Last year, GTA Online made over $900 million, which is over $100,000 an hour. It makes a helluva lot of money, which might explain why Rockstar has continuously re-released the game on every console it can get its mitts on. Sure, it always sells these re-releases as graphical tweaks to the story mode, but while the main game is incredibly popular on its own, Online is what keeps the lights on. Assuming the lights are set inside diamond encrusted chandeliers, at least, because $100,000 an hour is an extortionate amount of money. Unfortunately, that’s not enough, so now a subscription service is being added.
GTA Online is as revilved as it is revered. There’s something about living in a society that sees the prices of basically everything rise while shareholders and CEOs continue to stuff their pockets with millions, watching our own wages stagnate, and feeling the consequences of an ever-growing wealth divide in society that makes us inclined to dislike things that make $900 million a year, but there’s more to it than that. GTA Online’s success has been blamed for the long delay in GTA 6 arriving in our hands, as well as the neglect of Red Dead Online – not to mention RDO’s identical structure despite it never really suiting the GTAO framework.
Obviously, you don’t make $900 million a year doing nothing. People like GTA Online, and they’ve kept playing for almost a decade because it has maintained its high quality and given its players regularly scheduled events and updates that are the perfect mix of offering something new and exciting, plus offering the same, safe content that we know works well. It’s lazy to simply call GTA Online bad and move on, but of course that doesn’t stop people. While it’s not a bad game, it certainly feels like a greedy one, and the newly announced subscription service only makes things worse.
The service is $6 a month, which isn’t a huge amount, but it’s $72 a year. It’s the whole cost of a game, to play a game you already own on multiple platforms and have paid for each time. The fact it’s limited to PS5 and Xbox Series X/S means you will have to buy it again, too, if you plan on subscribing. It doesn’t feel fair to charge loyal customers extra money, not only for the subscription itself, but into buying the latest version of the game (and maybe a new console) in order to access said subscription. GTA Online is heavily populated by casual players who don’t play much else. There isn’t a large section of crossover between gamers who play GTA Online and those who bought themselves a PS5 to check out the DualSense capabilities on Returnal. They often only play GTA, Call of Duty, and FIFA. They have no reason to upgrade their systems yet, except GTA just gave them one.
The subscription itself might be good value. It seems to offer a range of extra cars and in-game cash, as well as free or cheaper upgrades and “gameplay updates you may have missed out on”. I don’t have a major issue with it not being good value for money, it’s more that it exists at all. Subscriptions to individual games have been around for a while, but usually in MMOs where they’re in place right from the start. They also don’t lock you out of certain systems where you can otherwise play the game. It seems like a huge cash grab for a game that already has players throwing fistfuls of money at it. Subscriptions are designed to make you feel like you’re saving money, but with the tradeoff that it makes money off you even if you take a two week break from the game. It’s steady revenue, and the worrying thing is other games might be looking at GTA Online very closely.
Monetisation in video games has gone on a strange route. We have DLC, microtransactions, battle passes, season passes (which can be the same thing, but also different), and now we’re looping back around to subscriptions. If it goes well, subscriptions could be back in fashion, and with games already vying to take up too much of our time, rolling subscriptions seem set to make the issue worse, not better.
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