Is A “GTA Killer” Even Possible At This Point?

What it would take to topple the king

Every now and then games marginally similar to GTA are hyped up as “GTA Killers” – games that will allegedly surpass Rockstar’s masterpiece in quality, popularity, or both. Sometimes they have a lot in common with Grand Theft Auto, like in the case of Mafia 3. While other times they’re entirely different but happen to have an open world and yet they’re still compared to one another.

A few days ago, we posted a piece on how Ghost Recon: Wildlands was often being compared to GTA 5, and many readers astutely pointed out that the two have practically nothing beyond being open world third-person shooters in common. They were absolutely right. So why on earth were reviewers and journos drawing the comparisons?

(Naturally reviewers and journalists sneak GTA 5 into articles about other games simply because it’s usually a hot keyword, but that’s beside the point.)

Simple, really. GTA 5’s insane popularity and success mean it has become the thing to beat. Eclipsing the achievement of this game would be the non plus ultra of success in this industry and is likely the wet dream of every developer out there (except the ones in it for the creative accomplishment, of course).

However, the question arises – is it even possible at this point to match, let alone one-up the success of GTA 5? Is it even possible in the current state of the industry to create a GTA Killer? Now, before we delve into this, let’s lay down some ground rules. The point of a “something-killer” is that it must be similar enough to the “something” in question to be a competitor in the same field.

As such, a free-to-play MMO or a modern military shooter wouldn’t be classified as a GTA Killer even if it outdid it in terms of popularity. So, let’s work with an open-world third-person action adventure game with a roughly contemporary setting, though near-past and near-future both work. For example, here are some previous releases that were hyped as GTA Killers, but failed: Watch_Dogs, Watch_Dogs 2, Sleeping Dogs, Saints Row IV and Mafia 3.

First, let’s look at what it was that made GTA 5 so successful in the first place, since the hypothetical GTA killer needs to nail these motions as well. We’ve written up storms about this in the past, but here’s the abridged version: nearly 10 years of fame, mainstream popularity, staggered release across many platforms and major marketing.

And we practically have an answer already. Since pretty much no other franchise in this niche has the kind of mainstream appeal and history as GTA does, it’s pretty much impossible for any younger franchise to gain the kind of traction needed to move the crowds like this game did. Of the franchises listed above, Mafia is the eldest, however the recent Mafia 3 was a commercial and critical failure, unfortunately.

Let’s look at the most applicable franchise: Watch_Dogs. It’s already starting with a limp, since the first game is almost universally looked down upon as a disappointing shell of something that could have been fun if more effort had been put into it. While the second game was better received by those who actually bought it, the damage of the first prevented it from being popular.

A third Watch_Dogs game has a lot to make up for. The problem here is that the first game built hype with insanely popular trailers only to flop, which conditioned the audience to not trust the trailers. Even if WD3 turns out to be a genuinely good game, no amount of marketing will restore faith. So news of it being actually good wouldn’t circulate until after launch, which is unfortunate from a business standpoint.

So if many of gaming’s most established franchises can’t pull together what’s needed to topple GTA, would a new IP succeed? New IP is usually a dodgy horse to bet on. On the one hand, there is no negative baggage so marketing has greater weight, on the other hand it is really hard to touch the mainstream crowd with something like this.

What about an adaptation? Could a video game adaptation of some other highly popular non-game franchise draw the kind of mainstream attention to go over 75 million sales? Unlikely. Even if a franchise of insane popularity in a similar vein to GTA is tapped, like Fast and Furious, the poor reputation of movie adaptations would drive people away. Plus, you know, there is a reason why game adaptations of movies are never popular, even if the movie is.

So, when we get down to it, it actually *isn’t* possible to match the success of GTA 5 as things stand. Rockstar really was in a unique position with the release of this game. The stars seemingly aligned, though a good bit of planning and good business sense was also likely involved.


What do you think? Sound off below!

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