Video games have been on a trek from subculture to mainstream culture for decades. And today we were treated to one of the biggest moments in the industry as Rockstar Games — its hand forced a day early by a leaker — released the trailer for Grand Theft Auto VI.
If you’re a young gamer and are new to Grand Theft Auto as a series, then savor the moment. It might be another generation before we get Grand Theft Auto VII and have another day like this. In two hours, the YouTube video has surpassed nine million views.
The last such moment we had was 12 years ago back in 2011 when the first trailer came out for Grand Theft Auto V. The game actually debuted in October 2013, but Rockstar had started the marketing buzz early. This new game is expected to debut in 2025.
A leaker released a few seconds of GTA VI trailer content, and that was enough to prompt Rockstar to release its own trailer earlier than its scheduled 6 a.m. Pacific time release on Tuesday.
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You can see the difference that a decade of improved 3D graphics has meant, not just in the trailers but in the way the game game is expected to play. The last game was set in Los Angeles, or rather a fictional Los Santos.
This one is set in Vice City, or Miami. The previous game went on to sell more than 190 million copies. At full retail, that adds up to $11.4 billion in revenues for parent company Take-Two Interactive, which expects a big bump in revenues during its fiscal year in a couple of years.
That success is by far the record for premium game sales for a game. As a series, Grand Theft Auto has sold more than 410 million copies, eclipsed by at least 425 million for Call of Duty (as of 2022). Other franchises like Mario, Pokemon and Tetris have also hit those levels. And when such games launch, it becomes a real cultural moment.
That cultural moment means the dwindling percentage of the population that doesn’t play video games — like TV news anchors, politicians and others — becomes aware that something big is happening in what they perceive to be the nerd ghetto of the entertainment world.
But this trailer is striking for its realism in depicting a dazzling spectacle of a city and its underground crime world. It is also noticeable for its diverse cast of characters, including GTA’s first woman protagonist. Rockstar has always had a heavy urban focus and that means diverse characters. In the last game, the main characters were a trio of men, including a Black man. Before that, GTA IV had an Eastern European immigrant man. GTA always depicts the gritty world of crime, and Miami gets its turn again as a crime capital.
GTA VI evidently stars Lucia, a LatinX woman whom we first see in an orange jumpsuit as a prisoner in the trailer. She has a male partner in crime, holding up places and racing around the city. But it’s a big deal for Rockstar to embrace characters who are more diverse than what it showed in the past.
Rockstar said that GTA VI will debut on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S and “entertainment systems” in 2025. That might mean the PC, or other machines.
“Grand Theft Auto VI continues our efforts to push the limits of what’s possible in highly immersive, story-driven open-world experiences,” said Sam Houser, cofounder of Rockstar Games, in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be able to share this new vision with players everywhere.”
Rockstar said the game heads to the state of Leonida, home to the neon-soaked streets of Vice City and beyond in the biggest, most immersive evolution of the Grand Theft Auto series yet.
After all, this is entertainment media that will be seen around the world by hundreds of millions of gamers and beyond. It is bound to make an impression on people about how Rockstar is telling their stories in its game. Of course, no one wants to be depicted as a bunch of criminals. But Rockstar can still shine a light with its narrative on stories that need to be told.
This won’t be an inexpensive game to make. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rockstar Games had 2,000 people working on GTA VI already — the same number that roughly worked on Red Dead Redemption 2, which debuted in 2018. Back then, various people told me that they thought Red Dead 2 might have cost $944 million to make. I would guess that this budget is going to be higher than that.
During the next couple of years, I wouldn’t expect GTA VI to fall out of the cultural zeitgeist. There will be a steady drumbeat until it launches in 2025. I would hope this trailer itself marks a moment — a sign that there is a glimmer of brightness ahead for video games. Not everyone is going to benefit, as the main beneficiary of this will be Rockstar Games and Take-Two.
So yes, maybe in the future you’ll look back on this day as once in a generation. It’s like the day when something big happened, like the video game industry’s graduation from adolescence to adulthood, or whatever stage we’re at now, as it continues to move from subculture to mainstream culture.
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