In my nearly 20 years covering video games, Take-Two's crown jewel has missed more initial deadlines than I can count, but that hasn't stopped them from knocking it out of the park more times than they've whiffed. This delay, though, could have a more notable impact on the industry than previous postponements.
Take-Two, of course, is already paying the price. Investors, upset about the effect the holdup will have on earnings, are punishing the company. Take-Two shares closed down nearly 7 percent on the news. But that's a knee jerk thing. 2013 earnings per share might suffer, but they'll make that up on the backend in 2014. No, it's not Take-Two that should worry...t's the larger video game industry that could face ramifications.
With Thursday's delay, Rockstar essentially lobbed a hand grenade into the holiday period – one that was going to already be plenty chaotic. Activision, suddenly, faces a serious threat to its next Call of Duty (presumably Modern Warfare IV - though Activision, naturally, has been mum on that) – and EA's next Battlefield installment could take a hit as well.
The blast zone that Grand Theft Auto V will create could be so substantial that its effects are even felt by Bungie, which is expected to launch its Destiny project (another Activision-published title) this fall, likely in November.
The bigger impact, though, could be on Microsoft and Sony.
Both companies are expected to launch their new console systems this holiday season. GTA, which is usually a system seller, could have the opposite effect this time around -- keeping players away from the new consoles by offering a compelling reason to stick with their Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s.
That's a nightmare scenario for the console companies, which are going to have a tough enough time attracting a new audience for the systems. Nintendo's sales shortfall with the Wii U already had them nervous. The thought of launching a GTA-less system two months after what could be the year's hottest game hits shelves can't be an appealing one.
Of course, it's possible there's more to this delay than just polishing the game. There are, in fact, a couple of potential reasons to hold it back.
Microsoft has showered Rockstar with money in the past, buying first-pass rights for DLC content for GTA IV. It's entirely possible the company has done so again, buying an exclusive port of GTA V for the next generation Xbox -- and wanted the launches closer together. (Sony doesn't seem to be in a financial position to do so at present.)
Sales of the game would be minimal, since the install base of the system will be so comparatively small, but it would give Microsoft an important bragging right -- and make its next generation system seem very current and relevant to core gamers, who will be critical to this upcoming generation. (Keep in mind, those Destiny court documents that came out during Activision's legal fight with Jason West and Vince Zampella indicate that Destiny will be exclusive to the system as well, so having GTA in the fold as well would be a killer one-two punch.)
There's one other -- admittedly less likely -- reason for Thursday's delay. The Grand Theft Auto franchise is a lightning rod of controversy in the debate about video game violence. It is still one of the first titles people bring up when arguing games are bad influences.
Given the tragic events in Newtown, CT last December – and the renewed debate surrounding game violence (not to mention presidential interest in the effects of video game violence on players), would Rockstar or Take-Two stall the game until the debate has simmered down once again?
It's hard to believe so. It's almost impossible. But there's an intensity about the scrutiny this time that's unlike anything this industry has seen before -- which doesn't completely remove it from the realm of possibility.
Whatever the reason for the delay, this holiday season just got a lot more interesting.