GTA 3 could have been an Xbox exclusive – but Microsoft made the mistake of the century

Xbox
(Image credit: Sam Bianchini/Shutterstock)

Microsoft downed down the chance to make GTA 3 a console exclusive on the original Xbox, which turns out was probably the greatest gift it could have given Sony in the sixth generation of consoles. 

As revealed in 'Power On: The Story of Xbox' documentary, Rockstar was in talks with Microsoft to revive one of its older franchises as an Xbox exclusive: that game would go on to be GTA 3. However, the publisher turned it down, which led to Rockstar developing Grand Theft Auto 3 as a timed exclusive for the PS2 back in 2001.

The segment from the documentary was highlighted by Rockstar news specialist Ben Turpin on Twitter, stating that "Microsoft execs outright rejected" a pitch for GTA 3. And as stated in the documentary, Rockstar's open-world crime sandbox went on to sell 14.5 million units on the PS2 alone, eclipsed only by its sequel: Grand Theft Auto Vice City.

But believe it or not, that's hardly the craziest part of this tale. Seamus Blackley, who was integral to the creation of the original Xbox, shared an extra, rather humorous tidbit on social media.

As it turns out, GTA 3 wasn't the only game Rockstar had in production at the time. The developer also had high hopes for - get this - an Austin Powers game. Groovy, baby.

It's a rather alarming footnote in gaming history, and passing on GTA 3 could've spelled even bigger trouble for the Xbox brand had it not boasted its own killer app in the form of Halo: Combat Evolved.

Of course, Rockstar is on amicable terms with Microsoft these days, releasing most of its large-scale projects like GTA 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2 simultaneously on both PlayStation and Xbox platforms. However, GTA 3 was hugely responsible for the popularity of the PS2 back in the day, effectively meaning that Microsoft handed Sony a huge win by snubbing the game originally.

Still, the ripples of this decision were arguably felt throughout the sixth generation of consoles, as each of the three games in the GTA Trilogy (GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas) enjoyed timed exclusivity on the PS2. Not to mention Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories, both of which were exclusive to the PSP handheld console for a decent amount of time.

It's hard to say what the gaming landscape would have looked like back then, had GTA 3 actually been an Xbox exclusive. It certainly would've dragged millions of sales away from Sony, but the PS2 definitely wasn't lacking in superb games in its first couple of years on the market. Final Fantasy 10, Ridge Racer 5, Ratchet and Clank, Devil May Cry, and Tekken Tag Tournament all come to mind.

The Xbox was hardly lacking in great games, either, thanks to ample third-party support from the likes of Capcom and Sega, but none managed to make the commercial splash that several of the aforementioned PS2 titles did, with Halo doing much of the heavy lifting in that regard.

Still, we feel some credit is due on Xbox's part for being this honest in the Power On: The Story of Xbox documentary. The episodic documentary covers the entire history of the Xbox brand, warts and all, including the Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death fiasco. And it's been interesting to see people intimately familiar with the brand be so open about its highs as well as its stooping lows.

At least you can still play original Xbox games on Microsoft's latest console, many of which run at a higher resolution than ever before and include Auto HDR support. Unsurprisingly, GTA 3 isn't available. 

Rhys Wood
Hardware Editor

Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.