Three thousand, one hundred and two days elapsed between the first launch of GTA Online and the game’s GTA+ premium subscription service. That’s 443 weeks, or 102 months, or eight-and-a-half years. Rolling membership models are so commonplace in today’s live service games, that the idea of one of the biggest live service games adopting one isn’t surprising. At least not at face value. But given the fact GTA 5 and its multiplayer offshoot have now featured on three successive console cycles – first towards the end of the PS3 and Xbox 360’s tenure in late 2013, then on PS4 and Xbox One a year later, on PC a year after that, and, on March 15 of this year, on Sony and Microsoft’s latest hardware – it feels like there’s more to consider here. Not least: why now?
The longevity and enduring appeal of GTA Online cannot be questioned. But the introduction of a paid-for player membership the best part of a decade since launch surely can. “‘Why now?’ is a pretty big question that’s confused the community at large,” says GTANet admin Spider-Vice. “Over the years, there have been signs that Rockstar may have wanted to do something like this. I’m personally surprised GTA+ hasn’t existed for longer given other games have been introducing their own subscription services for years, but the timing isn’t great – people weren’t happy about the Trilogy Definitive Edition, people weren’t too impressed about having to pay for GTA 5’s current-generation version, and now we have another service that’s already proving controversial.”
Indeed, it seems the introduction of GTA+ has ruffled some feathers (opens in new tab) among the crime sim’s most vocal players – most of who appear to question the worth of signing up for the new initiative in 2022. The service is exclusive to PS5 and Xbox Series X players, it’s worth noting, but if you’ve signed up this month (for a recurring fee of $5.99/£4.99) you’ll receive: a GTA$500,000 payment; a new car with a free upgrade and liveries ahead of public release; access to a new auto shop with relocation fees waived; LS Car Meet fees waived (players already signed up will be reimbursed GTA$50,000 during the event period); the option to upgrade your yacht to an Aquarius Super Yacht for no additional cost, assuming you already own one; some clothes that are automatically added to your wardrobe, some free autoshop paints and emblems; bonus in-game cash for taking part in an event separate to the game’s universal weekly bonus scheme.
As Spider-Vice points out, the majority of veteran GTA Online players are rich in-game as it is, and already own similar or better versions of the goods on offer via GTA+ (opens in new tab). The same can probably be said of lapsed or returning players, so with that, GTA+ appears to primarily target new players, or existing players who enjoy collecting exclusive, more superficial items (such as clothing), or who can’t spare the time to grind for in-game cash. With Shark Cards in mind – a form of monetization that grants players in-game money but costs real-world money – Spider-Vice reckons GTA+ might offer a more appealing route to success for some.
“If you’re someone who already bought Shark Cards occasionally, for instance, this might be a more attractive proposition and perhaps even replacement, because at least this month, all of the offerings are worth more than a Megalodon Shark Card, which is $99.99 and gives you eight million GTA dollars,” Spider-Vice explains. “So this month, you’d be getting around nine to 10 million GTA dollars worth of content for $5.99/month. And if we were to assume that ‘worth’ will be about the same every month, then you’d be paying $72/year for that plus extra benefits, instead of paying $100 for a single eight million GTA dollar in-game payment.”
Spider-Vice admits he expects the variety of GTA+’s monthly offerings to facilitate a degree of fluidity among its adopters. Different players will find different worth in whatever GTA+ is pushing each month, with the only real overarching concern being whether or not specific content becomes permanently exclusive to subscribers. Spider-Vice’s fellow GTANet admin Kirsty (who crunched the above numbers in this article) echoes a similar sentiment regarding the value of Shark Cards, or lack thereof, against an increasingly inflated in-game market.
“From my understanding, GTA+ has a clear target audience of casual players who buy Shark Cards or those with no desire to grind. Inflation in the in-game economy has left the current Shark Cards system wholly overpriced for what you get, so I assume instead of changing those after so many years, they’re attempting to figure out the best way to entice players through items as well as cash,” says Kirsty. “What makes it kinda confusing, and why it’s been so badly received by many in the community, is that it’s arrived so late in the lifecycle of the game. Right now it doesn’t offer anything to hardcore players unless you’re a clothing collector, because the car upgrades are only exclusive for a week.”
