New 'Grand Theft Auto' Game Shakes Up Hollywood The video game Grand Theft Auto IV raked in a record $500 million in its first week. Could video games surpass movies as Hollywood's bread and butter industry? Farai Chideya talks with News & Notes tech contributor Mario Armstrong about the GTA phenomenon.
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New 'Grand Theft Auto' Game Shakes Up Hollywood

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New 'Grand Theft Auto' Game Shakes Up Hollywood

New 'Grand Theft Auto' Game Shakes Up Hollywood

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I'm Farai Chideya and this is News & Notes. Are video games eating Hollywood's lunch? What new sites are drawing black audiences, and should Yahoo! accepted a buyout offer from Microsoft? Our tech contributor, Mario Armstrong, has the scoop. It's good to have you back, Mario.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: Hey, Farai. Glad to be here.

CHIDEYA: So, let's start with "Grand Theft Auto IV." It raked in 500 million dollars the first week it was on sale. Now, what makes up this kind of game? What makes it so sticky?

ARMSTRONG: I mean, this thing, I mean, can you imagine, 500 million dollars, I mean, you look at "Iron Man" that just came out, right? What was that, 201 million dollars and within their opening weekend, and you have a video game that's brought in 500 million. So, "Grand Theft Auto," it's - this is the fourth one. It's a series of very controversial games.

They've always been in the spotlight for their storyline, for the violence that's portrayed in the games, and so I think that's actually given it a lot more media hype and a lot more attention, but there is something to say about the game play. I mean, if the game wasn't good, or if people didn't enjoy playing the games, they certainly would not sell.

So, it has been very successful in - from that perspective, and I have to tell you, playing the game myself on the Xbox 360, and seeing it on the PlayStation 3, its realism is a little bit more that I've ever seen or witnessed in a "Grand Theft Auto" series before. It actually feels, I don't know, morally - I actually feel a little bit more responsible for some of my actions, even if I know I'm goofing off. It's just that the realism there is just that good.

CHIDEYA: I've seen the screen grabs of it, and it looks absolutely beautiful. I, myself, have not seriously played video games in awhile. I played them when I was younger, and I'm totally - I could see myself losing my job. I could just basically sit around the house for days at a time, you know, playing something like this so...

ARMSTRONG: That's happened.

CHIDEYA: I don't know if I'm ever going to crack one of these...

ARMSTRONG: People call out sick, and they actually monitor how much an impact the video game has for the movies that were released, for how many people called out sick, and whether work or productivity goes down. So this isn't, you know, an isolated event.

CHIDEYA: You were mentioning the violence of some of the previous versions. Is it still the kind of game where, for example, you can shoot a police officer virtually?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. Absolutely it still is that type of game. I mean, this is a mature-rated game, which means, theoretically, that you cannot purchase this game unless you are 17 or older. So, it does have violence. It does have partial nudity in the game. And one thing that's caught some attention by the Mothers Against Drunk Driving in the game is - there is a component, or an element, where you can actually - you make a choice however, whether or not you grab a drink at a bar, and then go driving and then the screen simulates what that experience would be like. And so Mothers against Drunk Driving have stepped out on that.

But this is an adult title. There is - on the box, it says there's alcohol. There's drugs. There's partial nudity, intense violence. So you really want to be concerned if, you know, younger audiences are playing this game, you'd better make sure their maturity level can handle it.

CHIDEYA: We talked about the visuals, but reviewers also say the soundtrack is great. Let's take a listen to the trailer.

(Soundbite of video game "Grand Theft Auto IV")

CHIDEYA: Well, that's definitely, you know, kind of a hip-hop beat, you know, club beat. What's the music like?

ARMSTRONG: Man, the music, this thing, the box set that I ended up receiving, the music is unbelievable. And that's been part of also this hype that you talked about, too, Farai. Like, how come this game is so popular? Well, you know, they have some of the best musicians, some great independent artists that are on air. So the music soundtrack that you play, you are driving a lot throughout the game, so you can change stations. You can change genres, and so you're discovering new artists and you're listening to some of your favorite artists. And the music soundtrack of this thing is scored like a movie.

I mean, this development cost about a 100 million dollars to develop this game. So this is really showing a monumental shift in the amount of money being allocated to even develop a game. We really haven't heard of numbers this high before. But we're talking about a video-game industry that rakes in about 18 billion dollars a year. So it's not a small industry.

