Since launching in 2013, Grand Theft Auto Online has gone from charming GTA multiplayer add-on to money-making juggernaut, netting Rockstar and publisher Take-Two Interactive hundreds of millions of dollars.
Last year, former Rockstar North President Leslie Benzies sued Take-Two for $150 million in unpaid royalties. The lawsuit revealed that Grand Theft Auto Online has generated at least half a billion dollars in revenue just from microtransactions. To fans, that revelation also confirmed a longstanding rumor: GTA V wasn’t going to receive any single-player DLC because GTA Online was a cash cow.
It makes sense from a business perspective. Why invest millions of dollars in 10-hours of additional single-player content when you can disperse similar online content throughout the year, and reap a fat profit?
Rockstar moved the entire GTA V team over to GTA Online to ensure new content would continue to be released. In doing so, they confirmed they were committed to the long haul. If they chose, Rockstar could add to the GTA Online world for years to come, providing new missions, new territories to explore, new cars and clothing and characters.
Content updates drop fairly regularly (Rockstar averages about once a month), making Grand Theft Auto Online an ever-changing world. In March, Rockstar added Cunning Stunts: Special Vehicle Circuit, a dizzying collection of stunt race courses that allowed players to race up and around skyscrapers or paraglide their way across Los Santos in their favorite suped-up car.
At it’s current rate, GTA Online could become The World of Grand Theft Auto-Craft, a decade long grind to the top of Los Santos’ criminal underground.
Unfortunately, it probably won’t last forever.
Last May, Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick commented on the surprise success of GTA Online, but told fans to temper their expectations for the future. “We do expect GTA Online’s results to moderate because October will be three years since we released it… 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.”
So there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. Does it mean GTA Online ends when Red Dead Redemption 2 comes out? Not exactly. The servers will stay up, but new content will probably slow to a trickle as the development team moves to improving the online component of RDR2.
This means GTA Online will probably be nourished for a few more years, albeit at a much slower pace. It may even depend on the success of Red Dead Redemption 2—if RDR2’s multiplayer doesn’t catch on, Rockstar might return to improving GTA Online some more, keeping it afloat until the studio is ready to release another new game.
At the moment, Rockstar continues to provide free content updates.
There’s no doubt that Grand Theft Auto Online is a fun multiplayer experience. But eventually Grand Theft Auto VI will come along, and when it does, GTA Online will likely evolve to fit inside a new world. For better or for worse, we should think of GTA Online as the future of Grand Theft Auto—from now on you’ll be buying an open-world MMO that happens to include an excellent single-player campaign.