As the GTA 6 trailer is on track to get the most Youtube views ever in one day… How two London public schoolboy brothers created the most depraved – and valuable – entertainment product in history
Police chase criminals on dirt bikes, scantily clad women jump on top of speeding cars, an alligator is dragged out of a swimming pool and wanders into a supermarket – just like everyone else here, looking for trouble.
This is the seedy Vice City, heavily modeled on Miami, where our two heroes, a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde, are about to increase the chaos as they rob, shoot and burn rubber to the satisfaction of their depraved hearts. “Look who's back!” snarls a menacing woman in a floral dress, clutching a hammer in each hand.
Indeed, watch, because this is the trailer for the next iteration of a gleefully violent video game that hardly needs much introduction considering the fame it has already achieved and the multi-billion pound sales it has generated.
Grand Theft Auto VI won't be released until 2025, but befitting the kind of Hollywood blockbuster that its producers can only dream of making the money from, its creators are already whetting the ravenous appetites of the millions of gamblers who dutifully go out and buy it.
The 91-second trailer, which racked up 50 million views on YouTube in just nine hours, was launched this week for what is colloquially known as GTA and was yesterday on track to become the most-watched video in a single day on the platform. become.
Grand Theft Auto VI won't be released until 2025. Pictured: a woman in a bikini from a trailer
The game's 91-second trailer racked up 50 million views on YouTube in just nine hours. Pictured: A scene from the trailer
Sam and Dan Houser – the creators aged 51 and 50 – are the sons of Walter Houser, a wealthy lawyer who co-owned Soho jazz club Ronnie Scott's, and Geraldine Moffat
The official warning at the start of the film – which is clearly intended to evoke the opening credits of the '80s TV series Miami Vice with its aerial shots, flocks of flamingos and copious female flesh – says that the film 'may contain content which is not suitable for children'. .
Well, the legions of young fans certainly hope so. If it is also inappropriate for many adults, so much the better.
Based on the simple yet seemingly revolutionary premise of letting players be the criminals instead of the police in a grimy, chaotic yet intricately developed online urban jungle, GTA has found a hugely successful formula for allowing nerdy computer gamers to indulge in their wildest criminal fantasies. to live out. the comfort of their own home.
And since that has meant graphic sex, violence, rape, torture and casual executions of police officers, it's clear that those who claim this kind of screen violence has a dangerous desensitizing effect have generally been shouting into the wind.
Groups like Freedom from Torture and Amnesty International complained when GTA V, the previous in the franchise, sank to a new low by allowing players to torture a man by pulling out his teeth, giving him electric shocks and killing him with to hit a sledgehammer.
One critic even wrote that “if the Devil had to invent a game, it would be this game.” But it only gave Grand Theft Auto more useful publicity.
Elon Musk said this week that he could never enjoy a game that involved killing police officers, but there were plenty who didn't share his doubts.
Upon its release in 2013, Grand Theft Auto V made £650 million on its first day of sales. It broke every industry record and became the fastest-selling entertainment product in history.
Ten years later, it is still one of the most popular games, with more than 190 million copies sold and revenues of more than £6.3 billion. Considering the highest-grossing film ever, 2009's Avatar, grossed just £2.3 billion, that says something about the overwhelming value of the video games market.
And despite the staidly American setting and Quentin Tarantino's level of violence, this is a very British success story. First released in 1997, the world's grittiest game has tenuous origins in the form of two ex-public schoolboys from London whose games company, Rockstar, has become a global behemoth.
Sam and Dan Houser, aged 51 and 50, are the sons of Walter Houser, a wealthy lawyer who co-owned the Soho jazz club Ronnie Scott's, and Geraldine Moffat, an actress whose roles included writhing naked in bed with Michael Caine in the 1971 thriller Get Carter.
Sam, who was once asked as a child by jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie what he wanted to be when he grew up and said 'bank robber', was educated at St Paul's School, like his brother Dan.
The GTA makers are already whetting the ravenous appetites of the millions of gamblers who will dutifully buy it. Pictured: a scene of a motorcycle gang from the caravan
Upon its release in 2013, Grand Theft Auto V made £650 million on its first day of sales. Pictured: A scene from the GTA 6 trailer
Despite their obsession with cutting-edge American culture, especially gangster films and New York's rebellious hip-hop culture, they were picked up from school every day in their father's Rolls-Royce.
While the more academic Dan went to Oxford, Sam – the business brain at Rockstar – was hired by the German record label BMG. He moved to BMG's growing video game division, and he and his brother got their big break in the mid-1990s when Scottish company DMA pitched a game called Race 'N' Chase.
Sam has tweaked the game so that players are the criminals instead of the police, winning points for running over pedestrians and other crimes. His brother would write the intricate stories of their games, and both soon bought the rights to what would become the first version of Grand Theft Auto, which launched in 1997.
Sam said they wanted to make video games cool, something you could go to the pub with and brag about playing. The Housers moved to New York, where they gained a reputation for working as a distraction.
Sam – now estimated to be worth £120million – admitted he had worked 'obscenely hard' and joked that the two brothers had a 'midlife crisis' from the age of 12.
A former employee was less understanding, telling a Rockstar biographer, “The money turned them into idiots very quickly.” Another said: 'These people are crazy smart and very good at being mean. They're British.' Sam was accused of regularly shouting at subordinates and throwing phones.
A former assistant of Dan's told the Wall Street Journal that he once called her a “whore” and a “son of a bitch” simply because she brought him the wrong bagel for breakfast.
The newspaper called Sam a 'secret, demanding workaholic' [with] a temperament and a budget befitting a Hollywood mogul.” However, fans insisted their volcanic mood only reflected their perfectionism.
After two Rockstar employees committed suicide in 2007 – their deaths were not related to the company – the brothers tried to improve the office atmosphere by hiring a spiritual healer to perform an exorcism.
Complaints about slave-driving and party-loving bosses are common in the tech world, but the Housers have had to overcome more serious bumps in the road.
In 2005, after the US was rocked by a series of mass shootings, including the Columbine High School massacre, the brothers were denounced by Hillary Clinton over the content of their games and summoned before the US Federal Trade Commission when a hardcore pornographic scene was found hidden in the 2004 game GTA: San Andreas.
In 2019, Rockstar North, the company's Edinburgh branch, was accused by tax campaigners of staging a 'drive-by attack on British taxpayers' after it emerged that the company had not paid corporation tax for a decade while making £42 million claimed in taxpayer money. British government subsidies. Rockstar defended its record, saying it had boosted the economy and created more than 1,000 long-term jobs.
In recent years, Sam, who remains president of Rockstar, and Dan, who left the company in 2020, have tried to soften their anti-social image.
However, the game that made their fortune seems set to mine a very rich seam by continuing wildly in the opposite direction.