Is GTA Online Getting Stale?

Rockstar might soon need to shake up the formula

GTA Online is one of the biggest success stories in the gaming industry and Rockstar Games has capitalized on this potential majorly. Making the best of the situation, they’ve built a steady source of constant revenue thanks to the Shark Cards that players may buy for an in-game wealth boost, while keeping player numbers high through constant content support.

If the game’s history up to this point is anything to go on, this is by and large a sustainable system that can not only be maintained, but augmented with even greater player numbers, as evidenced by game sales being more numerous in 2016 than in either 2014 or 2015. GTA Online is one of the most popular multiplayer games currently active, with the last official metric stating that it gets over 8 million players each week.

It’s clear that one of the biggest draws of the game is the constant DLC support freshening things up, keeping GTA Online new and interesting even for veteran players. These updates make sure that every player who has seen it all ceases to be as such when a new update drops some new gameplay mechanics into the title.

For all intents and purposes, the system works perfectly. Last December saw an all-time high in players, sales numbers are in the skies and Rockstar is cooking up the next major update for the game that will open up new ways to make and spend virtual money.

In the past, we examined the possibility that gradually GTA Online is becoming far too bloated, and it outright needs a map expansion to spread the content out a bit for everyone’s sake. We’ll see if gunrunning pushes things further in this direction when it launches, but if we were to make a guess, we’d say it definitely will.

And yet, it’s clear that more content is something GTA Online needs to stay afloat. However the question remains – what kind of content do we want more of? Quantity will only keep the players’ attention for so long before some greater measure of variety is introduced.

It’s true that GTA Online has seen a wide array of different updates, focusing on different themes. From the almost ancient Beach Bum and Business updates, through the two-part Ill-Gotten Gains DLC to the recent updates in the CEO vein, Bikers and Cunning Stunts, we can hardly say that there has been no variety among the updates.

But the DLC has all followed the same rough outline, especially in recent months. Each update adds a host of new vehicles, clothes and some weapons alongside a major new gameplay mechanic which is designed with a moderate-to-high initial investment and can then be used to make marginally more money than the system introduced previously.

The similarities are most apparent when looking at the recent updates in the CEO series of DLC. The crate missions of Further Adventures in Finance and Felony and the vehicle delivery missions from Import/Export are mechanically almost identical, with their differences restricted to what you’re delivering and how.

Bikers offered a different approach, if only marginally. The businesses can produce goods even when the players are away, providing semi-passive income this way, however all that leaves is more time for doing activities introduced in other updates. In the end though, you’re still just taking things to your warehouse before delivering them to the buyer.

Cunning Stunts and its spin-offs offered a new and fresh twist on GTA 5’s standard gameplay, however the stunt races amount to little more than colorful distractions. GTA Online can quickly begin to feel like a routine chore instead of a fun time, though partially the players are to blame on that front too.

However, our question is how long will these standard updates be enough for the players to stick to GTA Online? The game is characterized by exclusively looking forward and never back at what might need to be changed or improved. When something is in the game, it will stay like that and remain untouched – and we’ve been getting much of the same for a good long time.

Usually, MMOs bring around a rather drastic shakeup to the status quo after some time to prevent the title becoming stale. A classic example would be the Cataclysm expansion for World of Warcraft, which used an in-story event (namely the corrupt dragon of destruction erupting from the center of the world) as an excuse to drastically alter a number of locations, update the graphics and tweak gameplay.

When it comes to GTA Online, we’re starting to think that such a major update, and more importantly one that breaks convention, is soon going to be needed. Rockstar may need to bring in something significant, or alter a base gameplay sensibility, in order to do this. What do we have in mind though?

The first and most obvious idea would be expanding the game’s map with a new location entirely. Be it another island in the same physical game-world with one of the two other cities from GTA San Andreas, or a separate location players need to travel to like Liberty City, Vice City or North Yankton. A new area to explore – and to distribute activities in – would be a welcome addition.

Rumors about Liberty City being added through DLC have flown around several times anyway, so Rockstar might as well turn them into reality. Bringing the visuals of GTA 4 up to speed should be an easy task, while players would be more than happy with a shinier carbon copy of that game’s map combined with GTA Online’s mechanics at this point.

Another major shakeup could happen at the very core of the game’s mentality – add endgame content. We mean true endgame content. We touched on the topic before, but feel that GTA Online doesn’t inherently rely on the lack of an endgame. Players have been begging for more heists for a good long while now, so Rockstar could introduce a few more of them, but make them significantly harder than the Pacific Standard Job.

If these proposed new heists would satisfy the hardcore crowd as endgame content – though more would be needed than just the equivalent of heroic raids – then veteran players who otherwise easily burn through new content would be hooked as well. Of course, the potential rewards would need to be comparatively valuable, such as unique unlocks only awarded upon the completion of these super-hard heists.

GTA Online could also use some more structure in terms of PvP. Right now, there are the lawless lands of freemode, the whacky mechanics of Adversary Modes and the empty queues of Deathmatch. If Rockstar could manage to reinvigorate the Deathmatch scene with an overhaul of mechanics to bring that one mode to the level of quality exhibited by dedicated PvP games, and get some exposure by dipping their feet into the pool of professional gaming, not only could they further cement GTA Online as something of an undying title, but it would possibly even attract a new demographic altogether.

In the end, it’s true that so far what Rockstar has been doing is clearly working, as evidenced by the ever-prevailing success of GTA 5 and Online. They don’t really need to worry about getting stale just yet, but if gunrunning turns out to be a new reskin of the typical CEO shtick, players might start to fantasize about that map expansion a lot more frequently. As true as “don’t fix what ain’t broke” rings, there is also wisdom in reinforcing something now so it doesn’t end up breaking later on either. Because fixing things is always harder than preventing the damage from being done.


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