What four lessons can marketers learn from the launch of Grand Theft Auto V?

grand-theft-auto-v-wallp-20In business, it’s more important than ever to push the boundaries in order to achieve a competitive advantage. It’s about being brave. And doing things that your competitors can only dream about.

As the world shrinks smaller, the importance of pushing the boundaries and striving for greatness is at an all-time high. And this partly explains why the makers of Grand Theft Auto V (GTAV) – Rockstar – have become the titans of the video gaming industry.

There are very few industries outside of medical, technology, engineering or defence where a company can blow a cool $250m in research and development. But that’s exactly what the founders of Rockstar did before they saw a cent in return. That takes some guts and self-belief that many reading this blog will find breath-taking in the extreme!

This self-confidence paid off handsomely as 3m copies of GTAV were pre-ordered at $60 a pop and $500m worth of units were shipped in the first week of its launch. In the first three days the game sold over 16m copies and pulling in more than $1bn in retail sales.

That takes some beating, eh?

In many ways what Rockstar has done for the video games can be compared to what Apple has done for music and computers.

The founders of Rockstar started out in the late 90s when they recognised the need for games that didn’t exclusively cater for kids and geeks. They set themselves the challenge to build a games company like no other – committed to innovation, creativity and user experience.

And GTAV has become the most successful video game in history.

In trying to explain its success, Dan Houser, its founder remarked: “It’s up to us to make the best stuff we can make – it’s not necessarily up to us to shout from the rooftops about how clever we are, how progressive we are, or how sophisticated we are. It’s our place to make stuff that’s as good as it can be.”

If you’re in search of a mission statement, that works for me!

So what lessons can be learned and applied by marketers hungry to emulate the kind of success Dan Houser and his team evidently achieved with the launch of GTAV?

Lesson #1: Mass customisation of a product can be extremely lucrative

The founders of the company were dedicated to the idea of making video games cool among the masses and took their inspiration from Hip Hop and Rock & Roll when developing GTAV to keep the cool factor alive. Rockstar also partnered with several retail stores to create special editions of the video game that included unique packaging, a game map, as well as codes to unlock exclusive content. They also collaborated with Sony to release a 500GB PlayStation 3 console that came with a downloaded version of the game and a pair of GTAV branded headphones. Obsession took hold even further and strategy guides were sold in select stores.

It’s often said that a great business is one that sweats the little things. And that was definitely true of Rockstar. It went above and beyond typical gaming expectations when it came to everything from facial details of its characters to hidden missions.

Lesson #2: Build-in wow factor!

Marketers often talk about “delighting customers” but what on earth does that mean or look like? GTAV was in fact built on a 1,000 page script using eight production studios, months of voice and motion capture along with years of research and development. This involved hanging out with strange cops, speaking first hand to FBI agents that had been undercover, learning from experts in the Mafia, learning street gangster language and visiting convicted felons in prison! All of this fed directly into the product to give it a wow factor.

Lesson #3: Collaborate with your customers

In my latest book, High Impact Marketing That Gets Results, there’s a lot of emphasis on collaboration between brands and their fans. Rockstar spent a long time building up a strong community following and they understood how to leverage that to their advantage. For example, the company held an online casting call for five fans to appear as characters in the game. The other advantage of this was to create a deeper wow factor, and a more dedicated fan base that would go out and buy the product.

Lesson #4: Push the marketing boundaries

GTAV pushed the product as well as the marketing boundaries to the limits. For example, prior to the launch of any of their tier one games, you can expect to see a beautiful mural painted on the side of a building in Manhattan. Additionally, you can expect to find a tactic that was once limited to music festivals and musicians being used to promote their games. The distribution of posters on poles, subway walls and stations – both in the US and over here in the UK – is indicative of the approach that helped to establish a sense of street-cred and creativity for GTAV.




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