We published an article a few weeks back called Microsoft in GTA IV Panic in which we detailed how the industry giant was stressing about the number of PS3 consoles the release of GTA IV would ship over Xbox 360s.
We argued that this was evident in the way Microsoft had gone about marketing the Xbox 360 version of the game. We also pointed out how Sony had, it appeared, done very little in response (you'll have to read it for the full explanation).
Now we know why.
As you have no doubt read, it has come to light that a new version of the PS3 will be made available in time for the launch of GTA IV. It is the 40GB model of the console, but it comes bundled with GTA IV. This is a big, big deal. Especially as the package doesn't cost any more money than the unbundled version of the console.
The deal is only officially announced for a UK release, but we've been given the tip-off that Australia will receive the deal too... in fact we've heard unconfirmed reports that some retailers are already promoting it. And if it is making it all the way to little 'ol Oz, then it should hit every other major territory as well.
This is a massive blow for Microsoft, who has already lowered the Xbox 360's price point in Europe, and paid US$50 million for downloadable content in an attempt to lure the 12 million-odd PS2 owning GTA fans away from the Sony brand. Given the money and marketing that Microsoft has thrown at Rockstar, the console manufacturer may have expected to get some support back from the developer. On the contrary, Rockstar has, deliberately or not, undermined Microsoft's chances of not only shipping a bucket-load of consoles, but potentially from coming out on top of the console wars.
Make no mistake; this play by Sony is the most explosive strike yet in the ongoing war between the two console makers.
We'll probably never know whether Sony paid megabucks for this deal or not, but the facts are on the table. Sony's most affordable version of the PS3 will come bundled with GTA IV. Currently, in Australia, that model retails for $699 (and has room to move should Sony feel the need).
What does Microsoft offer By comparison, local retailer Harvey Norman is promoting an Xbox 360 Elite with GTA IV for $698 (it RRPs for $729 without the game). It's the same price, but of course the Xbox 360 is minus Blu-ray, built-in wireless and, yes we have to say it, reliability. This is the only bundled deal we have found for the Xbox 360 thus far.
If those missing features don't bother you, you can always look at the other Xbox 360 SKUs that don't come bundled with GTA IV. You can buy the arcade console for $399, and the game at $119, to be playing the game for $520. You will not be able to play online, however, and will be limited to 256MBs worth of saves and patches - unless you want to spend more on a hard-drive.
And what of the standard premium pack? Well it is $579 which, if you buy GTA IV at $119, comes to the same value as the elite deal at Harvey Norman. Which makes the premium console frickin' worthless.
So for the informed consumer, this deal makes it something of a no-brainer. The best value for money deal in order to play GTA IV is Sony's 40GB bundle. And no, we haven't forgotten which console has the best game's library, DLC and online, but as we argued here, this won't mean a lot to a casual consumer who just wants to play GTA IV.
Bring on the 29th
Make sure you check out our GTA IV Multiplayer Hands-on. It will leave you very excited, and offers some support to why the Xbox 360 version of the game will probably be superior, even if in terms of pure console sales, it is looking like the PS3 might romp home.