LOS ANGELES — There's no Burger King tie-in or special flavor of Mountain Dew. No commercial directed by Peter Jackson, or even an action figure.
The runup to Grand Theft Auto IV has been considerably less ballyhooed than last year's over-the-top Halo 3 debut. Yet when GTA IV parks on store shelves today, the latest entry in the controversial video game franchise could be the most lucrative launch in entertainment history.
Analysts predict Take-Two Interactive Software and Rockstar Games' open-world, action-driving game will easily top last year's record-breaking $300-million first-week sales of Microsoft and Bungee Studios' first-person shooter Halo 3 — and without a similar marketing bonanza.
With the launch of GTA IV on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Rockstar is seemingly steering in one direction: the downlow.
Take-Two and Rockstar declined to comment for this report, but following a 90-minute demonstration of the game in January, GTA IV writer and Rockstar vice president Dan Houser said the infamous game developer, also responsible for the Manhunt and Bully games, was being overly protective for one very important reason.
"We want people to be really excited and not know everything by the time they play the game," Houser said. "Of course, we want them to understand what they're buying, but we want there to be surprises along the way."
The desire for intel about GTA IV has been mounting since the game was announced in 2006 and again in August when Take-Two revealed GTA IV would be delayed until 2008. Other than four online trailers and some embargoed previews, there hasn't been much information.
Thus far, Rockstar's advertising campaign has consisted of several outdoor elements — billboards, bus wraps, building murals, phony wanted posters — as well as a few viral videos featuring satirical commercials for fictitious GTA businesses posted online.
The less-is-more approach might have something to do with the series' Mature-rated content. GTA IV antihero Niko Bellic isn't exactly one of the Mario Brothers. As Bellic, players can hijack cars, earn cash for criminal activities, flee police, kill innocent bystanders and patronize strip clubs.
The drama extends beyond Liberty City, the game's fictional locale, and into the real world. Video game publisher Take-Two, which owns Rockstar, has been subject to a hostile takeover bid from Electronic Arts. Take-Two has been holding out, refusing to enter formal talks with EA or any other suitor until Wednesday. First-day GTA IV sales could certainly boost the value of Take-Two's shares.