Rockstar Games and How They Killed The GTA Franchise
Rockstar Games, along with Take-Two Interactive, created the famous game franchise Grand Theft Auto in 1997. Since then, they have made five major installments, with the most notable being their jump into HD with Grand Theft Auto Five in 2013. The Grand Theft Auto series has always been an important and popular game whenever released, but GTA 5 pushed those boundaries to unimaginable points. On October 1, 2013, just months after the GTA 5 release, Rockstar announced the opening of Grand Theft Auto Online, a multiplayer server where you created your own protagonist and went into a criminal life of your own.
This was the best and worst decision Rockstar Games has ever made. While they set the bar for other games to soon follow and make multiplayer servers, this was unheard of. They were on the bleeding edge of game development. But they would soon introduce the one thing that I credit to being the killer to GTA Online and the rest of the GTA franchise to date. Shark Cards.
For people who are unaware, Shark Cards are an in-game purchase with real money to buy fake money within the game. These cards credit in-game cash to players within GTA, with the lowest amount purchasable being the Red Shark Card to grant $100,000 to the player (for $2.99) and the most expensive card being the Megalodon Shark Card, which grants the player a whopping $8,000,000 in-game (with a whopping price-tag as well, of $100).
There are various cards in between these two values so that players can purchase whatever amount they desire. And this market strategy worked and worked incredibly. While Rockstar doesn't publish their exact earnings from this, they reported that they had made $1 billion from Shark Card purchases alone in just four years. In 2019 alone, six years after the game was originally released, Rockstar made $595 million in digital revenue.
These numbers are staggering, and it's not until you understand how these cards are advertised and how they work to fully realize how Rockstar was able to pull in this much money.
These purchases are as simple as a line of code written into the game to give the player more money to spend on cars, homes, buildings to run fronts out of, or even a military submarine that was just released with the last update. And since they are just a line of code, they basically require little to no work from the employees themselves; all they have to do is pay them. So this nets Rockstar about an 80% profit on each sale.
Not only that, but they have just recently, in May of 2020, put the game up for free on the Epic Games Launcher, allowing anyone to get the game for free for one week. Many people flooded the Launcher, and actually caused it to crash, and was down for multiple hours following the release of it for free.
Now, this may seem like a really nice thing to do for people who still hadn’t gotten GTA yet to introduce them to the game for free. But if you are unaware, Epic Games is the company that released the ever-popular game Fortnite, with the majority of the player base being young kids between the ages of 8–16.
So Rockstar made a smart decision releasing it for free, but it was also questionable morally.
This is a mature-rated game, with sex, tobacco, drinking, heists, drugs, and it was just handed for free out to any kid who wanted it.
So they built the already millions of active daily players to even more and introduced a whole new age generation that had possibly not been able to play the game previously. But here's where the true problem lies. These kids who were just given the game are probably eager to buy the biggest and best things that you can purchase. The Oppressor Mk II, seen here, is an out-of-this-world flying motorbike that, instead of having wheels, hovers, has a jet engine, and of course, shoots heat-seeking missiles.
As far fetched as this sounds, this is one of the most popular vehicles in the game to unleash mass destruction upon other players. And it can be purchased by trigger-happy children for just a quick swipe of their parent's credit card for $100, to give them that sweet, sweet $8 million in-game.
And they do this well, providing players with constant advertisements as they load into the game and while the player is playing the game. Little pop-ups like what the Rockstar Games website says, encouraging the purchase of them to “Solve your money problem and help get what you want in Los Santos.”
Not only does this have massive implications for the parents and children who own this game, but it has affected the world of GTA Online in general. Say you don't want to spend any money on Shark Cards. Well, to earn money, you will have to work for hours on end doing what is referred to as “grinding.” I, myself, am a “grinder” and have never spent a dime on the game other than purchasing it in 2018, and to date have played 451 hours of the game and earned nearly $70 million. But that has been hard work over the course of nearly three years.
Those numbers are sad to look back on. To think that I spent that much time on a game that I now criticize. But this is the case for many of GTA Online’s grinders. We love the game, and we hate the players. We love the environment, yet we hate the company. We love the free content updates to the game but hate the purchasable Shark Cards. Such a love-hate relationship that still brings me and others back for more with every update.
This is what has kept so many players of GTA coming back for more. They release two to three content updates for the game every year, and they have hands-down the best DLC content of any game. These content updates, most notably in the last few years, have added a new casino to the game, a whole new island separate from the regular game to fly to, to rob a Pablo Escobar-type druglord, nightclubs, airplane hangars, arcades acting as a front, all to push the narrative of GTA forward. And I must say this is where I have had some of the most fun playing the game.
This is the caveat, as well, because these constant updates to the game are only possible by the absolute outrageous amounts they have made from the Shark Cards. If it weren't for them, they either would not have made any content updates or would have charged extra as some other games have done.
Not only this, but take a look at Rockstar’s game release schedule. From the original release of Grand Theft Auto in 1998, all the way up to 2013, they had at least one major game release every single year, with some being more like two or three. But they recognized the money that GTA earned them and started milking that cash cow, as you can see from 2013 all the way up to 2019 with no major game release until Red Dead Redemption II. You’d think by now we would have GTA 6, L.A. Noire II, Bully II, and more extensions of their other popular game franchises. But no, they have stayed with Grand Theft Auto Five since 2013 and have announced that they will continue to make updates for the game for the new consoles that have come out this year, signaling a continuation of the same game for even more years.
While the game still has many millions of monthly active players, it seems that the game has become overrun with people paying-to-win. Rockstar has completely forgotten about all of their other triple-A game franchises to continue to milk the cash cow. It is sad that Rockstar has become so taken over by the money that they were able to earn, but I hope that GTA 6 is in the works somewhere at Rockstar Games and Take-Two and that we will see the game within the coming years.