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Grand Theft Auto VI – Are Expectations Too High?

Grand Theft Auto VI – Are Expectations Too High? - Article

by Mark Nielsen , posted on 26 May 2024 / 3,137 Views

Only a raving mad man would bet against the commercial success of a Grand Theft Auto game, and that’s most certainly not my intention with this article, but even for a series with as strong a record as Grand Theft Auto the hype train can still run off the tracks. To say that expectations for the upcoming sixth entry are massive would be an equally massive understatement in itself, and that is of course not without reason. But for every gallon of hype, you need an ounce of skepticism to keep things in check.

Expectations for Grand Theft Auto VI are manyfold and it’s not my intention here to cast shade on all of them, but rather to address them in turn with a critical eye. For one thing, Grand Theft Auto V was the fastest-grossing entertainment property ever, and VI is fully expected to beat that record. This is one aspect of the hype that I don’t doubt, particularly with today’s $70 price tags and various Deluxe Editions. However, initial sales are only one aspect of the countless financial predictions for “the most important thing to ever release in the industry”. It’s expected to knock it out of the park on all fronts, from its own sales to those of the hardware it launches on.

Will Grand Theft Auto VI sell systems? 10 out of 10 analysts say yes, and if any game can it’s most certainly this one, but the degree to which it will is a different matter. With this console generation slowly having fallen behind the previous one, some even expect GTA VI to be the release that will “save the generation", and (regardless of whether it’s actually in need of saving) that’s a very big ask. One factor in the game’s ability to sell consoles is it will launch exclusively on consoles at first and PC later. Whether it’s intentional or not (it is), the assumption is that this will cause those who prefer PC to get the game for a console first then PC later on. I don't doubt that this will work on some, and will sell more copies of the game itself too, but to invest in a new system entirely for those who don’t already have one is a bigger commitment that only the most dedicated fans are likely to go for. As much as people still buying GTA V today is an indicator of the series' continued relevance, it also shows that far from everybody has to have these titles at launch.

Grand Theft Auto VI is also sometimes brought up as the singular game that will make a future PlayStation 5 Pro or Xbox Series X2 fly off the shelves, but that assumption seems flawed to me. The visuals shown off in the first trailer are solid for sure, and leagues ahead of GTA V, but seemingly not that far ahead of something like Cyberpunk 2077, which will be 5 years old when GTA VI arrives - although of course, hopefully launching in a polished state would be one immediate victory in that comparison. This isn't to be taken as criticism, but currently nothing seems to indicate that GTA VI will be a marvel on a technical level, nor is there any indication that that is what Rockstar is aiming for. If there’s anything this last decade of gaming has taught us it’s that pushing technical limits can actually be a disadvantage for games hoping to reach as many players as possible, and releases like Fortnite and Minecraft owe at least some part of their success to being playable on anything. GTA VI won’t go quite this far, as we already know it’s skipping Gen 8, but there’s no way it will be built with a mid-gen upgrade as its target device when even the install base for regular Gen 9 systems is lower than the install base its predecessor launched on.

Of course, marketing is still a major factor and perhaps the simple words “best played on PS5 Pro” could convince many a customer, but my prediction is that these systems will essentially be overkill for a title that most likely even a Series S will be able to run without significant sacrifices. When it finally graces the PC platform with its presence, it would also be far from Rockstar's best interests to have GTA VI limited to only the latest and greatest hardware.

That brings us to the heart of the matter: longevity. It’s also important to remember that even without accounting for double or triple dipping over three console generations, 200 million owners of GTA V doesn’t mean 200 million people with a current interest in GTA, or even video games at all. To reach those kinds of numbers again it will have to win over new players as well. While GTA might still be the king of the traditional console title, much has changed in the casual market, and though I have no doubt a sequel can compete with the GAAS titles of today, coming out on top is a different story.

To do that the online aspect will be important. When it came to Rockstar's last two big hitters, this was added post-release as a semi-separate game, in the form of Grand Theft Auto Online and Red Dead Online. While they were both met with more mixed critical reception, they were a massive part of what kept these titles alive and contributed to their massive success. As of yet there’s no word on how this will be handled for GTA VI, but it wouldn’t be far-fetched to bet that we’ll see a similar later release for an online version of the game, and that’ll be an important factor in its longevity. GTA V is still selling well and topping charts to this day and its online is very much alive & kicking, so much so that Rockstar felt confident enough to up the price of GTA+ just a year before the sequel. There’s no doubt that whatever online GTA VI brings to the table it should be able to take that momentum and get off to an excellent start, but the question is perhaps this: can it keep that momentum going for another ten years?

Finally, there’s the matter of critical success, another area where this series has traditionally been unparalleled. Since Grand Theft Auto III, every mainline entry has been able to boast a Metacritic score of 95 or higher - scores that we only see one or two times a year these days, if that - and while it's admittedly a bit early to start placing predictions in this area, it's certainly a lot to live up to after an 11-12 year break for the series. In their own way, each of those previous titles pushed the limits of what video games could be, particularly in terms of player freedom, but those limits have changed drastically since the last outing. Rockstar did contribute to that itself in the form of Red Dead Redemption 2, but one could argue that RDR 2 was better situated to wow critics, since Red Dead still had much room to grow. In 2024 (or rather 2025), it’s hard to see what can be done in a modern setting limited (presumably) to one city to really push the envelope. Of course, it could also be said that after more than a decade’s “absence”, simply delivering exactly what you’d expect from a GTA title might be enough to satisfy both critics and players.