Grand Theft Auto V on PS5 is proof that the Rockstar Games of old is no more

The announcement that Grand Theft Auto V along with the GTA Online component would be available on PlayStation 5 was easily the most disappointing thing about Sony’s new console reveal. Given how many new games we were treated to — from Spider-Man: Miles Morales to Horizon Forbidden WestGTA V is a seven-year-old game that will span three console generations when it hits PS5. This is a clear indication of the linear direction Rockstar Games has chosen to go in — a direction it never seemed the company would go in.

Rockstar Games Before

During the sixth console generation — PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox — Rockstar Games was a powerhouse publisher and developer. The company released acclaimed hits such as Bully, The Warriors, Manhunt, Red Dead Revolver, and two Remedy-developed Max Payne titles. Rockstar’s claim to fame at the time, though, was easily the Grand Theft Auto trilogy: GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas. While the three games shared similarities in terms of mechanics and graphics, each entry was a massive evolution of its predecessor. San Andreas, even by today’s standards, featured a large, rich world with lots of side activities to dig into.

GTA 3 set the tone for Rockstar Games during the sixth generation. It was a massive evolution of the original top-down GTA games, and because of how controversial GTA 3 was at the time, it cemented Rockstar as an outlaw studio. Whenever you saw the Rockstar Games logo pop up on a TV ad, it was exciting because you knew something special was coming. To a lot of folks, that “something special” was a new ultraviolent action game. And yes, that much was usually true, but ultraviolence aside, Rockstar made games that weren’t just good — they were incredible.

The sixth-gen GTA trilogy featured open worlds that felt alive, and the stories these games told were compelling. Bully put you in the role of an underdog who had to fight his way out of bad situations. Manhunt married stealth gameplay and horror brilliantly. The Warriors adapted and expanded upon one of the greatest cult classic films of all time. Midnight Club took a side activity in GTA and turned it into a full-fledged racing game, complete with its own open world. If you were a Rockstar Games fan during this time, you had a lot to be excited about.

Grand Theft Auto has come a long way since GTA 3, a revolutionary game in its own right.

While Rockstar Games slowed down considerably during the seventh generation of gaming consoles — PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii — the company still put out a solid collection of content. Grand Theft Auto 4 and Red Dead Redemption are the two standouts, but the studio also released Midnight Club: Los Angeles, Max Payne 3, and the Team Bondi-developed L.A. Noire. Those games all received their share of acclaim, and they were proof that Rockstar was still that anti-hero developer that made quality controversial games, even if folks had become desensitized to ultraviolence by this point.

In addition to these standout titles, we also got Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, which started its life on the DS before receiving subsequent ports to PSP and mobile devices. On top of that, Rockstar also further developed the worlds of GTA 4 and Red Dead Redemption with meaningful single-player expansions. The newer, much bigger worlds that Rockstar had created for GTA and Red Dead were being explored and expanded upon in new ways, and for fans of those games, it was an awesome experience.

Having built an expansive resume, Rockstar Games wasn’t just a counterculture company with bloody action-adventure games. No, the company was a legitimate top dog in the video game industry. And thanks to that resume, it’s no wonder so many fans were excited when Grand Theft Auto V was revealed…

Rockstar Games Now

In the past seven years, Rockstar has released two full games: Grand Theft Auto V in 2013 and Red Dead Redemption 2 in 2018. That’s not to downplay Rockstar’s efforts, though — the fact of the matter is that video games have evolved, and with them, video game development has evolved, too. Open worlds are now bigger than ever — so much so that seeing and doing everything these games have to offer can be a massive undertaking. Mechanics have improved to be more fluid and intuitive. HUD design is super-minimalistic and doesn’t clutter the screen anymore. Games have grown.

Red Dead Revolver was originally a SWAT-based Capcom product before being acquired by Rockstar Games. Now, the Red Dead series is one of Rockstar’s big two.

It’s understandable that the worlds Rockstar has built in the past seven years have taken a long time to fully realize. Grand Theft Auto V featured a huge, modernized San Andreas based on California. The story stars three characters, each with their own arcs. That’s impressive, and it made for the biggest GTA yet. Likewise, the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is unreal, with so much to do, so many characters to interact with, and countless secrets tucked away.

RDR 2 created a divide among its players, with some praising its openness and deliberate pacing, and others put off by the slower nature of the game and overwhelming number of things to do. Even with this discourse, the common thread is that the majority of players have praised Rockstar Games for creating a game and world that are unlike anything else out there. Red Dead Redemption 2 is ambitious and gigantic, and whether you think it’s a good game or not, there’s no denying that endless amounts of work went into its creation.

Online multiplayer and its effect on Rockstar Games

Massive worlds aside, the biggest factor in the Rockstar Games we see now is online multiplayer. What initially seemed like a cool new component for the series exploded into an enormous world of its own — an enormous, profitable world. A lot of work has gone into developing the world of Grand Theft Auto Online, and after multiple free content updates for players, that world has been shaped into a thriving action-adventure ecosystem that exists independently from GTA V.

