The video game industry is heading in a dangerous direction and fast. I like to call this the Rockstar paradox. The developer struck it rich with a game and is now holding off on the production of new content as their current offerings are still highly grossing.
The most common example of this phenomenon is Rockstar Games with the Grand Theft Auto franchise. Up until the most recent entries in the franchise, Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar consistently released entries on a near-yearly basis. While some of the delays can be attributed to the new graphic style, showcasing the playable environment in a much more realistic manner, adding a significant amount of time to develop, but eight years?
Rockstar released Grand Theft Auto V to critical acclaim on September 17th, 2013, with the online component, Grand Theft Auto Online, releasing one week later.
Grand Theft Auto Online is an online, open-world game that can be described as everything that the main story of GTA V was not. Players can assume any identity they want and become the head of their criminal empire. The problem with this game is how much you need to bankroll your illicit journey.
Players play into the digital economy by buying houses, cars, weapons, base stations, etc., but these items are costing more and more virtual funds as time goes on.
Rockstar so graciously has a solution to this issue, Shark Cards. Players who don’t want to grind for their virtual cash can spend their very real money purchasing more in-game currency.
The issue arises when it comes time to do the math. If a player wanted to purchase the cheapest car released in the latest update, the Enus Jubilee, for a minimum of $1.23M, with no funds in their in-game account, you’d have to purchase the Great White Shark Card, which retails for $20.
This is in stark comparison to vehicles they released towards the beginning of the game’s life. For example, a similarly appointed Enus Huntley S costs a far more budget-friendly $195,000. With no in-game currency, a player would need to purchase a Tiger Shark Card for $5.
While it’s understood that development costs money, a 75% increase for incredibly similar content is disheartening to see as a player.
Aside from the monetary aspect, there is just general boredom now. In eight years, every corner of the map has been explored, all the events likely played through multiple times with updated content coming intermittently, and at such significant cost, a lot of players have just quit playing altogether.
According to Steam player data, in the last year, Grand Theft Auto Online only saw an average of 84,000 monthly players, down over 20,000 average monthly players from the previous year.
But Rockstar isn’t the only offender. On the other end of the spectrum, you have developers like Nintendo that are just porting games with minimal or no improvements to various distribution methods for the Switch.
Take, for instance, Mario Kart 8. Nintendo originally developed the game for the Wii U back in 2014. They then ported it to the Nintendo Switch in April of 2017 with minor improvements, an expanded battle mode, and all content that used to be DLC in the new base Switch version.
While it is still a brand-new game to many Switch owners, it’s simply not. As it approaches its eighth birthday, Nintendo is in no hurry to replace it as it was still their highest-grossing game for the platform in the 2021 holiday season, according to NintendoLife.
This is just one of the issues plaguing the gaming community. There’s controversy surrounding advanced DRMs, anti-cheating software that is allegedly too sensitive, season/event passes, and game collection subscriptions, but discussing those right now would be like putting the cart before the horse. There must be new, modern games coming out, so the other issues are allowed the opportunity to show themselves and be resolved.