After years of unsubstantiated rumours surrounding Grand Theft Auto 6, we finally had official confirmation from Rockstar that the sixth mainline entry in their critically acclaimed crime-centric open-world series is in active development. This news came in February, of course, with Rockstar remaining typically tight-lipped ever since. However, the rumour mill continues to churn, with a recently published report into Rockstar’s workplace culture conducted by Bloomberg providing credence to GTA 6’s purported story, characters, and setting.
The headline rumour emerging from this report is that the game will feature a playable female protagonist – the first for a 3D Grand Theft Auto title. Secondly, the report states the game will take place in Miami; obviously, we know as Grand Theft Auto fans this’ll mean Rockstar’s fictionalised version of Miami, Vice City. Elsewhere, this rumour has strength: the ‘Lil Probe Inn’ visitable in San Andreas in the remastered GTA Trilogy features pictures on its wall of known settings within Rockstar games, with UFO’s circling overhead. Now, there’s a location which has been added to the Definitive Edition which doesn’t belong – a simple suburban house flanking palm trees. One eagle-eyed player has likened this house to a real-world location in Palm Beach County Florida. To be fair, the real-world location is immensely similar. Plus, Vice City hasn’t yet received the revamp Liberty City and San Andreas has, so surely Vice City is the chosen location for the next GTA game. Maybe we can take this one as a given.
Sticking with discussing the game’s setting a little while longer, there were strong rumours circa 2020 that GTA 6 would encompass a Godfather Part II style multi-generational story; it’d be a plot that jumps between a modern-day setting – say, Vice City – and a fictionalised South American city like Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro in the 1970s or 80s. Now, this sounds cool. Spending time with characters to explore their origins and how their choices affect the modern day sounds like an awesome narrative structure. However, Bloomberg’s report has put ice on this rumour by explicitly stating past rumours of multi-locations in GTA 6 have been shelved by Rockstar in an effort to best manage the workload of its employees.
Rockstar has a chequered history with crunch. Reports of employees working upwards of 100-hour weeks – testimony from Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser, no less – has been vehemently refuted by employees, who’ve taken to their social media pages to deny they’ve ever had to work such gargantuan hours. Whatever the reality, Rockstar are making concerted effort to evolve its workplace culture. That workplace environment churned out some of the most sharp-witted story on modern day society seen in video games, of course, whilst also taking cheap shots at pretty much every vulnerable demographic and marginalised community in the process.
Either way, no more will GTA use humour to punch down. The re-release of GTA 5 on current-gen hardware has already removed its outdated offensive humour, which surely is a sign of the restraint to come. Together with the rumours of female protagonists and crunch-less development, aided by large-scale highly ambitious projects being reeled in to maintain worker harmony, the cultural shifts taking place within Rockstar are evidently feeding into GTA 6’s development. This feature’s talk of awesome multi-generational storylines across two fully realised cities is secondary to employee welfare. Providing GTA 6 is created by a happy workforce, the end-product will be worthwhile.
The knock-on effect of course is the game is taking longer to develop, with release date rumours pointing towards 2023 at the earliest, but most likely 2024 before it’s out. As per Bloomberg’s report, Rockstar won’t halt development after GTA 6’s release though. No, it’s game world will dynamically shift and evolve as further means to mitigate employee crunch. This methodology benefits players too, of course, with a frequently updating game world providing new missions to complete and fresh locations to explore. In essence, it’s a replication of the strategy they’re employing to great effect on Grand Theft Auto Online. Now, of course this won’t be music to the ears of everyone, for this methodology does bear the hallmarks of a live service game. There’re plenty who’ll demand a compellingly crafted single player narrative for GTA 6, so whilst reports of reeling in employee crunch are very much needed, it shouldn’t come at the expense of a well-realised, fully immersive story.
And what of the story rumours? Well, back to the female player character, she’ll purportedly be Latina who’s one half of a Bonnie and Clyde style duo. The depression-era bank robbers, whilst clearly nasty pieces of work in real life, do provide an intriguing template for a story. Players of Grand Theft Auto obviously make peace with the requirement to kill innocent people but owing to Bonnie and Clyde being lovers there’s definitely scope for emotional heft in GTA 6’s story, if indeed it is modelled on their exploits.
Obviously, exasperatingly, there’re detractors to GTA 6’s purported female protagonist. Naysayers reckon a female player character is nothing more than a political choice, a decision borne purely out of Rockstar’s desire to soften its cultural image. It’s box ticking, they say. Those who relate GTA 6’s differences to Rockstar pursuing agendas are mere reactionaries who wish to deny change. The fact Rockstar are allegedly featuring a playable female character is reflective of society’s evolution, and of its growing inclusivity.
This isn’t to say that the wholesale changes in Rockstar personnel, softened corporate image, and development changes which maybe hint towards live service aren’t cause for concern. Grand Theft Auto is one of the most famous video game franchises, with millions of fans worldwide. Those most passionate just want to experience the next wonderful entry in the storied franchise; any criticism, by and large, is expressed through love. Accusing Rockstar of simply not caring anymore, frankly, does no one any good. Rockstar wouldn’t undergo the seismic challenge of shifting their internal culture if they didn’t care. Let’s all collectively, if we can, try to maintain a little faith.
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