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Wherever Grand Theft Auto 6 goes, GTA Online has to follow

Rockstar finally announced that it has a sequel for Grand Theft Auto V cooking, and that’s a good reason to celebrate. GTA V is commonly seen as one of the best games ever made. It’s the crown jewel for Rockstar, and a sequel for the game, which was released in 2013, is something fans have looked forward to for more than five years.

Many of you have been asking about a new entry in the Grand Theft Auto series.

With every new project, our goal is always to significantly move beyond what we've previously delivered. We're pleased to confirm that active development for the next entry in the series is underway.

— Rockstar Games (@RockstarGames) February 4, 2022

But more important than GTA V is its multiplayer counterpart, Grand Theft Auto Online. The game is a cash cow for both Rockstar and its parent company, Take-Two Interactive. And the next entry in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, whether it’s named GTA 6 or something else, will be a turning point for GTA Online. The massively popular online Grand Theft Auto title will have to change to suit whatever GTA 6 ends up being, and that change has to come with players in mind first.

Hand in hand

Despite the fact that Rockstar is releasing GTA Online as a stand-alone title — it’s launching alongside GTA V‘s next-gen version on March 15 — it and GTA V go hand in hand. They have, from the beginning, shared more than just basic DNA.

Like GTA V, Grand Theft Auto Online is set in Los Santos. It features the same characters and locations as the single-player game, and it has the same cars and weapons. Sure, Grand Theft Auto Online has expanded past the single-player game it sprouted from. GTA Online has gotten more cars and weapons through regular updates. The game even sports more heists than GTA V, one of which, the Cayo Perico heist, takes players to an entirely new area.

But still, the two are inseparable and will continue to be even when GTA Online is sold by itself. Currently, if you want to play the game, you have to purchase GTA V and progress through the game’s prologue. That’s going to change soon, according to today’s Rockstar Newswire post, but for anyone who’s played the game so far, that’s been the experience. If you want to play GTA Online right now, you have to go through GTA V.

GTA Online's latest expansion lets players work with Dr. Dre, left.
GTA Online’s latest expansion lets players work with Dr. Dre. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Once the game is stand-alone, the remnants of GTA V will still be in there. Two of the game’s protagonists, Trevor and Franklin, appear in the game as quest givers. Players work closely with them, especially Franklin, who is the focus of the game’s latest expansion, The Contract.

For GTA 6, the same will have to be true. Players will have to be able to explore wherever the game is set, talk to its characters, and have access to the same suite of vehicles and weapons available in the single-player game. They have to be equal in every respect, otherwise, there’s going to be a strange disconnect.

That applies to whatever updated engine GTA 6 runs on as well. We’ve already seen the improvements Rockstar can make in a short period of time with Red Dead Redemption 2, which came out five years after GTA V and still manages to look like a modern masterpiece. GTA 6 isn’t going to release this year, and may not even come out next year, so it’s reasonable to expect a similar graphical leap as that seen with RDR2. GTA Online will have to be updated with that as well, it can’t look and feel like a game from 2013 while a mainline entry sports cutting-edge tech.

Taking care of players

Whatever jump GTA Online eventually takes with GTA 6 — whether it’s overhauled entirely or simply moves to a new location with new characters — Rockstar needs to ensure it’s done in a way that doesn’t hurt players. Like any other game, GTA Online lives and dies by its player base, although it has a dedicated one that hasn’t let go for nearly nine years.

Consider for a moment that there are people who have been playing GTA Online since the game was released in 2013. That’s nine years of growing one character, earning money with them, and buying clothes, properties, weapons, and cars, then customizing them all. GTA Online was designed to be a time sink, and people have indeed sunk tons and tons of time into the game.

What happens when GTA Online moves to a new location? What happens to the properties players have bought, the cars they own, the weapons they have, the clothes they wear? But most importantly, players will wonder what will happen to their characters.

Cars are a key feature of GTA Online.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Rockstar hasn’t exactly been forgiving in the past with players moving their GTA Online characters. They could previously be moved once, with players opting to bring theirs to the PS4 or Xbox One once they launched. If you want to move your character now though, you’re out of luck. If GTA Online goes through a massive revamp, it’s not clear what will happen to player characters, although history doesn’t paint a hopeful picture.

That’s a huge deal considering how much GTA Online has continued to grow. According to Take-Two Interactive’s 2021 annual report, the company saw a jump in consumer spending for GTA Online of 31%. That’s all for Shark Cards, which give players more of GTA Online‘s in-game currency. These sales are nothing but profit for Take-Two.

For Rockstar, this is all potentially a bigger deal than releasing GTA 6. That game will, inevitably, sell millions of copies. That’s practically written in stone at this point, considering how massively popular Grand Theft Auto is as a franchise. And while the company can expect GTA Online to continue growing with the game’s launch, Rockstar has a commitment to fulfill for current players.

GTA Online will almost certainly be changing with GTA 6‘s release. The game will move to a new place, look different, and feel different because it has to. It can’t be disconnected from GTA 6, since it would just ruin the game’s longevity as it begins to truly show its age. However GTA Online inevitably ends up changing to fit GTA 6, Rockstar needs to ensure that players can follow along as well, without any hassle.

Otto Kratky
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Otto Kratky is a freelance writer with many homes. You can find his work at Digital Trends, GameSpot, and Gamepur. If he's…
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