On May 20, 1997, a concerned Lord Campbell of Croy, a Scottish politician, submitted a query to the British House of Lords to find out what the Government’s position was on a computer video game that, although it would not go on sale until By the end of the year, it was already grabbing negative headlines: “Is it true that, as they say, the game includes car thefts, run-ups and police chases, and that there will be nothing to stop children from buying it?” Yes, it was the first edition of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ .
We may now be used to this type of reaction from certain groups, but the truth is that at that time a great debate arose at the international level. It was not the first time: in 1993 two other video games (‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Night Trap’) became protagonists and made American politicians establish regulations and rating by age. However, the case of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ was different: as it would be known later, it was all an elaborate marketing campaign .
In 2012, and in the book ‘Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto’, the writer David Kushner offered a somewhat different version than the one we knew. In Wired they published one of the first chapters , which explains how BMG Interactive, the company that owns the rights to the video game and later became Rockstar North, made the decision to hire Max Clifford, one of the best-known publicists I had already worked with many top clients, mostly musicians.
Clifford devised an unconventional strategy to make him known: not to hide the violence and the most controversial aspects of the video game, but to use them so that everyone would hear about him. Kushner mentions in his book how the publicist came to say that he would tell the plot of the game to a politician and that, in three months, the matter would become a national controversy . They did, and they even used part of the House of Lords debate as a radio advertisement.
Far from hiding the violence of the game, the study used it in its marketing campaign
At the end of that year, the Daily Mail already echoed in its newspaper a new video game that “encourages players to steal cars and run over pedestrians”, while ensuring that some traffic associations, politicians and groups of consumers demanded its prohibition . The video game was released only to players 18 and older, and the tabloids filled pages for weeks. They had succeeded.
In Brazil , at the end of the 90s, the most controversial video games were outright banned. In 1997, and with the excuse of “administrative decisions in defense of the rights of consumers”, the Department of Protection of Consumer Defense ordered the withdrawal of the game ‘Carmageddon’ from sale. A year later, the turn was for ‘Grand Theft Auto’, considering that it was harmful to society.
In Australia they did not get to ban it, but they studied it after the commotion that the launch generated and came to issue a statement about it. The OFLC, the Australian age rating body, decided not to take action beyond prohibiting its sale to children under 15 years of age. The reason? When viewed from above, the lack of detail and realism “re-dictate the impact of the concepts and the violence of the game.”
Unfortunately, and since at that time many media did not have digital versions yet or if they did have not saved files, it is difficult to find more references to the controversial release. Yes, we have found three reviews ( one from Gamespot , another from IGN and this one in Spanish from MeriStation ) and we recommend a look at Amazon’s opinions , which also date back to that time.
It is striking that these reviews mention that “‘GTA’ is a good game that is highly recommended at a bargain price, but will not win any prize ” (in GameSpot’s) and that “‘Grand Theft Auto’ is a fun game, but you might find yourself saying out loud to yourself, “Hey, why didn’t they fix that?” Not a good sign for a game that has so much potential “(IGN).
Much has happened since then, to the point that it began as a saga shrouded in controversy and has become one of the most popular in the world . The proof? We have it in 2004, 2005 and 2013, when ‘GTA San Andreas’, ‘GTA IV’ and ‘GTA V’ took the award for best game of the year.
On December 14, 2017, it was 20 years since the version of the game for the PlayStation was released in Europe and, since then, the saga has not stopped growing. According to figures from January 2020 , more than 270 million copies of ‘GTAs’ have already been distributed , which, according to this classification , places the franchise in the seventh position of the best-sellers to date, lagging behind’ Mario ‘,’ Pokémon ‘,’ FIFA ‘and’ Call of Duty ‘. Who was going to tell British politicians.
Today ‘GTA’ is one of the most popular franchises. In the absence of knowing when the expected ‘GTA VI’ will be released, the current title continues to speak. So much so that it was released in 2013 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, then remastered for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and a version for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X | S is expected in the second half of 2021. It is, by the way, the most expensive game in history (256 million dollars), although it has not been a problem for Rockstar, which only on launch day raised nothing more than 800 million dollars .