen's Anus

On September 12, 2013 at 5:28 pm

@rickshaw – almost all of GTA’s revenue is composed of console sales, dipshɨt. Wikipedia it if you don’t believe me, troll.


On September 12, 2013 at 5:29 pm

@rickshaw – almost all of GTA’s revenue is composed of console sales, dipshɨt. They outnumber PC sales by DOZENS to every one. Wikipedia it if you don’t believe me, troll.


On September 12, 2013 at 11:42 pm

@y None of the pc figures involve online sales, ie steam where most people bought the game.. Learn the correct facts before you try and be smart.


On September 13, 2013 at 1:08 am

@y I really hope you’re not that stupid. Pull you head out of your backside before trying to spout info that’s misleading. First off, have you ever wondered why consoles out sale the pc with certain publishers more than other publishers?. No, it’s not because they’re sooo much more popular. It’s because they are released around 6 months earlier on the console. They hope to sell more on console cause you idiots pay more for the same thing pc users get for much less (usually).
A lot of pc users are doubled up and own consoles as well. Instead of waiting so long to get the game, they buy it on console instead. Some, even buy it for both console and pc. If they were released at the same time, it would be a lot closer. Consoles would still win out, but not by nearly the same margin.
Use your head before calling others dip when you are actually the dumber of the two. You use your little head to think with, and you other one for nothing more than an ugly decoration. Typical 10 year old thinking.


On September 13, 2013 at 8:41 am

@thedog – considering you don’t appear to have learned how to write basic English I’m not overly concerned whether you think I’m more stupid than someone who, without evidence or reasoning, has stated as fact that the PC version will blow console sales out of the water. I can guarantee that they won’t. You’re utterly deluded if you believe otherwise. Now go back to crying over how bad GTA IV was because it didn’t have parachutes.


On September 13, 2013 at 8:43 am

Also, at jc – I don’t need to try to be smart. It comes naturally when you actually bother to do rudimentary research on a subject instead of falling back into insular beliefs that betray your lack of knowledge. The statistics back me up and don’t back you up. End of discussion.


On September 13, 2013 at 10:16 am

@Kunty You are a fning retard kid. Learn how to read. Your 10 year old girlish antics don’t do anything but show what a moron you really are. First off, I never said pc would blow console sales out of the water, in fact quite the opposite. I said consoles would still win, just not by the margin you’re spouting. Coming from a little girl who can’t read, your comments are pretty much just spam. Worthless and pure junk. Also we just have the word of a idiot how can’t produce any evidence, just your pathetic little opinion. Go home to your dolls kid, and try to learn a little common sense. Fking troll. Your name says it all. Juvenile and spamming for attention. How sad.
Lastly Jc’s got it right. Your just to ignorant to realize it. Face it. You’re a lone but-head on a sinking ship, and they’re all out of life preservers. Looking forward to your asinine attempt of a retort. Oh in case you are too stupid to know what that is, it means your lame comeback.
Why is it, the only people brain dead enough to speak about GTA and consoles ruling, are 10 year olds? Must be the pc envy thing going around, oh and before you go making stupid statements, your console is nothing more than a cheap pc. Completely using computer Architecture. Cheers looser. Try and make your next comeback a little better. Your last one was really lame.


On September 14, 2013 at 3:20 am

Who gives a crap lol. thedog is a repeat troll who still whines about him and ten other kids not understanding ME3′s ending, it’s not surprising he’s got sand in his vagina about a child’s game like GTA.


On September 14, 2013 at 3:22 am

thedog whines about anything, I expect he still can’t work out the ME3 ending so I’m not surprised he’s got sand in his vagina over this as well. lol


On September 14, 2013 at 9:33 am

Wow, it’s our other B,itch on a leash. We can always count on lol when stupid is involved. Still licking Biowares balls? To bad no one cares what you say. You’ve already shown the world what a Tool you are. So actually thanks. With you on Jr. side, it just helps to strengthen anything I say.. Just how many times have the good people here told you to F,uck off? Hundreds? Thousands? I can see why you posted on this thread. You and this 10 year old girl are in love. How sweet…. I figured you were a the pedophile type. Let us know what you name the puppies, cause she’s definitely a b,itch in heat. Well you both are,,,,,,, so that makes adoption your only option. That’s actually a good thing though. Between both your DNA samples, it would have been horribly retarded.
Keep posting lol. You always make us laugh.


On September 14, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I’ve never seen 2 groups of trolls attacking each other so violently.
I can’t even tell who’s winning.


