As the world holds its breath, awaiting the official launch of Grand Theft Auto 5, some are already looking to the future – and with good reason. Although the developers at Rockstar Games may claim that GTA5 “feels next-gen” to them, fans are already turning their imagination to what next-gen hardware could mean for the series as a whole.
But before Rockstar begins to worry about the future, they’ll have to see how Grand Theft Auto 5 is received by fans – considering the amount of experimentation that’s gone into its development. But according to the studio’s co-founder, that willingness to tread new ground, not follow the beaten path is something the studio has made a trademark; and one they plan on sticking to in the future.
With Grand Theft Auto‘s knack for offering disguised satire on pop culture, it’s hard to name another series that so clearly reflects the world it was created within (with GTA5‘s LifeInvader spoof of Facebook as one example). In an interview with Polygon, Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser gave his thoughts on the studio’s unique position in triple-A game development, and if the series can still remain as relevant in an increasingly crowded industry:
“I hope so… We, as a company, have tried not to get involved in that sort of discussion. You know, it’s not a sport, we’re not involved in competition with people that way. We’re trying to make something that is hopefully very enjoyable and that some people find amazing and incredible and really love, that we can hopefully make the people that invested in us some money back.
“The rest has always been something we’ve tried to shy away from, and always our challenges as we perceive them are creative. We’re trying to push video games forward to the best of our limited ability. We’re not trying to do anything more or less than that. The merits or demerits of games should be about creative strengths and weaknesses, and areas where they need to evolve, or areas where they’re already doing amazing stuff, or things that they supposedly can’t do, not about how much money they can make. That sort of Hollywood way of looking at things is never really been something that we at Rockstar have engaged in.”
It’s exactly that aversion to the ‘Hollywood’ way of thinking that has prevented Grand Theft Auto from jumping to the big screen, with Rockstar Games under the Housers’ leadership shying away from much of the recognition and publicity that some studios crave. Remaining absent from the crazed press cycle of E3, and keeping quiet on the details of their games until months before launch has worked for the studio so far, and even offered them more than a few opportunities to surprise audiences.
Although some might view Rockstar as the epitome of a studio sticking with a formula that works, Houser reminds gamers that while GTA might be the company’s most well-known brand, that hasn’t kept them from trying new things between installments:
“We thought it was our job to do that fun searching – for lack of a better word – ourselves and then give people back stuff they weren’t expecting: a game about table tennis or a game about gangsters or a game about errant school children, or a game about cowboys.
“We think that’s our job rather than doing focus testing, because focus testing will tell you what people just enjoyed recently. It’s not the consumer’s job to do anything other than enjoy games. They can tell you what they want to play by what they buy, but if they could see the future as to what they might want next then they should be making games.”
It’s a valid point, since few Grand Theft Auto fans would likely have asked Rockstar to devote time to the release of Rockstar Table Tennis or Bully (both incredibly under-appreciated games), or risked so much money on the development of Red Dead Redemption – arguably Rockstar’s most critically-praised game to date. So far, the studio has done a good job of hearing fans out, while recognizing that they’re not always the best at knowing what they want (as Henry Ford said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”).
So in hindsight, it should have come as no surprise that Grand Theft Auto 5 would shed the single-hero structure for a game split between three perspectives, or approach their over-the-top criminal activity with a commitment to realism. Time will tell how successful the new structure will prove, but with next-gen consoles approaching, what does Houser see in the future for Rockstar Games, and the Grand Theft Auto series in particular?
“At the moment it feels like [Grand Theft Auto's] D.N.A. is contemporary-ish, America-ish, English-speaking-ish, because that’s what it has been… But that doesn’t necessarily limit it to those, that’s just what we’ve done so far.”
“Everything else is discussed… We might come back and say, ‘Let’s not do it because it takes away these things that we like about the game or takes away those things,’ or, ‘Actually, doing Caveman is not fun because they haven’t invented the wheel yet… We discuss anything. Many outlandish ideas have been discussed and have been rejected, or they could turn into another game, or they could inspire something else.”
The next chapter in Rockstar’s history launches tomorrow. With rumors persisting of sequels to Read Dead Redemption and even Bully continuing to circulate, it’s anyone’s guess what the future could hold. For now, leave your own hopes for the studio in the comments below.
Grand Theft Auto 5 releases September 17, 2013 for the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.