CHIDEYA: Wow, well, speaking of billions of dollars, they came. They asked. They got a no. We are talking about Microsoft's 44.6-billion-dollar offer to buy Yahoo!, and Yahoo! said nener nener (ph), and cut an ad deal with Google instead. So, should Yahoo! have taken the offer?

ARMSTRONG: You know, right now, this is one of those, the nener nener is a really great way of putting it, because this thing almost played out like it was a "Dallas" show on TV or something, just trying to figure out what was going to happen with these California rivals, going - trying to work it out with each other.

At the end of the day, you know, I think Yahoo! may have made a smart decision. I'm being hopeful for that. I'm being totally speculative on this point. If they can work out this partnership with Google, which is what the game changer has been, why Microsoft walked away from this deal, and that is a proposed opportunity for Google to allow Yahoo, to use its search-advertising technology.

And its search-advertising technology is probably the best on the web, so that made Yahoo feel like, hey, we actually have another option. Maybe we don't have to sell out. Maybe we can just utilize some licensing from our partner-slash-competitor and still be able to keep our brand intact. So, it all remains to be seen, but I think it may have worked out that they didn't do it.

CHIDEYA: Let me throw another company into the mix. What about AOL? After the big AOL-Time Warner merger in 2000, the combined company lost billions of dollars. Now, Time Warner dropped AOL from its name, fired the AOL CEO. Now wants to offload the company. Are any of these three companies we're talking about, Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft, going to go belly up and buy AOL, you think?

ARMSTRONG: You know, that's something that is highly discussed. AOL is going through some serious challenges. We've met with some of their executives over other projects that had to be put off, be delayed, in fact, because of some of these issues. Their headquarters in Dulles, Virginia, has now changed.

They've moved a lot of people out to New York City to try to play up a more of an advertising role and an advertising partner. So, I still think AOL has a strong brand, although I think that brand is with an older audience. I think they've been trying to reinvent themselves. Some of the acquisitions, though, in video has been really smart on their part, like Truveo.

And some of their video search technology that they've been using really shows that they can still be a player. But I don't know if they can be the player that they once used to be, that dominant player. So, it is very likely that we might see them get scooped up by someone else larger in the next few months to come.

CHIDEYA: All right, Mario. We don't have much time, but we do have two black and urban online communities we want to take a look at, and What do you think of them? And you know, who's their target audience? What are they doing? Let's start with GlobalGrind.

ARMSTRONG: OK, starting with GlobalGrind. Here's the deal Farai, as you know, being in the media, it's becoming more and more niche, and people, especially what you're talking about Internet, you're talking about web communities and defining that niche. Now we're seeing more and more websites pop up where we've had black websites in the past, but GlobalGrind is this one-stop shop.

They claim, or they offer, for news, gossip, humor, entertainment. It's just about everything that users think is important. So the whole site is actually driven by users voting on other content that's happening elsewhere. And so the higher the vote of a specific piece of content, the more relevant it comes up on the GlobalGrind webpage.

CHIDEYA: Is it fun?

ARMSTRONG: It is fun. It looks very clean. It's sleek. I do like the ownership behind the company, and some of the people driving it, because Navarro is a guy that ran, which was very successful that was sold to BET. I've met with their advertising people. I think they really got their handle on - they've made it mobile. They now integrate it with Facebook, which wasn't there before, which I was dinging them on. I was like, when are you guys going to get with mobile applications in a Web 2.0 space?

CHIDEYA: All right, Mario. We have to jump in. RushmoreDrive. Give me the skinny.

ARMSTRONG: OK, RushmoreDrive. The skinny is this is a black search engine. And I think it's time for a black search engine. The answer is going - the question is going to be whether or not this will be successful due to advertising. The Pew Internet says that 56 percent of African-Americans now use the Internet, so is there really a need for a black search engine? I put in "Farai Chideya." I was able to see news about you, videos, your blog posts, images...


ARMSTRONG: It's comprehensive. It's clean. Hey, you're all over the place, what can I say? I think there's a real need for this. The issue is going to be whether or not they can market it right.

CHIDEYA: All right. On that note, have a great weekend, Mario.

ARMSTRONG: You do the same, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Mario Armstrong is our regular tech contributor, and he joined me from WYPR Studios in Baltimore, Maryland.

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