On September 14, 2013 at 8:11 pm

@Swcloud99 And pray tell what are you if not a troll. You have nothing constructive to add and only feel the need to insult others. You sir fit the definition of a troll. Perhaps you feel you’re being witty, clever, or even funny. Your not. Droll and uninteresting would be a better definition. That being, you have no basis to criticize anyone if you have nothing useful to add. In other words, if you’ve got nothing to actually say, say nothing. Otherwise you look just like LOL. Doesn’t get much worse than that.


On September 15, 2013 at 12:15 am

It’s sad that I scrolled into the comment and saw the same filth and idiotic bickering I’ve come to expect from other game websites and blogs.

@theDog I actually took the time to look up the stats on a few games [took me, maybe, four minutes]

First I’m going to cover two of the big hitters when it came to PC/Console simultaneous release:

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3:
PC Release & Sales [08/11/11] 1.58 million
Console Release & Sales [08/11/11] 27.85 million

Elder’s Scrolls V: Skyrim
PC Release & Sales [11/11/11] 3.07 million
Console Release & Sales [11/11/11] 12.28 million

Now let’s look at some stuff released recently at the same time on PC and console:

Saints Row IV
PC Release & Sales [30/08/13] 10 thousand
Console Release & Sales [30/08/13] 1.15 million

Splinter Cell: Blacklist
PC Release & Sales [22/08/11] 20 thousand
Console Release & Sale [22/08/11] 640 thousand

I could list these on and on but the clear definitive winner [by a country mile] is the console version in most every case [rarely, if ever, does a PC release even match console sales]. You have to realize one of the key reasons is that Consoles are more easily accessible for strictly gaming as well as simpler to use and much cheaper than most “respectable” gaming rigs.

To be clear I am not saying that consoles are inherently better or worse than PC, I am simply stating that the majority of gamers prefer the simplicity of opening the tray and starting the game up on a console. This idea can even be proven in the fact that this entire generation has been filled with controversies, arguments and complaints about how the console manufactures are trying to hamfistedly introduce features accepted in the PC crowd to the “stupider/console-kiddy” crowd.

The common consensus seems to be: we of the consoles do not care if the game does not look the absolute best it cane, as long as it is easily and satisfyingly fun to play.


On September 15, 2013 at 8:51 am

for all u morons saying they outnumbered the PC sales with consoles, ITS OBVIOUS RETARDED, THEY GOT THE PC VERSION OUT A YEAR LATER Forcing some PC gamers to buy a CHEAP console.
Wake Up *orons, then the game come out a year later on PC and those ppl who got it on consoles don t give a damn why would they buy a seconde time an old game for 2x better gaphics


On September 15, 2013 at 8:55 am

@Dach Look, I understand that the numbers, when looking at them as you did, are far against the pc. You on the other hand, don’t look at everything. Again the digital distribution is not taken into account. How many pc users actually buy physical copies anymore? Very few. Probably better than 90% of our games are digital. So while you numbers are condemning, they don’t tell the whole story by a mile. I haven’t bought a hard copy in years. Problem is they don’t keep records of digital sales. Steam sells games by the millions.
I don’t know why people like to misquote me. I NEVER…………………………. said pc sales outdo consoles. But if you throw in digital sales and same time release dates it’s not as bad as people think. Digital sales account for thousands even millions of sales that can’t easily be tracked. That’s all I was trying to say.
Not all pc gamers are graphics elitists. I like good graphics. I would be lying if I said I didn’t, but I love the keyboard / mouse setup. Cant stand a controller.
Console users cant seem to grasp the idea that you numbers are skewed. They don’t show that correct picture. That DD holds over 90% of pc sales. That’s what I’m saying.

My Turds Are Better Than Your Life

On September 15, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Who gives a toss what platform you play it on or which ones outsell the others. As long as the game’s being played and enjoyed that’s all that matters. This isn’t the bit wars.

John Pombrio

On September 15, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Heh, Minecraft has grossed almost $300 million and its budget was a LOT smaller than GTA 5. Frankly, there are a lot of different media types and plenty of tools to create a game. Like the music industry, big budget movies and video games will be competing against small independent creators.


On September 15, 2013 at 4:52 pm

You know what? I could care less what people play any game on. I just don’t like people slamming on computers with incorrect or incomplete information. I get a little peeved. Or like one group out there trying to stop Rockstar from publishing a pc version with their pathetic little petition. Their pc envy is too great for their tiny little minds to comprehend. If someone wants to play it on a console, great, just don’t try and screw the rest of us over.
This is what I give a toss about.


On September 18, 2013 at 6:37 pm

I was going to post a comment on the costs but I noticed “lol” the Troll is here, so the discussion is likely already beyond saving.