It’s no secret that Grand Theft Auto V was one of the most successful games to launch in the history of the gaming industry, with its online counterpart propelling forward to be even more successful than anyone could have anticipated. When Grand Theft Auto V launched back in 2013 on seventh generation platforms, it was met with critical acclaim and its counterpart, Grand Theft Auto Online, was arguably the most anticipated and hyped IP of its time. Grand Theft Auto Online was originally unveiled with a gameplay video a month before the launch of its parent game and was described as being a separate experience in a continuously evolving world. When Grand Theft Auto Online launched, the arrival was less than stellar, with countless players experiencing game-breaking bugs and a total inability to connect to the game’s servers, resulting in worldwide backlash and panic. Rockstar Games failed to plan accordingly for the level of hype that their online experience had generated, but worked quickly to get the experience to a mostly playable state for the millions of players who were trying to connect simultaneously. After a rough and controversial start, Grand Theft Auto Online grew over the last five years from player characters being low-rate thugs to the heads of dangerous criminal enterprises, and the journey tells a fascinating story all on its own of rising through the ranks.
Grand Theft Auto Online was essentially a cash cow, for all intents and purposes, for Rockstar Games, and as a result, the story mode of Grand Theft Auto V had died. With promised follow up DLC having turned into vaporware, many players had given up any hope for a continuance to the adventures of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor—the Story Mode protagonists—and Rockstar instead focused their efforts on continuously improving Grand Theft Auto Online with frequent updates, completely free of charge. Rockstar have been able to produce both minor and major updates at no cost to the player due to the exorbitant revenue they receive through the game’s microtransactions, known as Shark Cards. In Grand Theft Auto Online, players are able to obtain in-game currency in two ways: by playing the game and grinding mission after mission, both repetitive and otherwise, or trade real cash for virtual currency. With in-game funds at their disposal, players can purchase almost anything imaginable; vehicles of the land, air, and sea variety (and somewhere in between), weapons, clothes, property, you name it. As Grand Theft Auto Online was continuously evolved, the demand for more grew more prominent, as every major update brought on more ‘must-haves’ such as hangers, clubhouses, and even facilities to further the player character’s criminal enterprise. In the latest Doomsday Heist update, Rockstar introduced large-scale heists that weighed more on the global terrorism side of criminology, and it is not a cheap feat for players.
The grind in Grand Theft Auto Online is substantial, as the cost of living—and thriving—in the Grand Theft Auto world is more exorbitant than anyone could have anticipated. Without criticism or judgment, the grind is one of the most highly discussed factors of Grand Theft Auto Online, and the reason being the effort-to-payout ratio is rather underwhelming for players who aren’t already well-established in the online community. It’s significantly tougher for any late adopters who haven’t been working hard with their criminal comrades from the get-go, and as such, some players on Reddit have discussed the rather off-putting feeling they’ve faced when trying to jump into a world where mostly everyone else is miles and miles ahead.
What’s the solution? Shark Cards. With an appropriate name, given the predatory nature of its existence.
Grand Theft Auto Online features in-game transactions that allow players to purchase ‘GTA$’ which is the virtual currency used in the online world of Los Santos and Blaine County. Shark Cards are obtainable directly in-game, from your platform’s digital marketplace (Steam, PSN, or Xbox Store) and from the official Rockstar Games website. Shark Cards are priced between USD $2.99 and $99.99 for GTA$100,000 to GTA$8,000,000 respectively, with a rather interesting description. “Cash is king in this town. Solve your money problem and help get what you want across Los Santos and Blaine County with the occasional purchase of cash packs for Grand Theft Auto Online. All purchased cash is automatically deposited into your character’s bank account. Spend wisely, cash therapy is fleeting.” Rockstar Games actually encourages the “occasional purchase” of Shark Cards for Grand Theft Auto Online. Why? The grind is insane and everyone and their mother knows it. Microtransactions are not new to the gaming industry, but the inclusion of Shark Cards in Grand Theft Auto Online—arguably the most popular online game on the market aside from PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds—has helped popularize them.
