Branding: Grand Theft Auto 2 Sales Slumped and Rebranding Helped Turned the Tide

The Grand Theft Auto series is an undisputed giant. But did you know that even this iconic franchise had its share of challenges?

Branding: Grand Theft Auto 2 Sales Slumped and Rebranding Helped Turned the Tide

The Grand Theft Auto series is an undisputed giant. A heavyweight juggernaut that underpins the astronomical success that can be had in the gaming industry. When people cite just how profitable the gaming industry is, GTA is an often-used poster child.

It's a household name that continues to rake in millions via GTA online, and fans around the world drop everything to get even the smallest morsel about the upcoming GTA6. But it wasn't always this way. Did you know that even this iconic franchise initially had its share of challenges?

GTA2 was released in 1999 with high hopes, following the success of its predecessor. Grand Theft Auto, 1997, was a surprise smash hit with both critics and gamers, but proved to be controversial. Mowing over countless pedestrians would not go unnoticed by the media, so, GTA became very much a talking point for video game violence.

Any publicity is good publicity, right? The hope was to ride that initial wave of controversy, boosting recognition and ultimately sales of GTA2. However, it soon became apparent that lightning doesn't always strike twice. At first, sales were disappointing. Copies remained on store shelves as gamers turned their attention elsewhere.

Why did GTA2, a game from DMA Design and Rockstar, not perform as expected? It had all the ingredients gamers came to expect from such a game, but something felt off. Branding. The branding left much to be desired, almost certainly too ambiguous and too far removed from the original title.

The Power of Strong Branding

Which version of the GTA2 cover are you familiar with?

Why are there two versions of Grand Theft Auto on the original PlayStation? A question posed by Ben0ut over at Reddit. On the left, is the original GTA2 release. On the right, is the rebrand, harking back to the original design language from Grand Theft Auto.

It's been speculated that the vague packaging might have been to blame. The original cover simply said "GTA2," lacking the clear branding that players had come to expect. In retrospect, it almost looks like a departure from what made Grand Theft Auto, well, Grand Theft Auto.

"GTA2? What's that?"

Worried, Rockstar attempted to address this issue by issuing makeshift stickers that could be affixed to the cover, proclaiming it as "The sequel to Grand Theft Auto". However, this "solution" highlighted just how much of an issue poor branding can be, and didn't seem to have the desired effect of shifting more units.

Worried further still, it was time to do something drastic. In response to the underwhelming sales, Rockstar took a bold step: a complete rebranding of GTA2. They released a new cover that was almost identical to the original game's cover, even though it wasn't entirely representative of the contents of GTA2.

This decision was a branding exercise more than anything, aimed at aligning GTA2 visually with its successful predecessor.

The result? A remarkable turnaround. The rebranding worked its magic, and GTA2 began to garner attention from those who looked beyond the initial futuristic, dystopian aesthetic. Now enticed by the familiar look and feel of the game, the game would sell enough to be considered a success.

The PlayStation version of the game received a "Platinum" sales award from ELSPA, which means it sold 300,000 or more units in the United Kingdom, so it's clear that eventually, the tides changed for GTA2.

A cautionary tale of visual identity then. While the initial design was a noble one, and one that I personally prefer, it simply didn't resonate with gamers.

Ironically, while the shift in visual branding revitalised interest in GTA2, it is funny that it teased a similar era and atmosphere to the original Grand Theft Auto.

Instead of the futuristic vibe of GTA2, players might have expected something reminiscent of the groovy '90s, with familiar cars and similar surroundings, only to be presented with a game with an entirely different aesthetic on booting up.

On booting the game up, gamers might have noticed a stark contrast between the contents of the game and what the rebranding packaging would suggest. Source: Alamy
"The strength of brand recognition can turn a simple logo into an emblem of trust, making your business unforgettable in a crowded marketplace." - David Airey, Graphic Designer and Author

In the end, GTA2's journey from disappointment to triumph serves as a testament to the power of effective branding and marketing in the gaming industry. It's a reminder that even the most iconic franchises can face setbacks, but with the right strategy, they can come back stronger than ever.

So, the next time you dive into the world of GTA, remember the story of GTA2 and how a simple rebranding effort turned the tide for this beloved series.

And remember, branding matters.