Has a focus on online longevity distracted Rockstar from what makes GTA so good?
The Grand Theft Auto series is one of the most universally praised franchises in video game history, if not the most. There’s plenty of reason for that too, as it has gotten progressively sharper with its game-play, narratives, and overall production quality with every release throughout its 20-plus years on our game consoles and PCs. Not every single Grand Theft Auto game clicked with every single gamer, sure, but it’s impossible to deny that, throughout the years, the franchise has certainly climbed a steep hill with it’s overall quality, making the current GTA, by all reasonable metrics, the best in the series.
This is not because of it’s fabulously successful and lucrative online mode though. While GTA Online has served as much more than just the cherry on top that most probably expected it to be, people generally hadn’t bought these games for online experiences. Gamers generally buy Grand Theft Auto to experience a massive, enthralling trip into organized crime with gritty, realistic characters and unparalleled freedom to unfold the story the way they see fit.
GTA 5 has arguably satisfied that particular need for gamers more than any other entry to the series and perhaps more than any other game, as evidenced by the massive, unprecedented profits that the game has raked in over the years since its release that are well into the billions. Out of all of the benchmarks that the fifth entry in the Grand Theft Auto series has broken, one of the more intriguing ones is the amount of online content that the game offers. Rockstar is no stranger to online modes that offer a fair amount of fun and longevity, but GTA 5’s online mode is an entirely different beast altogether.
In microtransactions, and microtransactions alone, GTA 5 has pulled in over 500 million dollars. The success of the ever-growing online mode for the game is not too surprising to those who have been playing it for a while, as they have seen the beefy list of options grow steadily with new content being added on a regular basis for a long time now. There’s no two ways about it; GTA Online is an incredibly successful endeavour in it’s own right, and due to this the amount of players engaging with it continue to fuel its expansion with their multiple purchases.
One question that seems to be inevitably barreling towards us, however, is whether or not Rockstar is losing sight of the essence of Grand Theft Auto at this point. It is a question that many are starting to ask, and understandably so. It’s true that the online modes are wildly popular and successful, and of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with Rockstar continuing to support it, but what is just as true is that many fans of the franchise are in fact single-player offline gamers, who have by now exhausted most if not all of what Los Santos has to offer, and are understandably starting to wonder about the next major entry.
After all, GTA 5 did come out in 2013, which is over a whopping 5 years ago. Granted, this is also roughly the same amount of time we had to wait between GTA 4 and 5, but even then, by 2011 we at least knew that GTA 5 was coming. Which was just 3 years after the launch of 4, so if Rockstar had any interest in sticking to that timeline, we would have had at least some sort of official word on Grand Theft Auto 6 by 2016 or so.
But here we are in 2019 without so much as a peep about another game. You could say that Rockstar is just focusing on Red Dead Online right now, but that doesn’t really explain the absence of 6 being on the way. Remember, Rockstar put Red Dead Redemption out in 2010, between GTA 4 and 5, and surely was working on both for a fair amount of time, so either Rockstar has lost the ability to multitask since the release of Grand Theft Auto 5, which is stupefyingly unlikely, or they are purposefully holding off on a new game in the franchise. This is counter to what GTA players have grown to expect from the series up to this point, and does add some fuel to the suspicion that perhaps Rockstar is indeed more interested in squeezing more money out of the current iteration for several more years.
Another noteworthy about-face for the attitude that Rockstar seems to have about it’s flagship series is the lack of offline DLC expansions to the main game. For a game that has been out for this long and seen this much success to not have gotten any major offline expansion to the stories of the characters is pretty weird. In fact, Rockstar has gone so far as to officially clarify that they are intentionally focusing on GTA Online because of how well it has exceeded their expectations, and that single-player DLC for the game was neither “possible nor necessary”.
Great news for fans of the online mode, not so great for everyone else. There are many possible reasons for this, and to be fair the fact that the console generation changed right after the initial launch of the game, forcing Rockstar to devote a fair amount of resources to immediately get next-gen versions of the game running, potentially setting other plans back, is worth considering. But at the end of the day what we are seeing here is a focus on microtransactions and online content, which until recent years would never be associated with Grand Theft Auto games this heavily.
Is Rockstar truly changing how they view GTA? Are they no longer interested in supporting single-player experiences with that particular franchise? The suspicions that GTA is headed for an online future don’t seem to be as concrete as some may think, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have merit. It’s hard to imagine any developer turning away all of the money that can be made with microtransactions, which basically have no overhead compared to what they bring in when comparing that to the cost and benefit of adding stories and offline content.
To be sure, we’ll have to wait and see how Grand Theft Auto 6 turns out. Surely some clues as to where Rockstar is headed was in Red Dead Redemption 2, but to be totally sure where Rockstar wants to take GTA, we’ll have to see what they do with it. GTA 6 is coming, it’s just a question of when. If they choose to focus on online content with the next game primarily, surely the essence of what makes those games great will be gone to some degree.
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