After nearly two full weeks of record-breaking sales and critical acclaim, Rockstar Games is set to launch the second component of their Grand Theft Auto 5 package – with the highly anticipated debut of Grand Theft Auto Online on October 1st. The combined package has already resulted in over 15 million copies sold in just the first 14 days.
Despite a few long-running game mechanics we’d like to see the developer drop in future GTA installments, our full Grand Theft Auto 5 review hailed the title as a must-play experience that successfully evolves the core series format in a number of fresh and exciting ways. However, gamers shouldn’t expect Rockstar Games to stop there, as studio co-founder Dan Houser now claims that the latest GTA title won’t simply grow through expected DLC expansions – because Grand Theft Auto Online is set to evolve alongside players’ ever-changing interests.
Speaking with Polygon, Houser discusses a number of topics: including the modern multiplayer landscape as well as the challenges of creating a fresh approach to open world mayhem in GTA Online. Yet, one of the most intriguing ideas that Houser teased was the unwritten and highly adaptable future of Grand Theft Auto Online – which will be determined by players not a rigid development plan:
“GTA Online could evolve in many crazy directions. We have lots of really neat ideas of how that might evolve and we will work with the audience to see what directions they want to go.”
While Houser and the larger team, clearly have some ideas, it does sound as though they are open to seeing how players spend their time in GTA Online first in order to determine what might also keep the community engaged down the line. As a result, it’s clear that while Rockstar Games is introducing GTA Online as part of the GTA 5 package, there’s a good chance that the service could expand outside of a single installment – calling the online component a “different product” altogether:
“You can play single player. You can really learn how the game works, learn the mechanics. You can start multiplayer after two weeks and it will really give them a real focus on where to look at the thing. I think that separating it out will just help people look at it as different products in their own mind a bit more and really give it a good chance to try and play it and enjoy it. Otherwise, you try it for two minutes, it’s hard to connect because it’s day one, and back you go to the single player, play that and never go back into playing online.”
At this point, the products are still connected through a GTA 5 purchase and Rockstar Games currently has no (public) plans to separate the two. That said, one way Online could evolve (based on consumer interest) is moving to a standalone download – as numerous triple-A games have sold their multiplayer components separately (or as free to play) months after release. While it varies from title to title, certain developers have been able to draw longterm interest in a full game purchase after players become familiar and addicted to the online component. Others have even monetized these standalone multiplayer modes through micro-transactions – a feature that we already know is coming to GTA Online.
Gamers would, no doubt, love for Rockstar Games to continue making GTA Online features and expansions free of charge but a more likely scenario would be a heavy emphasis on in-game purchases and upgrades (or even a move toward premium subscriptions or season pass models). Still, this is just conjecture at this point, based on the business models of other developers, publishers, and studios. No official plans for the future of GTA Online, either in terms of content or financing, have been unveiled yet – but it’s hard to imagine that the multiplayer sandbox will be able to do much substantive evolving without forms of further investment from consumers.
Nevertheless, Rockstar Games clearly has laid an ambitious foundation – in an attempt to create a sandbox playground where players can take part in traditional competitive/co-operative modes as well as discover their own meta-game hijinks:
“It has been a hard challenge to get right [...] So the people that like death matches, there are still death match, there are still races. But we are trying to glue the whole thing together by bringing the free roam component to life, which would give us the stuff that we really like from open world [...] What we like about the open world games and where we think they are unique or uniquely good at doing something compared to all other media, is that you can be somewhere. That you can be in this world that we built, this sort of digital tourism idea.”
We’ll have to wait and see where Rockstar Games decides to take their online component in the future – especially if the “digital tourism idea” really does extend into some genuinely “crazy directions.” Given Houser’s comments about player activities and interests helping to shape future development ideas, it’ll be interesting to discover how the larger GTA Online community invests in the multiplayer mode in the coming months.
What are you going to do first when GTA Online launches? Race through the streets of Los Santos like Franklin? Plan elaborate attacks on your enemies like Michael? Or simply create constant pandemonium like Trevor?
Grand Theft Auto 5 is out now for the Xbox 360 and PS3 platforms. Grand Theft Auto Online debuts October 1, 2013.
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