Rockstar Games is in a situation that few developers wouldn't want to be in.
They have a "problem" in that one of their games is so incredibly successful that their future, also poised to be successful, games may not match it. The oft-mentioned colossal success of Grand Theft Auto 5 has turned the pre-release period of Red Dead Redemption 2 into a pre-emptive damage control crisis for the company.
The issue Take-Two is facing is unlike the typical issues publicly traded companies face, like the odd projection not being met or somesuch. No, what they are facing here is a tad more unique. It is Take-Two having published both the single most profitable media product ever created and the best-selling unbundled game of all time, with nearly 100 million copies shipped.
Why would that be an issue, you ask. Surely, success must be a good thing, right?
The problem here is that the success of one game sets a precedent and expectations. Game over game, Rockstar's titles have been reaching higher and higher numbers in terms of sales and profit. The problem with numbers is that they are taken out of context, they do not tell the whole story.
However numbers are what investors like and look at. Hence, an unspoken (mostly, at least) expectation looms over Red Dead Redemption 2 - it needs to top GTA 5.
Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two Interactive, has been at the frontline of the company's PR attempts to get rid of this expectation because they know full well that it would be basically impossible to achieve.
Zelnick has been featured in an uncharacteristically high number of interviews recently and always weaves into his answers some manner of rejection towards the notion that Red Dead Redemption 2 should top GTA 5's financial results.
It's always integrated into broader answers relevant to the topics at hand and dressed in a corporate-friendly manner, but the message is unchanged: Take-Two doesn't expect Red Dead Redemption 2 to match the success of their flagship franchise.
As a company, Take-Two has a lot of experience when it comes to tempering expectations levied by GTA titles. It became well-known thanks to the franchise, with GTA 3 bringing them into the public eye. The continued sweeping success of subsequent titles in the franchise tacked a public sense of Take-Two being "the GTA company". Ever since, they have been trying to bring focus to numerous other franchises.
A whole development label, 2K Games, has been putting out high profile games in well-known franchises like XCOM, Borderlands, NBA 2K, Civilization and more, helping Take-Two shed the "GTA Company" moniker. However, Rockstar Games now needs to downplay the influence of GTA 5 to the benefit of another one of their games.
It's hard to expect anything to perform as well as the most profitable entertainment product of all time. I don't think that's a realistic expectation.
GTA 5 is a success story that might never be repeated in the industry due to a very unique combination of circumstances contributing to it. The game was released on five platforms in a cycle of three launches which hugely extended the game's peak sales period, further added to by a new Premium Edition. It drew upon over a decade of brand recognition and publicity, coupled with a huge marketing campaign.
GTA was made further known by numerous attempts to have it banned over the years.
After reaching a large enough player base, the multiplayer Online mode grew further via the snowball effect. Thanks to constant content support, GTA Online remains relevant and attractive for new players. So many unreplicable factors contributed to the game's success that it would be almost impossible to recreate it.
Next to this we have Red Dead Redemption 2.
It may be hyped, yes, it may be one of the most anticipated games of 2018, yes, but it isn't GTA. It isn't as widely known, it isn't as mainstream, the franchise isn't as old and popular.
Red Dead Redemption 2 will obviously sell extremely well - it might even become the best selling game of 2018 or outperform GTA 5's day-one sales with its own. But in the long run, it won't match or top GTA 5 and this is something that people shouldn't consider a failure.
Simply put, it will be a long time before anything outperforms GTA 5.