According to an article by Engadget last year, Rockstar Games obtained $418.2 million in net revenue over the past three months at the time of publication. A study conducted by Segment Next back in 2016 illustrated that Rockstar Games raked in over $700 million from Shark Card sales alone. It should come as no surprise for one, well-illustrated reason: the grind in Grand Theft Auto Online is absurd and players want instant gratification. Isn’t that what microtransactions exist to serve? We live in a world where millennials, primarily, and other generations are figuring out how to obtain (I am steering quite clear from the term ‘earn’) money while doing the least amount of work possible in the real world, so one should expect no different from a video game. The average person holds a full-time, Monday-to-Friday occupation, and the cost of living and thriving in Grand Theft Auto Online can demand the same amount of effort and commitment—not many people would willingly do both. Ever-growing online video games are a committment for a lot of gamers and with Grand Theft Auto Online, already reaching it’s fifth birthday this year, it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. CNBC released an article two days ago discussing the upcoming launch of Red Dead Redemption 2 and how it may affect Take Two’s bottom line, but Take Two have already stated that the launch of Red Dead Redemption 2 and its own respective online component will not have an adverse effect on Grand Theft Auto Online and expect the upcoming release to simply add to it.
Either way, it’s high time that Rockstar Games loosen the reins on Grand Theft Auto Online and does a bit of spring cleaning with the payout ratios for the game’s significant grind. While Rockstar Games have offered an olive branch to newcomers or those in the back of the classroom by way of the Criminal Enterprise Starter Pack for $39.99, the motivation to really dive into Grand Theft Auto Online has been minimal for a lot of people. There have been several topics on Reddit having this conversation ad nauseam, with players stating that it’s hard for newcomers to get into Grand Theft Auto Online or for seasoned players to return after a hiatus. I, personally, fit into the latter category. I was an early adopter of Grand Theft Auto Online at launch five years ago and played it religiously. I watched Grand Theft Auto Online learn to crawl, walk, and run, and grow into the online milestone it currently stands as. Hell, I even remember the original GTA$ hack and I was one of the players running around with more money than I knew what to do with after killing a bounty with a GTA$2 billion price on his head. After awhile, I grew tired of Grand Theft Auto Online and bowed out for a few years, dedicating my time and energy to other experiences. When I returned to Grand Theft Auto Online today for the first time in three years, I found the experience to be less than underwhelming. A few missions here and there earned me a measly $12,000, spent thirty minutes trying to complete a bank heist thanks to a lower-level player continously getting himself killed, forcing the lot of us to restart, and being chased around Vinewood by some lunatic in a Overflod Autarch throwing sticky bombs like they were candy on Halloween, having my Dewbauchee JB 700 blown up several times. I was not entertained in the slightest upon my return to a world I once cherished, even after leaving and returning to different sessions, all producing equal levels of chaos.
It’s exhausting, and the effort-to-payout ratio still has me flabbergasted three years later. Grand Theft Auto Online allowed Rockstar Games to rake in over $700 million at one point, and one could only imagine how much revenue they obtained between then and now. Can they reduce the grind, give a larger payout, and lower the prices of in-game items? Absolutely. Will they? Absolutely not. For those who’ve kept up with Grand Theft Auto Online since launch without hiatus, the experience is entirely phenomenal and worth the time spent, because the levels of fun are remarkably prominent. However, for those late adopters or gamers returning from their vacation, there’s too much of an exhaustive grind and trek through chaos just to catch up. I’ve spent the last year playing a heavily modded Grand Theft Auto V on PC in strict Story-Mode-Only sessions with a clone of my Grand Theft Auto Online character, so I can experience mostly everything that the Online component is offering at my own pace and desire, without having to put in the same amount of work in-game as I do in the office. It’s rather interesting in retrospect that—most of us—go to work every day in order to earn money to live and exist in the world and some of us do the same exact thing in Grand Theft Auto Online for nothing but pixels on a screen. There’s a useful five-letter word for a situation like that, and it’s called irony. At least Red Dead Redemption 2 is around the corner.