Crime pays for music biz with new Grand Theft Auto

Sat Apr 26, 2008 12:43am EDT
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By Antony Bruno

DENVER (Billboard) - When "Grand Theft Auto IV" reaches stores on Tuesday, the latest chapter in the wildly popular and controversial videogame franchise will make history on several levels.

First, it will have the largest soundtrack of any videogame. Second, it will be the first game that lets players tag songs in the soundtrack for subsequent purchase online.

And should it meet early sales forecasts, the handiwork of Take-Two Interactive Software's Rockstar game studio could break single-day and opening-week records, not to mention potentially becoming the best-selling game of all time.

Taken together, these feats make "Grand Theft Auto IV" the most important videogame release for the music industry since "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero III" on promotional and financial levels.

While the latter two games, released late last year, use music as the central gameplay element -- allowing gamers to play along to the included songs using special instruments/controllers -- "Grand Theft Auto IV" is a more traditional game, but still one in which music plays an important role.

The more sophisticated that videogames get in terms of storyline and presentation, the more important music becomes to setting that tone, and the music industry is demanding higher licensing fees as a result.

More so than most videogames, the "Grand Theft Auto" crime series has used music to establish the tone for each installment's storyline, setting and era. The plot for "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" was set in a Miami-like city circa 1985, featuring a soundtrack of '80s classics straight out of "Miami Vice." "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" fast-forwarded to the late '90s, in a setting resembling South Central Los Angeles and with a hip-hop-heavy soundtrack to match.

"Grand Theft Auto IV" brings the franchise back to its roots -- Liberty City, a fictionalized version of New York -- this time in present day. While the developers spent more than three years visually capturing the neighborhoods and people that inhabit this surrogate city,   Continued...

<p>In this screenshot provided by Rockstar Games, a scene from the best-selling video game "Grand Theft Auto - San Andreas" is shown. Beatings, carjackings, drive-by shootings, drunk driving and hookers. For video game fans, it can only mean one thing: "Grand Theft Auto 4" is here, with all the subtlety of a shotgun blast. The latest chapter in the wildly popular and controversial criminal action franchise from Take-Two Interactive Software Inc is poised to be the biggest entertainment product of the year, with expected first-week sales of up to $400 million. REUTERS/Rockstar Games/Handout/Files</p>