A special guest post from Richard Evans and Matt Gibbs, who breaks down his thoughts on how long GTA Online Updates will continue to be free:
By Richard Evans, Co-Writer Matt Gibbs
Rockstar Games has treated the audience of Grand Theft Auto Online to over three years’ worth of free DLC ever since the game was released, and is preparing to release more in the coming months. The game’s business model is unique in the industry among similar games, with free DLC usually only appearing in free-to-play and subscription based MMOs. But for how long can Rockstar keep this up? The answer is frighteningly simple: for as long as players want them to.
Of course, we don’t mean merely telling them that we want more content, but showing the demand with our wallets. GTA Online features a microtransaction system free of all the anti-consumer tactics with which freemium games are laden. Players who buy into the microtransactions, called Shark Cards, don’t get unfair advantages. There are no special currencies which can only be bought with real cash that are required for the best items. You can’t buy ranks or better stats. It goes without saying that there are no cheats that can be used [to beat the system] (the single player story mode has a nice selection though, as you’d expect from any Grand Theft Auto title).
The entire game has a single, unifying currency, which you can either earn in-game or buy with real money.
GTA Online has been accused of having unfair prices and meager mission rewards, however, when a player knows what they are doing and has a comfortable and efficient method for earning in-game money, they can collect enough cash to buy all the content in a decent amount of time. Unfortunately, the player base has been tempered in such a way that if they are unable to buy everything in a new DLC immediately, then it’s “too expensive”, which is why the poor rep spread.
The microtransactions and the DLC exist in a symbiosis. The new content provided by the updates give players incentive to purchase Shark Cards, and then the profit from the microtransaction revenue is used to develop further DLC, which again boosts Shark Card sales, and the cycle begins anew. Of course, the cost of developing an update is usually significantly smaller than the earned Shark Card revenue, hence GTA Online is one of the single most profitable products of Take-Two Interactive, Rockstar’s parent company.
Over a year ago, a financial report call to investors revealed that Shark Cards have generated over $500 million in profits, which was almost double the budget of GTA 5. Since that time, the game’s player base has only grown, sales numbers went up and revenue from recurring player spending has increased. Taking all of that into consideration, we’re quite certain that revenue has gone past the first billion since.
So long as players buy Shark Cards, you can bet on Rockstar producing more free DLC for GTA Online. Some players are worried that Red Dead Redemption 2 spells the end of this trend, however, Take-Two would be stupid to axe such a stable stream of immense revenue, especially in favor of a game like RDR2 which can never hope to match GTA 5’s success and popularity. We don’t doubt that it will be popular, it just won’t touch GTA’s record.
GTA Online is showing no sign of slowing down in terms of sales and audience growth. In 2016, more people bought the game than in 2014 or 2015, and a larger player base means a larger potential pool of Shark Card buyers. Over the course of the DLCs, items have been getting more and more expensive, though, at the same time, better and better missions have been introduced in terms of money making. Import/Export, released in the December of last year, brought with it the most efficient means to earn in-game money. That said, the more luxurious items still offer greater incentive to purchase microtransactions, and it’s working.
Every time there is a financial report call, Take-Two emphasizes the importance of GTA Online and recurrent player spending for their revenue making up a massive chunk of the total earnings. The constant DLC is keeping the game relevant and fresh, attracting more and more players, who in turn buy more and more Shark Cards. As long as something doesn’t break this cycle, you can bet on a new GTA Online DLC being on the horizon.
Richard is a long-time gamer, his first system being the original PSX. Other than playing Grand Theft Auto Online and eagerly awaiting the arrival of Grand Turismo Sport for his PS4, Richard enjoys rock climbing and writing in his spare time.
A long time fan of the Grand Theft Auto series, Matt is eagerly waiting for the Gunrunning DLC for GTA Online to drop this week. He keeps that GTA mindset far away from the track when competing in amateur racing events most weekend. You can find Matt on Twitter @ematt