GTA Online went from being an additional multiplayer component to an ongoing online multiplayer experience that players have invested countless hours and actual real-world money into. It eventually became clear that GTA V wouldn’t get single-player DLC like its predecessor. Instead, any and all new content released has been for GTA Online, further building that world into the chaotic crime-themed action-adventure playground we see now.

GTA 5 and GTA Online will continue on next-gen hardware.

Speaking to Game Informer in 2017, Rockstar Games Director of Design Imran Sarwar said, “We would love to do more single-player add-ons for games in the future. As a company we love single-player more than anything and believe in it absolutely — for storytelling and a sense of immersion in a world, multiplayer games don’t rival single-player games. With GTA V, the single-player game was absolutely massive and very, very complete. It was three games in one.”

In addition to creating a complete single-player experience, Sarwar also said resources went into porting GTA V to PS4 and Xbox One, as well as the creation of Red Dead 2. Then there was the multiplayer component, which probably required the biggest restructuring for the team. “The online component had a lot of potential, but to come close to realizing that potential also sucked up a lot of resources,” said Sarwar.

We may never know how much of the Rockstar Games team was repurposed for the creation of GTA Online but keeping the game ongoing has clearly had a major impact on the company. It’s evident in the fact that we haven’t seen any other properties outside of GTA and Red Dead. Speaking of which, Red Dead Redemption 2 may have one of the most ambitious worlds of any video game ever created, but resources have also gone seemingly full-time into developing Red Dead Online.

In terms of the experience, Red Dead Online is very different from GTA Online. It’s still rough in spots, and it continues to grow. It’s obvious that Rockstar is keen on achieving that growth and success for its Western-themed multiplayer component — so much so that it doesn’t look like there’s any single-player DLC on the horizon for Red Dead Redemption 2.

A timeline of titles developed and/or published by Rockstar Games.

In an interview with VG247, Rockstar Games Online Producer Tarek Hamad explained that the company is focusing its efforts on Red Dead Online. “Our ambitions for our online games are just as high , and with Red Dead Online we are continuing to build and expand to match the world we created for Red Dead Redemption 2’s story, not just with the roles but other activities, new random events, characters to meet, new ways to engage with the world and further inhabit your character, as well as trying to improve the overall experience.”

If you’re holding out hope for more single-player content for Red Dead Redemption 2, it’s best to curb your expectations accordingly. “We’re 100 percent focused on online right now,” said Rockstar Games Lead Online Production Associate Katie Pica to VG247. “There’s just so much to do, and we’re just hoping to bring everything that a player can love about single-player into the online world.”

What about Grand Theft Auto 6?

Details have been kept under wraps regarding GTA 6, and with Rockstar’s reveal of GTA 5 and GTA Online heading to PS5, it’s now clear why. Sure, the company could have a studio working on the next entry of GTA, but it seems the bulk of its efforts are going toward continuing to expand GTA Online. The multiplayer component is essentially standalone now, and all signs point to Red Dead Online following suit.

More GTA V and GTA Online point to Rockstar’s new direction

As previously mentioned, games and game development have changed, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that a mega-publisher like Rockstar Games has only released two new games in seven years. This is concerning if you’re a fan of the company’s past work because it looks like there won’t be much growth in terms of new IPs or sequels to beloved franchises like Bully and Manhunt.

Rockstar is focusing the majority of its efforts on further developing Red Dead Online.

Polygon Senior Editor Patricia Hernandez put it best in GTA Online on PS5 shows us Rockstar’s real priority now. We’ve seen the writing on the wall for some time: Rockstar Games has put the majority of its efforts into creating a massive online experience. Grand Theft Auto Online is evidence of that. Red Dead Online will be next. Meanwhile, we’ll likely see fewer games produced by the company over long stretches of time.

Two games in seven years isn’t a whole lot. And with a company the size of Rockstar Games, it’s actually a bit jarring. But we all get it, right? Those resources went into GTA Online, and they’re trickling into Red Dead Online now. That’s fine, but it’s important that we know what to expect from Rockstar moving forward. Gone are the days of being excited about a new Rockstar title, because that simply doesn’t seem like a reality now. Instead, if you’re active on GTA Online, you can look forward to more content there.

There’s a quote from former Rockstar Games Vice President Dan Houser that really resonates right now. In an interview with Famitsu in 2011, Houser explained why Rockstar didn’t make first-person shooters. “It's in our DNA to avoid doing what other companies are doing,” said Houser. While that may still be true with regard to the FPS genre, it’s clear now more than ever that the DNA of Rockstar Games has changed. GTA Online and Red Dead Online may be different than Call of Duty, Fortnite, and other ongoing multiplayer games, but they share the same online mission statement.

If you’re a huge fan of either of Rockstar’s online multiplayer worlds, there’s clearly a lot to look forward to. That said, if you long for the days of multiple badass action games from Rockstar over a short period of time, it’s best to accept that those days are over. Rockstar Games as an anti-hero, counterculture, outlaw company no longer exists. And that’s fine because the company has earned its success over the years. We just have to accept the fact that even rebellious outlaws eventually fall in line.