In 2014, Rockstar posted an article on the Newswire – the company’s own news site, about upcoming content for its most recent major release, Grand Theft Auto V. We were told to expect single player DLC which would be “continuing Michael, Franklin and Trevor’s action, mayhem and unexpected adventures in Southern San Andreas” later that year. It’s now mid-2017 and that updated content is nowhere to be seen. What happened GTA Online is what.
When we get down to it, Online is almost certainly to blame for the death of story DLC – or, if one theory ends up being right, its transformation into something bigger. Essentially, back during the development of Grand Theft Auto V, the people at Rockstar didn’t expect much to come of GTA Online. Sam and Dan Houser allegedly didn’t want to spend much effort or resources on the multiplayer mode, whereas Leslie Benzies, who is no longer with the company after a nasty split, tried – and quite clearly succeeded – in turning it into something more significant.
Fast forward a few years and GTA Online sees more than 8 million players on a weekly basis. At over three years old, the game is an outlier and still growing, with December 2016 being one of the busiest months in terms of activity. Over a year ago, it was reported that microtransactions for the game have made over $500 million in profits. Evidently, GTA Online exploded into something a lot bigger than expected.
However, back when the story DLC was first announced, things weren’t so. GTA Online was a big thing, already a record breaker, but not the industry leading gargantuan it is today. Comparatively, single player still seemed to be the more popular aspect of the game – the story had ample doses of Rockstar’s usual satire and humor, all three protagonists were deep and intriguing, and even once you’d finished the story there were cheat codes to turn to, in true Rockstar fashion, to keep things interesting.
The multiplayer servers only went up a good month after the game itself launched, meaning that the initial success of the game (GTA 5 broke even on a $265 million budget within 3 hours of release and generated $1 billion within three days) could be attributed solely to the single player aspect.
Naturally, with those figures, the Rockstar would be hot on some single player DLC. As GTA Online was gaining steam, they also intended to support it with further content, though players might remember that the early updates were nowhere near as substantial as recent ones like Import/Export. The plan was to support both going forward, and with a studio as massive as Rockstar North, the resources were present.
But then GTA Online kept getting bigger. And bigger and bigger and bigger. Online’s player base boomed, recurrent player spending spiked and Rockstar realised that they can keep the ball rolling with low-investment DLCs… Or, possibly, Take-Two Interactive realised.
Knowing that GTA IV’s expansions didn’t do too well in terms of sales, Take-Two and Rockstar were faced with a decision (which really wasn’t much of a decision at all): on the one hand, they have a high-investment single player expansion which has poor sales projections, and on the other, low-investment Online DLC which will likely send microtransaction revenue through the roof. Which would you pick?
But what about that “other theory” we mentioned earlier? Like we said, GTA IV’s DLCs didn’t do all too well in terms of sales. On the flipside, the 3D era spin-off games (like San Andreas, Vice City, etc) eclipsed GTA III. While this might sound far too optimistic, it is plausible that Rockstar and Take-Two considered the ludicrous amounts of money generated by GTA 5, the resources at their disposal, and the stable source of income that is Online – and “upgraded” the game’s single player DLC project into a fully-fledged spin-off title that is yet to be revealed.
The 3D era was laden with spin-offs and even the 2D era had some, whereas the new HD era has only received expansions to date. Grand Theft Auto V didn’t even get any post-launch content other than online updates. This is highly uncharacteristic of Rockstar, especially when looking back at GTA’s decade-long history, it has always been single player first and foremost, with multiplayer only being a relatively recent addition to the formula. The world created for GTA V is by far their deepest, largest, most detailed and arguably most interesting, so it would be a sad waste not to expand on it further.
Then again, that might just be hope speaking, but hope is a strong thing. Players have been vocal about their interest in further single player content, and Rockstar has proven in the past, with the Bikers DLC for example, that it listens to the wishes of its fans. It’s almost a certainty that by now single player DLC is dead and gone, but there is still a flicker of a chance that we’ll get an actual GTA 5 spin-off game sometime soon.
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