This reflects an important change in the game business toward providing a service that is constantly being enhanced, rather than selling discs wrapped in cellophane that mostly do not change after a customer purchases them.

“The games industry has followed the same example investors have seen with Netflix,” said Joost van Dreunen, chief executive at SuperData Research, a game research firm. “Entertainment in general is undergoing this tremendous shift.”

For an example, look no further than Grand Theft Auto V, the gritty action-adventure game from Rockstar Games, which first came out in September 2013, almost four years ago. Grand Theft Auto V was published so long ago that it was initially released on the last generation of console hardware from Sony and Microsoft, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (Versions followed for newer hardware in November 2014 and for PCs after that.)

And yet, there was Grand Theft Auto on the best-selling games list as recently as April, when it ranked sixth in the United States by dollar sales, right up there with games released this year like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, according to NPD Group, the market research firm. More than 80 million copies of Grand Theft Auto V have been sold since it was released, according to Take-Two Interactive Software, the publisher that owns Rockstar Games.

Part of Grand Theft Auto V’s enduring appeal is that it is an exceptional game, with a 97 out of 100 score on Metacritic, which aggregates reviews from game critics. But the way Rockstar has kept the game performing at such a high level years after its release is through the internet.

Photo

Strauss Zelnick, chief executive of Take-Two Interactive Software. He said updating Grand Theft Auto “allows us to stay in touch with consumers between huge, tent-pole releases.”

Credit
Take-Two Interactive Software

Anyone who buys Grand Theft Auto V gets free access to Grand Theft Auto Online, a multiplayer internet version that was released around the time the game was first published in 2013. Rockstar routinely pushes out free updates to the online game — 12 major ones during the last fiscal year alone — that provide new scenery and action. Another big update, called Gunrunning, is expected next week.