GTA 5 has weathered the release of many a competitor over the years. Two Watch_Dogs titles, Mafia 3 and even Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition hit the shelves and digital storefronts since the initial release of Rockstar’s flagship game. And yet, the sales and popularity of GTA 5 have only increased since, and all of the listed games reported fewer-than-expected copies sold. What’s the key to this impenetrable defence?
Now, time and again we’ve examined the reasons for the game’s success, so we’re not going into that again. However, there is some correlation between the two phenomena. Certain key differences in spite of sharing gameplay foundations have prevented these otherwise heavily marketed and hyped games from making as much of a splash as Rockstar’s hit open world title.
But first, for those of our readers who aren’t too versed in the gaming world and stick pretty much exclusively to GTA 5 – how are these games similar? Well, all of them are open-world, all of them have a focus on organised crime, all of them feature the driving and stealing of vehicles as a major gameplay element, and all take real-life cities as inspirations for their settings.
Should you watch a gameplay video of any of these games, the similarities would be undeniable. All of the games are also major AAA titles which were backed my expensive marketing campaigns and achieved moderate to big success in sales – save for GTA 5, which achieved an insanely massive success.
So, wherein do the differences lie? Sure, Watch_Dogs has hacking, and the second game – which was recently released – makes non-lethal playthroughs possible. Sure, Sleeping Dogs focuses on melee combat and is set in Hong Kong. Sure, Mafia 3 takes place in a very different era. But are these differences really so important?
In the end, it comes down to two things: brand recognition and multiplayer. Those of you who have read our pieces detailing the success of GTA Online will know all about the importance of brand recognition, which is one of the main keys to the game’s staying power.
However, the importance of multiplayer hasn’t been expanded upon in previous posts. Thing is, it’s an essential aspect of success. Sleeping Dogs and Mafia 3 have absolutely no multiplayer modes – the former had a multiplayer-only spin-off in development that got cancelled – and Watch_Dogs’ asymmetrical and unique take on multiplayer, though fun when it worked, didn’t cater to the mainstream audience.
In fact, it’s theoretically possible that Mafia 3 was kept singleplayer only by decree of Take-Two Interactive, as they did not wish to hurt GTA Online, a guaranteed source of income, with a risky investment resulting in a possible double loss. If this was the case, they technically succeeded – while Mafia 3 was the “fastest” selling 2K game of all time, it didn’t move nearly as many copies as GTA did back in the day.
Sleeping Dogs just never took off popularity-wise on the same level as the other franchises. The game was critically acclaimed and praised by its players, however it remained a strictly core-gamer product with little mainstream success outside of the demographic – which is unfortunate, since the game certainly deserves attention.
In the case of the first Watch_Dogs title, all the prerequisites to be a hit were there. Ubisoft managed to generate mainstream publicity reaching beyond the core gamers, and the hype for the game was through the roof prior to launch. True enough, pre-orders and launch day sales already made the game profitable.
However, most people just didn’t like it. Chalking up an unlikable protagonist, a major visual downgrade, poor pacing, clunky driving controls and other issues, the game was panned by critics and players alike, and went down in history as one of the biggest disappointments (I liked it, though…).
Watch_Dogs 2 suffered for this, even though critics and players alike have said that it solved the issues of the first and improved on the gameplay. While certain issues are present – such as lack of cohesion between story and gameplay – it’s a marked improvement over its predecessor. Only, the multiplayer doesn’t work yet.
GTA 5 had both aspects down – the franchise has brand recognition in droves and the Online mode was released soon after the main game’s release. It was backed by critical acclaim and praise from fans. Rockstar’s skill in game development elevated the game above future competitors, ensuring that it would retain its throne three years down the road – though they probably didn’t know this at the time.
In any case, it will be a good long time until something comes along that will topple the rule of GTA 5. While Rockstar’s own Red Dead Redemption 2 is coming next year with its own Online mode, the game just doesn’t command the same kind of mainstream recognition – however this is something a powerful marketing campaign could change.
Have you always stuck to GTA 5, or did you try out competitors only to return?
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