Why would Rockstar release GTA 6 soon? GTA Online is a gold mine

GTA Online
(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

Many of us may be impatiently waiting for Rockstar Games to officially announce GTA 6 is in the works, but a recent earnings call, Grand Theft Auto publisher Take-Two Interactive hinted that we won't see a new GTA anytime soon. And, to be honest, I'm really not surprised.

During the same earnings call, Take-Two revealed that GTA Online – the online multiplayer mode of GTA 5 – delivered its "best holiday quarter ever for both audience size and net bookings".

Not only that, but third-quarter spending on micro-transactions in Grand Theft Auto Online grew a whopping 54%, partly – no doubt – due to the release of the Diamond Casino and Resort update in July, 2019.

"We're now on track to deliver a new record for Grand Theft Auto Online recurrent consumer spending in fiscal 2020," Strauss H. Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two Interactive, said during the earnings call. "Sales of Grand Theft Auto V also exceeded our expectations, and the title has now sold in more than 120 million units."

So, with GTA Online proving to be an ever-growing gold mine, why would Rockstar Games want (or need) to release GTA 6 anytime soon? The simple answer: it doesn't. 

Cash cow

GTA Online

(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

To date, 120 million copies of GTA 5 have been sold globally. According to the earnings call, Take-Two Interactive expects GTA Online to be one of its biggest earners for fiscal year 2020, with the publisher expecting "current consumer spending to grow by approximately 10%, driven primarily by growing Grand Theft Auto Online and Red Dead Online".  

Realistically, there's no financial pressure for Rockstar to release GTA 6 anytime soon, even if fans are waiting with bated breath for an announcement. GTA 5 (and therefore GTA Online) is still a money-earner, with consumer spending continuing to grow year-on-year. Which is why it wouldn't make sense to try and shift these consumers to a new game right now, which is potentially what Rockstar would try and do.

But actually, I think there's three possible options for what Rockstar Games' approach will be for GTA Online and GTA 6 – and one seems more probable than the others.

Move everyone over as quickly as possible

(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

The first approach would potentially be to release GTA 6 in the next few years (likely late 2021 or mid 2022) with an online mode available straight away. Rockstar would then try to transition GTA Online players to the new online mode. 

However, with players already settled and comfortable with GTA 5 and GTA Online, moving that player base to a new game is a risky move. As we've seen with Red Dead Online, online gamers aren't always keen on moving elsewhere when they've poured hours into a game. Especially when so many have sank their well-earned cash into in-game transactions that they're very likely to lose in a new iteration of the online multiplayer mode – unless Rockstar finds a way to transfer those transactions to a new game (which may alienate new players straight off the bat).

Practically, though, the studio is more likely to be focusing its efforts on the core GTA 6 game, then release an online mode later.

Waiting game

(Image credit: Rockstar)

The second, and probably more likely option, is that we will see GTA 6 release in that same release window but without an online mode. This would allow players to purchase GTA 6 but still play (and spend money in) GTA Online. 

Rockstar could then implement an online mode for GTA 6 a few months or years after launch, slowly transitioning players from GTA Online to the new online mode - although it's likely this could impact the performance of Red Dead Online.

GTA 5's online mode launched within weeks of the base game, but didn't start gathering steam until a few years into the game's lifespan – making this the most likely option.

It's also worth taking into account the extra time that may be required to develop GTA 6's online mode on next-gen consoles. However, Take-Two president, Karl Slatoff, is confident that the transition of the publisher's live service titles will still be successful.

"What exactly the transition is going to be [from game to game] between the console cycles will vary," Slatoff said. "But there's no reason to believe that the success that we're experiencing with those services would be any less in the new generation that is than the old generation."

Not all players may want to move to next-gen consoles as soon as possible, as it doesn't sound like it'll be cheap. Giving them the option to slowly transition is likely to be beneficial in the long term.

Plus, launching an online mode later would allow Rockstar to continue to reap the rewards from GTA Online, while growing a base for GTA 6. Then, when that base is solid enough, try to transition players from the old to the new. It is arguably the most sensible way to do it. Unless...

GTA Online goes independent

(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

The last, but probably least likely, option is that GTA Online goes independent. Instead of simply being a multiplayer mode for GTA 5, it could become a game in its own right, without ties to any of the core Grand Theft Auto titles.

It would be a risky, and more work intensive, move from Rockstar but would mean that players don't need to buy a whole new game to access GTA Online.

Instead, Online could be made available as a free-to-play download on consoles or through Rockstar Games Launcher on PC. 

However, this approach would likely impact the sales of the core game. It seems like a big draw of players to GTA 5 is the free online multiplayer mode, which comes free with the paid-for game. I can see the core game sales being affected if that free online mode was no longer available no matter how good it may be – and Rockstar wouldn't want that.

The truth is, we can only speculate right now about what's going to happen with GTA 6 and GTA Online. But Take-Two has said it reveal more about its pipeline plans in the coming months: let's just hope GTA 6 is among them.

Vic Hood
Associate Editor, TechRadar Gaming

Vic is TechRadar Gaming's Associate Editor. An award-winning games journalist, Vic brings experience from IGN, Eurogamer and more to the TechRadar table. You may have even heard her on the radio or speaking on a panel. Not only is Vic passionate about games, but she's also an avid mental health advocate who has appeared on both panels and podcasts to discuss mental health awareness. Make sure to follow her on Twitter for more.