Liam, 20 years old, goes by Penguin and says that Los Santos is a beautiful city. He has spent hundreds of hours there since Grand Theft Auto V was published in 2013. The game has sold more than 135 million copies around the world to date. This gives the in-game city seven times the population of the Greater Los Angeles region. “I live in LA, so I feel right at home.”
The game has achieved something extraordinary for the hundreds of thousands who log in each month to play. After seven years, Los Santos has transformed from a one-player crime sandbox to a constantly changing environment that allows up to 30 people to come together and play creatively. Liam says, “I could not get bored of GTA.”
The city’s debut was in 2013. It was built to house both the scripted single-player story mode and the ill-defined multiplayer matches. GTA V and GTA Online now have two games in one box. In 2021, the announcements of a PlayStation 5 (and Xbox Series X) will bring more arrivals. This is the third generation of the games, following its initial release on Xbox 360 and PS3 as well as later releases on PC and PS4; it will also be the first time that players can download the online game free of the single-player story.
The number of players who log in every month has increased to overtake developer Rockstar’s Red Dead Online. GTA set a new record for the most players per month at the beginning of 2019, with thousands of people joining the game during lockdown. The PC version was also given away on Epic Games Store in May. Rockstar is not usually open about the number of players it has, other than calling it a “record”. However, the number of Steam players – a fraction of all the total on all platforms – reached 260,000 in February. This is the highest total since its debut on PC.
GTA is known for its random acts of amoral violence. However, it has survived because of continuous updates that have provided new opportunities for people to connect. Liam, one moderator of the subReddit, r/GTAOnline which has almost 800,000 subscribers, said: “Despite this reputation, GTA has survived because of the rolling upgrades that have found new ways of providing freeform opportunities for people. Liam joined an in-game flying stunt crew recently with Jordan. He said: “The game keeps my interest in the friends that I’ve made.”
Los Santos is available online. It’s an amazing experience. Story mode and multiplayer were originally designed to bring out gritty realism. After 7 years of continuous play, it has become a time capsule from the mid-Obama-era America. One-time hits such as Kendrick Lamar’s ‘A.D.H.D’ still air on the radio. It also features strange sci-fi nonsense thanks to an eclectic set of upgrades.
Teaser trailer for PS5 Re-release starts by showing a return to Los Santos, the familiar neighborhoods and lives of story-mode characters Trevor, Franklin, and Michael. It ends with Tron bike races and jetpacks as well as miniguns. Fans say Online Los Santos is better than ever despite the discordant nature and growing chasm between single and multi-games.
Isaac, aged 19, has been playing it since its inception. He is one of many who have played the game since the beginning.
Fans who have played the Online game for years may forget that GTA Online trainer was initially a failure. The story mode was well-received in early reviews, but Online was criticized for being too open to beta. Instead, Online promoted itself as a game ready and then promptly broke.
It was a free add-on and probably had no positive effect on initial sales, according to David Cole, principal analyst with DFC intelligence, gaming industry analysts.
Isaac says that GTA Online launched in an “absolute disaster”. “You would be lucky to stay on a single server longer than an hour before it crashed. This prompted Rockstar’s release of the $500,000 “We’re Sorry” stimulus package. Certain powerful vehicles such as the LAZER Jet or Rhino Tank would wreck havoc with new players, setting the stage for years of “griefing”. “But the biggest problem with GTA Online’s launch? The lack of meaningful content.”
It was almost pointless for gamers to play the game for years. They would grind in GTA Online in order to get cash, weapons, and cars, with little or no payoff in terms either of story progression, gameplay, or gameplay. GTA was redesigned in 2015 to make it more useful. It allowed players to create biker gangs and let them hire each other to form mob hierarchies. There are new landmarks, such as nightclubs that can be owned and operated, as well casinos to visit or rob.
Esther Wright, Lecturer of Digital History at Cardiff University, says that there is so much to do beyond story missions. Modders and crews have taken to the game in new ways, including shooting Machinima movies in-game or playing cops. Even though I was able to load the game, I had a time when I did not have much else. I tried to see how fast I could reach 5-star Wanted and how long it would last. It feels alive, more than any open-world game.
Los Santos feels natural, whereas other digital cities feel artificial. This is evidently as hard to understand as the reason real-life cities feel vibrant or boring, even for gamers who have spent many years in virtual reality. Many multiplayer games with big budgets offer co-op missions and side quests, gambling, gaming, and all the rest without hooking players. Star Wars is a classic example of a MMO that has struggled to survive despite decades of goodwill and lore.
Rockstar, the supreme rulers of this libertarian realm, are still all-powerful and remote. They sometimes drop a spectacular, world-expanding upgrade with little notice. Other times, they ban players from engaging in seemingly normal activities like betting on in-game races. Although some fans are disappointed, they acknowledge that the game has improved year after year.
Wright claims that Rockstar had been doing this for so long, Online and GTA V felt like an “greatest hits” album by 2013. Rockstar has spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make the whole world feel alive, and the world reacts to the player. It is evident in Bully, and in all previous GTA titles. It’s almost as if they have taken the best bits from various games and combined them in a way that works.
Now it seems that launch, failure and correction in the window of fans still being smitten by single-player mode might have been a masterstroke. GTA, single-player mode, gave enough time to its ugly, initially pointless, child GTA online to eat its parent and become the reason Los Santos exist. Liam describes the pairing of single-player GTA s and multiplayer s as “an amazing smart decision” that allows the player base to fall in love the story mode characters. Red Dead Online has seen a frosty response since its launch last summer. This shows that players are not so forgiving and expect a lively world from the studio.
Los Santos was built by Rocktar for $265 million. The story mode and rough sketch of GTA Online were paid back within hours. The game reached $1 billion in just three days. Including the cover price and in game purchases, the game was estimated to have made $6bn in 2018 – making it by a mile the most profitable bit of entertainment ever produced, even before a further 45 million more game sales and the full roll out of in-game micro-transactions like Los Santos’ new Casino, where players controversially pay to spin the wheel for in-game prizes.
Cole speculates that other games might try to imitate GTA V, but that it is difficult. He suggests that Zelda, Sony Horizon games and the Witcher could be the only open-world games that follow the same path. Other companies will likely follow a lower-key approach. Fortnite was an example of this. Fortnite looked like a disappointing mid-tier game. Epic stepped in and added a free battle Royale mode to PUBG. Everyone forgot all the years of work that went into the original game and battle royale became the game. It is easier to add modes such as battle royale than it is to create an entire online open world.
This is bad news for those who hope for a bold, big sequel launch. Fans have accused Rockstar with milking V and are getting impatient. There’s no news on new solid features for the PS5 rerelease. All of the YouTube comments on the release trailer are roughly the same impatient joke: same again? Los Santos continues to attract fans, so it is unlikely that the studio will release a new movie. Some fans want an expansion of the GTA Online map, so the decision to separate GTA V from Online in next gen opens up the possibility that this world will continue indefinitely. Cole predicts that V will be separated by a decade, with another major release. This could lead to a release date of late 2023.
GTAV’s city that has been cannibalized is what we currently have. Jordan, who is 28 years old and has been playing the franchise ever since its 2D incarnations back in the 1990s, says that the franchise has “soul” which it has achieved. “I don’t mean artificial life that developers created to fill the streets. I mean the soul that millions of players have brought to the game. This game offers something for every age, race, and background.
“Want to make millions by treating it as a crime simulator?” It’s possible. You don’t have to follow a specific path. Go ahead. You can play by yourself and pretend to be the star of GTA6. It’s easy. It’s easy. That’s possible, and I encourage you to do it.