More Than Game Play: Far-Reaching Effects For 'GTAIV' Launch

A week from Tuesday, "Grand Theft Auto IV" hits the stores, and it will be one of the biggest pop culture events of the year. Analysts predict it will sell roughly six million copies in the first week, smashing "Halo 3"'s current sales record, and potentially becoming the biggest entertainment release in history (unseating "Pirates of the Caribbean 3," which currently holds the record at $404 million in the first week).

So, if any of your 18- to 34-year-old male employees or colleagues are out sick on Tuesday, now you might have a better idea of why. The implications of the game are bigger than lost productivity. "GTA IV"'s sales numbers are poised not only to affect the fortunes of its publisher, Take-Two, but also Microsoft and Sony, as they fight for a larger share of the "GTA"-playing public.

Electronic Arts is currently attempting to buy Take-Two for $26 per share, after the company ran into some legal trouble last year when the former CEO pled guilty to falsifying business records. Despite the upcoming release of "GTA IV," the company was perceived as in trouble when the offer was made. But the expected monster success of "GTAIV," along with turnaround efforts being implemented by Take-Two Chairman Strauss Zelnick, have so far kept the company independent in the face of EA's acquisition attempts. Analysts say that EA will have to up its bid by 15% if it hopes to close the deal.

The streets of "GTA IV"'s Liberty City are a battleground in the console wars, as well. Microsoft has boasted that its marketing spend for "GTAIV" will top that of "Halo 3" (which Microsoft itself published). The company is attempting to position itself as the primary console for "GTAIV," reportedly having paid $50 million for exclusive downloadable content to be released on the Xbox Live Marketplace. No doubt Microsoft is hoping that a major push to get console owners to buy 360s to play "GTAIV" will help counter Sony's Playstation 3 sales momentum in February and March.

And finally, another big business that's looking to have its bottom line moved by "GTAIV"'s launch is Paramount Pictures. Three days after "GTAIV" comes out, Paramount will release its latest comic book movie, "Iron Man," -- with a target audience almost exactly congruent with "GTA"'s. That is, if the movie can draw gamers off their sofas and away from Liberty City on Friday and Saturday.

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