Rockstar Games’ biggest franchise, Grand Theft Auto IV, breaks all the rules with an April release and more death, destruction, and hookers than ever before.

The highly anticipated Grand Theft Auto IV is expected to sell 6 million copies within the first week, and 9 million by year’s end. Unsurprisingly pre-order sales have been the driving force behind these estimates. Sites like play.com stopped issuing pre-order vouchers earlier this month because due to the sheer volume of orders they could no longer guarantee fulfilling them.

The interesting tactic behind GTA IV is its release 4 months after the peak of video game season. This is usually defined as the months leading up to the Winter holidays, where Mom and Dad are more likely to crack open their purses for a $60 game or $300 system. This new marketing technique will be taking video games out of the cool Christmas present novelty and into the everyday purchase realm.

The cool bundle packaging of the game with a duffel bag, artbook, lockbox and soundtrack makes the special edition an even sweeter deal at $90.

This seems like a reasonable technique because the holidays are becoming an increasingly cramped time to release a game while all the other new releases are coming out. Games released during this period constantly have to vie for advertising space in the gaming magazines and put up with expensive tv ad slots.

Many comparisons are being made to the movie business, where the main season attraction is the summer blockbuster that captivates the time (and wallets) of students on spring break. If content is strong enough to drive sales during thoff-peak months, then the brand will continue to be successful. As with Grand Theft Auto IV, a well known and much anticipated game is making its debut during an off-peak time period and relishing the breathing room from competition.

The game was originally scheduled to be released in October of 2007, but suffered some major setbacks. A few bugs and technical errors arose that needed fixing.

According to the article in Portfolio.com, Take-Two Interactive, the owner of Rockstar Games has also encountered some non-technical problems:

In the past 12 months Take-Two lost key staff, weathered a S.E.C. investigation of stock-option issuing, and has been fighting a hostile takeover by behemoth Electronic Arts.

You may know Electronic Arts (EA) as the makers of such popular games as Madden and the upcoming Monopoly game. And conventional wisdom said when they wanted something, the got it. That hasn’t been the case and Take-Two has defended well.

Another interesting item from the Portfolio article is this:

However, the loosing of the holiday ties also lies with the consumer. According to the 2007 Electronic Software Association report, the average videogamer is a 33-year-old male. It seems the teenagers who grew up with old Nintendo systems are still playing—and don’t need to beg their parents to put a $60 videogame under the Christmas tree. “We don’t need freaking Santa Claus to deliver it,” Hickey says. “There are adults playing this thing now.”

I find this slightly surprising, but it makes sense. Due to the graphic nature (NSFW) of these games, the content continues to push edgier and older. Good thing they have the buyers who can support the brand in spite of all the backlash from parent and moral values groups.

Portfolio: Spring Gaming, April 29, 2008