"Grand Theft Auto" sales top Hollywood movie

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Criminal action game “Grand Theft Auto 4” scored over $500 million in global receipts its first week in release, selling over 6 million units to become one of the most lucrative entertainment launches in history.

Stacks of the video game "Grand Theft Auto IV" can be seen as they go on sale at a GameStop store in New York April 28, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Initial sales of the highly anticipated Take-Two Interactive Software Inc game topped the $300 million for last year’s “Halo 3” video game from Microsoft Corp.

Sales exceeded Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster film debut, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” which raked in $406 million globally in its first six days.

“Grand Theft Auto IV’s first-week performance represents the largest launch in the history of interactive entertainment, and we believe these retail sales levels surpass any movie or music launch to date,” Strauss Zelnick, chairman of Take-Two, said in a statement.

Made by Take-Two’s Rockstar studio, the game is the latest in the controversial “Grand Theft Auto” series that has made headlines for hidden sex scenes and for high levels of violence.

In the latest game the player is cast as an Eastern European immigrant who runs drugs, shoots cops and knocks off rivals. Critics hailed the game as a brutal and satirical masterpiece.

A group called Mothers Against Drunk Driving has sought an adults-only rating on the game because it lets players drive after drinking virtual alcohol.

The video game publisher was expected to use the strong results, which topped even the most bullish expectations, to strengthen its bargaining position in talks with rival Electronic Arts Inc, which is trying to buy it for $2 billion, or $25.74 per share.

“When you’re negotiating like this it’s all about leverage,” said Janco Partners analyst Mike Hickey.

“Take-Two couldn’t be in a better position. If EA wants to keep their bid at $25.74 and thinks that’s a fair price, they are going to have to walk away from this deal,” Hickey said.

Take-Two has held off on engaging Electronic Arts until after the “GTA 4” launch, arguing the returns from the game should be a factor in its value.

Daniel Ernst, analyst with Hudson Square Research said the initial sales weren’t as important as long-term sales, which he forecast would be 13 million units by the end of the year.

“If you were buying this company four years ago, you were really just buying GTA,” said Ernst, who has a $30 price target for Take-Two and sees room for EA to raise its bid.

“Now you’re getting this plus four other parts of the business that are fixed, or mostly fixed.”

Take-Two shares edged slightly higher on Wednesday, rising 4 cents to $26.39. EA shares were up 32 cents to $52.50.

(Additional reporting by Michele Gershberg in New York and Scott Hillis in Seattle)