Looking back at GTA IV's pre-release headlines

Globe and Mail Blog Post

With Grand Theft Auto IV pressed and shipping to stores, I thought it might be interesting to revisit a few of the more notable headlines that have preceded the game. What follows is a retrospective that calls out some of the larger than normal crests in the enormous wave of hype that has been building over the months leading up to next week's sure-to-be record-breaking launch, beginning with the game's very first trailer, which was released just over a year ago.

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March 29, 2007: The first Grand Theft Auto IV trailer goes live. It showcases a revamped Liberty City that bears striking resemblance to New York, which causes the city to lash out against the game. As the minute-long movie winds down we are introduced to the game's apparent anti-hero: Niko Bellic, a troubled Russian immigrant looking for a clean start in America.

May 21, 2007: Rockstar announces a special edition of the game that will retail for $90 and be packaged in a lockable metal safety deposit box (natch). Gamers who opt for the suped-up edition are told they will get an art book, soundtrack CD, keychain, and duffel bag.

June 16, 2007: Publisher Take-Two Interactive states that the game's previously announced downloadable episodic content will be exclusive to the Xbox 360, dealing a major blow to Sony, whose consoles were once the only platform on which the game launched.

June 18, 2007: Take-Two reveals in a conference call a pair of deferred payments of $25 million each from Microsoft, apparently for the console's exclusive downloadable content. The disclosure exposes the enormous value Microsoft places on the perception of its console supporting a superior version of the game.

August 2, 2007: Take-Two announces that Grand Theft Auto 4 will miss its original October 16th launch date and hit stores some time in the second quarter of 2008. Millions of families suffer a weeks-long aftermath of grumpy gamers.

September 18, 2007: Florida lawyer Jack Thompson, a famed anti-video game violence crusader who has spoken out against the GTA franchise on several occasions, threatens to block GTA IV's release, stating that a mission in the game in which a barrister is killed (as described at the time by the press) is "clearly a reference to me." Nothing has yet come of Thompson's threat.

January 23, 2008: An embargo on information provided by developer Rockstar Games to reporters expires, and the web floods with details on what players can expect in GTA IV. New features that grab the most attention from mainstream media: Drunk driving and strip clubs.

February 23, 2008: Electronic Arts, the world's largest game publisher, makes a takeover bid for Take-Two. The Take-Two board refuses, stating that EA undervalues its stock and that it wants to hold out at least until after the launch of GTA IV. The matter has yet to be resolved.

April 15, 2008: Variety reports that Grand Theft Auto IV is slated to take in $400 million in its first week, which would squash the previous record of $300 million held by Halo 3 and make GTA IV the biggest entertainment product launch of all time.

April 21, 2008Grand Theft Auto IV ads are pulled from buses in Chicago following a spree of shootings and a local news report questioning the wisdom of running ads for violent games at such a time. The inevitable backlash against GTA IV has officially begun, a full week before the game is released.