When the current-gen iteration of GTA 5 lands on PS5 next year, it will have straddled three separate console cycles. In longevity terms, that's quite remarkable. For perspective, when Grand Theft Auto 5 first landed on September 17, 2013, Barack Obama was less than a year into his second American presidential term. Donald Trump was still the face of reality TV show, The Apprentice. And Gangnam Style was still the most viewed YouTube video of all time by a margin of millions. It was a simpler time.
Today, some eight years after Michael De Santa, Franklin Clinton, and Trevor Philips first announced themselves to the world, rumors have emerged that suggest the development of the long-awaited, much-anticipated, and ever-speculated GTA 6 is "chaotic" behind the scenes, and that the project has been subject to multiple reboots over the last several years. But, if true, is this really a surprise?
If it ain't broke
In late 2013, the long-term impact of GTA 5 could hardly have been predicted. But in 2021 it stands as a commercial juggernaut, a remarkable feat in open world game design, and the epitome of an evolving product – with developer Rockstar introducing regular, often substantial updates free of charge to its online offshoot, GTA Online; while offering players the chance to part with real world money for Shark Cards, a digital means of purchasing in-game cosmetic items such as clothes, cars and vehicles.
The abiding success of GTA 5 is of course driven by GTA Online itself, which, at the time of writing, has been treated to just shy of 40 complimentary updates since launch, including multi-mission heists and enterprise-building business ventures, as well as dozens of themed events that are cycled in and out on a weekly basis. Grand Theft Auto 4, for the sake of comparison, also included an online component, but wasn't given a fraction of the same support as its successor – due in part to a smaller playerbase, reflective of the console spectrum's reluctance to embrace online gaming wholesale in 2008. Instead, GTA 4 kept itself relevant in the longer term via well-received single-player DLC packs, The Lost and Damned, and the Ballad of Gay Tony.
GTA 5, on the other hand, has received no such single-player DLC whatsoever, much to the disdain of some facets of the game's community. Shortly after launch in 2013, Rockstar suggested "substantial additions" to the crime sim's story mode were incoming, but, after years of speculation among players, the developer said in a 2017 interview that it “did not feel single-player expansions were possible or necessary”. What changed? Simply put: the unforeseen success of GTA Online.
Which leads us back to the latest rumours. Realistically, GTA Online doesn't need to look at its competitors. But when the landscape is so fluid, the thought of big games, with big followings, with even bigger expectations, being reset and rebooted multiple times throughout their development cycle doesn't seem so strange at all – galling as that may be for excitable fans. Hard as CD Projekt Red appears to be working on its beleaguered open world action-RPG Cyberpunk 2077, it marks the quintessential cautionary tale of protracted development meets big hype meets rushed release; a perfect storm of set-backs which the developer may struggle to ever live down.
Online games such as World of Warcraft, Team Fortress 2, League of Legends, Dota2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive all pre-date GTA 5, and have flown the flag for the 'games as a service' mould long before the crime sim. But with Rockstar's change of stance regarding single-player DLC, it's probably fair to say the evolution of GTA Online, while reflecting a similar model as the aforementioned games, has in turn changed the developer's collective outlook. The meteoric rise of PUBG Battlegrounds and Fortnite in the battle royale sphere since has once more underlined just how lucrative the free-to-play model can really be, and the likes of Destiny 2, Warframe, and even EVE: Online illustrate the power of community-driven games.
With GTA Online underpinning everything Rockstar does at the moment – not to mention the latent success of Red Dead Redemption 2, the upcoming GTA Trilogy Definitive Edition, and rumours of the original Red Dead in-line for similar remaster treatment – the developer is in no rush to do, well, anything.
Maybe co-founder and former vice president of creativity Dan Houser's departure from the company last year prompted a reboot relative to the game's narrative, characters, setting, and map. Maybe conditions behind the scenes are indeed chaotic, reports of crunch at the studio have been cited and disputed in the last few years. Perhaps Rockstar simply wants to extend the shelf life of GTA Online for a little while longer, milk it dry via its incoming PS5 and Xbox Series X iterations, and then drop GTA 6 when it's good and ready. Earlier this year, 2025 was when the internet told us to expect the next one, after all. And that's not considering the ways in which Rockstar's satirical swipes in past games are somewhat outdated today – something the studio appears to be aware of, with the upcoming GTA Vice City remaster seemingly ditching the Confederate Flag.
Don't get me wrong, I want Grand Theft Auto 6 as much as the next person, but I suspect we're a ways away from anything concrete. Take any industry rumour you hear with a pinch of salt, but equally don't be disheartened with the idea that games in 2021 aren't being rushed out the developer's door. While we wait, at least Dr Dre might be dropping new GTA-flavoured music soon. Cheers for that, Snoop Dogg!
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