Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick recently said something that may have already been clear to you: GTA Online can't go on forever. Disappointing as it may be to people who are still playing its current manifestation, or those who bought into Rockstar's early pie-in-the-sky goals for the game, it's definitely for the best.
"We do expect GTA Online's results to moderate because October will be three years since we released it," Zelnick said at a business conference, as reported by GameSpot. "Not only was it not our intention that GTA Online was permanent, but it's important that it not be permanent. We have to rest the franchise at some point."
Back when GTA Online was nearly ready to launch, Rockstar seemed to believe it could go just about anywhere for any length of time - far beyond even the Further Adventures in Finance and Felony arriving next week. Here's what then-lead-producer Leslie Benzies told CVG about his ambitions for GTA Online back in August 2013, about a month and a half before it launched:
"We're just going to add on new things to it, new places all the time. We've set this up so there are no limitations," he said. "The only limitation is the size of the disc and how much memory we've got. We could, if we wanted, simulate the entire world, different countries, whatever. Whether we do that or not... But we've got a bunch of old stuff that we're toying with using."
There's your first hint of GTA Online returning to Liberty City, a long-latent rumor that was recently revived thanks to an in-engine recreation of the city discovered on a Rockstar artist's portfolio. It's also one of the last big interviews Benzies did before he fell out with Take-Two and Rockstar and sued them for $150 million in unpaid royalties, so his dreams of an ever-growing GTA Online platform haven't guided the project for a while.
But just because you can keep building on to something doesn't mean you should. I say this as someone who has sunk at least a dozen hours into GTA Online, sneaking around in circles to raise my Stealth stat and crashing a mission-critical cargo plane right at the end of a Job (sorry about that, crewmates). GTA Online still has massive potential, but it also has some really deep problems.
A minute-long load time between every activity. Massive in-game price tags that reward you for buying GTA$ with real money or else punish you with excessive grinds. More load times. A clunky chimera of options that snakes across your in-game cell phone, "Interaction Menu", and pause screen. Load times. Getting dropped into Freeroam with a server full of shrieking edgelord 10-year-olds who don't know how to mute their mics (and would never consider it even if they did). Load. Times.
Despite those issues, GTA Online can still create some truly great moments of havoc. At its best it's a perfect realization of the "yeah, but what if I could ride shotgun with my friends?" daydreams I've been having ever since I played GTA 3. But keeping new stuff flowing into the game is also keeping many of the principal people behind GTA 5 busy - and that means they're not working on GTA 6. Maybe not this year, but "at some point" as Zelnick said, they need to put a pin in GTA Online, decide what they did right and what they did wrong, and start on whatever comes next.
At this point I'm far more eager to see what other Rockstar studios can do with these lessons - like blowing out the multiplayer mode for a Red Dead Redemption sequel. Just leave the load times back in Los Santos and that I will play forever.
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