E3 approaches. The endless tide of GTA 6 rumors keep on coming, spawning continuous speculation among the fans. Debates on what non-GTA franchise Rockstar should revive as their next big project. Will it be Red Dead Redemption 2? A new Manhunt or Midnight Club game? Maybe even Bully?
Thing is, we might not find out for years to come. What if Rockstar’s bug E3 reveal is just a groundbreaking and massive update for the current iteration of GTA Online, such as the inclusion of new cities?
Let’s face it – GTA Online is a freaking juggernaut in terms of business. It has a massive dedicated and active playerbase, it’s driving up sales and generating absolutely massive amounts of income.
We’ve often talked about how Shark Cards have made over $500 million in profits for Rockstar, but it feels like the significance of that is somehow understated. Most games – even Rockstar games – don’t ever make that much money. At all, let alone from DLC. Let alone from microtransactions!
The fact that GTA Online stands as a constant source of steady, high amounts of income with minimal input required. Even the larger DLCs like Executives and Other Criminals require a tiny fraction of effort to make compared to the whole game.
GTA 5 has made $3 Billion in profits since release. The first billion was made within three days of release, when Online wasn’t available yet. However, looking at forums and the Subreddits show that an overwhelming number of players, or potential player bought the game solely for the Online component.
So, let’s count with $1.5 Billion thanks to GTA online, Shark Cards included. The game’s budget was $265 million, meaning it has already returned a massive profit. The constant stream of free updates for the game are funded by a constant stream of income from continuous sales and microtransactions.
Look at it from a business point of view: you’ve got a steady stream of income from an existing product. That income can be supported by minimal constant investment, turning a massive profit indefinitely. Would you jump into a new, large-scale investment which is also a risk, or keep feeding the giant?
If Rockstar chose to boost GTA Online with a larger expansion, their development costs would still be significantly below the whole game while retaining their current playerbase – and increasing it. Announcing a new city for GTA Online would undoubtedly cause sales to spike once and again on release.
There are multiple advantages to this: keeping your existing player base will prevent the dip in microtransaction income that would occur in the early months of the new game. It would convince several former players to return and would create new customers. In the end, this course of action would result in the game having the highest number of player.
Obviously, a higher number of total players equals a higher number of Shark Card customers, further increasing microtransaction income, allowing Rockstar to create subsequently larger and larger free DLC packs, which in turn would bring in more new players and Shark Card sales.
This would nudge GTA Online into a positive feedback loop. Re-invigorating the game with a new city would counter the organic entropy of the playerbase which occurs over time regardless of what Rockstar does with a new, massive influx of new and returning customers.
Ultimately boosting GTA Online with a large, groundbreaking free upgrade would be both the cheapest and most lucrative move for Rockstar, making the prospect of jumping into a whole new project less appealing from a business standpoint.
Even a property as popular and famous as Red Dead Redemption couldn’t turn that profit. Despite it’s fame in gaming circles, it doesn’t have the mainstream brand recognition of GTA. A sequel to the game, even if accompanies by an Online mode with microtransactions wouldn’t ever make as much of a profit as GTA Online does currently.
However if Rockstar wants to eclipse their accomplishment with GTA 5, or even live up to the original RDR, they would need to put at least around $200 million into development – of course, that seems minimal in relation to the $3 Billion, but it’s still a sizable investment.
Why put $200 million into a risky investment instead of using it to fuel the money-flames of GTA Online? That much cash would secure the development of several year’s worth of large scale DLCs and updated for the game, which would probably on their own turn a bigger profit than RDR2 ever could.
As sad as this may seem for fans of other Rockstar properties, it is the reality of business. However, if Rockstar would to throw significant effort behind GTA Online, they could mold what they have now into something truly revolutionary in terms of multiplayer gaming.
In what direction do you think Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games will proceed? Support GTA Online further, or will they jump into a new project instead?