I engaged in a spirited discussion with Chuck yesterday regarding whether Microsoft or Sony would take a greater hit due to the push out of Grand Theft Auto IV to 2008. I thought Sony would take it like a night-stick to the back of the knees, while my colleague argued that Microsoft ponied up $50 million for exclusive content that they would not see their return on until next year. I argued that the Xbox 360 killer app was to be Halo 3 and GTA IV, while highly anticipated, might be better off being pushed out. He argued that Sony still had a strong lineup with Warhawk, Rachet & Clank and Lair, but IMO none of those titles look to be "that" game that would make you want to buy a console.
Frankly, at this point in time, selling the hardware is what it is all about for Sony. Just ask them, they have said on numerous occasions that future sales of the PS3 would be buoyed by future game releases. Now, I think their primary source for this optimism just vanished into the wispy air of 2008. To put it bluntly, there are two items that will dictate why Sony takes this delay harder, and they are Halo 3 and 37 million. As in the "Killer App" that the Xbox 360 is expecting in September (so the hard-core fans wont have a void) and the combined sales of all Grand Theft Auto titles on the Sony Playstation 2 (which includes three of the top four selling games of all-time on the stalwart console).
The Halo franchise is Xbox and Halo 3 was the most anticipated title since the 360 was announced. Conversely for the Playstation, arguments could be made for some other games, but the Grand Theft Auto franchise is THE game for the Playstation 2 owners. There are 37 million reasons (combined sales of GTA: Vice City (1st all-time - 13 mil), GTA: San Andreas (2nd all-time - 12 mil), GTA III (4th all-time - 11 mil) and GTA: Liberty City Stories (1 mill) why this is true (Don't forget the 1.5 mil GTA II sales on the original Playstation).
The only other game to even approach those kinds of numbers was the #3 all-time, Grand Turismo 3: A-Spec (11 mil). If there was any one title that Sony was counting on to get out of its hardware sales funk, it would have been Grand Theft Auto IV. History has proven that the Playstation fan base plays that game, and much like Halo 3 for the Xbox 360, many fans may have been waiting to purchase a PS3 when GTA IV became available. While using past sales from the last-gen console may be suspect in predicting future sales, I think it is a good indicator of what the PS3 should expect from its fan base.
As for Microsoft, there is no doubt that such an anticipated title like GTA IV will be missed and the $50 million investment won't see returns until next year, but look at what else is dropping in 2007 in addition to Halo 3. Bioshock, Blue Dragon, Mass Effect and newcomer (former Sony exclusive) Assassin's Creed will all be available by year's end during the crucial Holiday selling season. Throw in the cross-platform games such as EA and 2K's annual sports offerings, Blacksite, Guitar Hero III, Rock Band and TimeShift and the lineup is strong as ever. Which is why a push out of GTA IV is not a bad thing in my opinion. There is such a mass quantity of games dropping this Holiday season, that having GTA IV become available in a more "dead" time after the first of the year will be beneficial to the 360 and its more established owner base. The Xbox 360 doesn't need GTA IV to spur holiday console sales (it would have been nice), but the PS3 really could have used that jolt. Now, Sony may have to revert back to playing games with their pricing to put the shiny black box in America's living rooms....
Cross posted at InsideTheNexus