“It seems like it serves two purposes for Rockstar – an additional way to make money, and a testbed for the future of the game or whatever it will become when the next GTA arrives. I assume they believe introducing it now is the best way to transition players or allow them to evaluate how far players are willing to go in future purchases if they introduced premium content, and that’s why you may have seen comments from the community about how they feel it’s a ‘scam’ or ‘cash grab’.”
Kirsty reckons monetization in GTA Online has been historically “friendly” in comparison to other games operating in the live-service space, mostly down to the fact Shark Cards have been easy to ignore while DLC has been free after purchase of the base game. Like Spider-Vice, though, Kirsty has her reservations about the scope for gated content and exclusivity. She adds: “The major concern, however, is the precedent that a subscription model sets – there’s worry that GTA+ will eventually extend to include completely exclusive stuff in the game or future games, and that’s a path that players don’t necessarily want to associate with Rockstar products.”
“It’s successful for games like Fortnite with skins and cosmetics, so maybe a lot of players would actually eat it up, but in its current form and without any further insight, we’re left to fill that void with our own speculation.”
Red Dead Online+?
Rockstar’s other concurrent live-service game is, of course, Red Dead Online – a facet of whose player base feels the western crime sim has been neglected by its creators over the last several months. The #SaveRedDeadOnline social media campaign aims to prompt the developer into crafting a steadier flow of more sophisticated content, with one player having penned a brilliant five-year plan to save the game. That player, Yangy, still feels strongly about the perceived lack of content Red Dead Online has and continues to receive, but nevertheless views GTA+ – and the prospect of a similar initiative being applied to Red Dead Online – through a negative lens.
“It’s frustrating to see a nine-year-old game get more attention and love than we’re getting, even if it is something that we believe is an absolutely awful idea,” says Yangy. “I hope something like this doesn’t come to Red Dead Online. In fact, I’d rather continue to be treated the way we’re being treated just now than have an RDO+ subscription – it all just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If they added it to Red Dead Online in its current state, that would be bad because it’s just not got the content and support.”
“I’ve always believed that you can have two out of three when it comes to microtransactions, subscription fees, and paid games. Rockstar has just turned GTA into all three. Hypothetically, even if Rockstar promised new Red Dead Online content but said it could only give us it through a subscription service like GTA+, I’d be distrusting. If they brought in, I don’t know, maybe a particular five-year plan or such, and started to talk about things that way, I’d maybe have a little bit more faith in the idea. At the moment, it’d be a bit of a yikes for me. They’d be monetizing a live-service game that they’re not supporting to any real extent.”
“I’d be fine with a subscription service if the game was free or if there were no microtransactions, but when you consider the limited rewards in the end, it’s nothing compared to, say Fallout First, for example, that includes a whole range of additional things for subscribers that add value.”
Spider-Vice makes the same comparisons to how GTA+ might benefit from echoing Fallout First (Fallout 76’s subscription service), while also stressing the importance of not speculating too much at this end. Much of what GTA+ may or may not deliver remains to be seen, and while it has to be assumed Rockstar, like any business, is keen to make money where possible, the rocky launch of GTA: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition last year, and the subsequent backlash Rockstar received from a sizeable chunk of players, suggests the company isn’t as infallible or untouchable as it was once perceived to be. It’s impossible to please all players at all times, but my guess would be that Rockstar will nonetheless be determined to strike the balance as best as it can with all things GTA+ – both in the here and now, and with an eye on the future.
To this end, Spider-Vice says: “I have some personal theories as to why Rockstar is introducing GTA+ now, regardless of timing, one of them being they might want to continue supporting GTA+ through to the next GTA game, so any subscriptions will also be valid for the next GTA’s online mode. Rockstar has given rewards to owners of new games for owning an older game or completing quests within it before – for example, owning and playing GTA Online gave you rewards in Red Dead Redemption 2, like the whole Double-Action Revolver thing. So, potentially, GTA+ subscribers could get extra rewards when the next game releases as well.”
Who really knows what state GTA 6 is in at this point, and who really knows what Rockstar has in store for GTA+ in the long term. I suspect Spider-Vice is right with his suggestion this new subscription service could extend beyond Los Santos. But, at any rate, if the long-standing appeal of Grand Theft Auto 5 and its online offshoot are any sort of yardstick, I suspect we’ll be having the same discussions several years from now. At least by that stage we’ll have a clearer sense of what GTA+ really is, and who’s willing to buy what it’s selling at regular intervals.
Keen to see where Grand Theft Auto goes next? Have a gander at this: GTA 6 news, official Rockstar updates, and all the rumors.