Rockstar and Leslie Benzies demonstrate games are as culturally significant as movies

Up until relatively recently, playing video games was seen as a niche activity, engaged in mostly by children. Much of this was due to the fact that in the first couple of decades of their existence, video games were rather unsophisticated. They tended to feature quite simple gameplay with little or nothing in the way of a convincing plot. As technology progressed, it became possible to develop titles that involved a greater element of strategic thinking. These days, video games have progressed in sophistication to the extent that they are convincing both in terms of graphics and artificial intelligence. With powerful gaming PCs and consoles such as the Xbox and PlayStation, software developers are able to create convincing universes.

Leslie BenziesIn the UK, one of the most well established names is gaming software development is Rockstar North under its President, Leslie Benzies. The company is best known for the Grand Theft Auto series. From its inception, the realistic gameplay coupled with the adult content themes of this series provoked plenty of commentary. The latest version of the game, Grand Theft Auto 5 was released in the second half of 2013. The level of attention surrounding the game was comparable of that of a major movie release – if not greater.

The reason for the interest in the game was down to the success of previous titles in the same series. What had captured the imagination of the game playing public was the sheer variety offered in earlier titles. There were certain missions to complete, but at the same time it was possible to get immersed in a fictional universe and take part in all kinds of fun activities that had little or nothing to do with the main mission. There was also a heavy dose of irony and humour in the games that helped to keep them entertaining.

Grand Theft Auto V took all of that to a whole new level. In the UK, the game was released in September and huge sales were responsible for a 45% year-on-year increase in game sales for that month. In fact, sales of the game were singlehandedly responsible for an increase in spending in the British games retail sector for the first time since December 2008 and the start of the economic downturn. It went on to beat video games sales records across the world.

Leslie Benzies | Rockstar in More than Just a Name

Grand Theft Auto V was released on 17th September 2013, earning $800 million in the first 24 hours and taking over a billion dollars after three days. For the creators of the world’s most successful video game, Rockstar North, the studio have reaffirmed themselves as a true Triple A producer. The game series began in 1997 with the release of Grand Theft Auto on the PC and later, the PlayStation One. At times considered controversial, none can deny the fact that the series has been a smash hit success. In a recent interview with video games industry magazine, Develop, the President of Rockstar North and producer of GTA, Leslie Benzies has likened the process to a band producing albums. Leslie Benzies

While the sheer amount of time and money involved when it comes to making a game like GTA V has led many critics to compare the game series to movies, not to mention the cinematic aspects within the games themselves, comparing it to an album might seem strange at first. However, as Leslie Benzies puts it, GTA from its first 3D realisation in 2001 with GTA III, bears several similar characteristics. GTA III was also a great success, taking the bird’s eye view and 2D graphics of the first two games, bringing the viewpoint to an over the shoulder 3rd person angle. As well as making the game mechanics a lot easier, it provided a much greater sense of realism for players. The game’s success was unexpected, according to the studio.

The second game, or album to continue the analogy was GTA: Vice City. Set in a fictional 1980s Miami, the game was released a mere nine months after GTA III, and was received equally well. Then came GTA: San Andreas, the most successful game on the PlayStation 2 that really put Rockstar North at the top of their game. This iteration of GTA completely changed the expectations of not just the series but the industry as a whole.

According to Leslie Benzies, GTA IV was the ‘difficult fourth album’. The game was received well by critics, but failed to live up to earlier titles in the series, not to mention the attention it received from the US Government. Having said that, it did not put off Rockstar North from returning to the drawing room and giving it another go. In doing so, they created GTA V and few people can argue about the success of Rockstar’s latest ‘album’.