The GTA franchise may only be at its fifth numbered entry, but there have been far more games than just five. So far, each numbered main game was followed by some kind of additional game or games, be they expansion packs or spin-off titles. The 3D era is composed of 5 games, of which only one is numbered. So why is everyone hot about GTA 6?
With gaming journalism being what it is, pointless click-bait articles pepper their titles and slugs with nonsense like "GTA 6", "Xbox Two" and "PS5" because they know that drives traffic, but all of this is baseless conjecture with zero substance. At most, a potentially reliable source has said that a new GTA title is in pre-production, but it's not like that isn't something we all know anyway.
Rockstar isn't going to put their flagship franchise on ice, and the teams at North are likely in the early stages of the next heavy hitter. However fans are quick to assume that the next game will have a 6 in the title, even though Rockstar never followed one numbered entry with another.
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While GTA 3 is lauded to be the entry which gained the franchise widespread renown, both Vice City and San Andreas are equally popular, with SA possibly being even more so than the other two. Spin-offs never enjoyed smaller popularity compared to main entries.
The only time follow-ups were met with smaller audiences was when they were expansions as opposed to separate games. Both editions of GTA: London received lukewarm reviews, whereas the expansions of GTA 4 were loved by those who played them - which, unfortunately, wasn't too many people.
We can easily see a new GTA title taking either the route of the two central spin-offs and offering an entirely new setting and storyline, or that of the "stories" games which give us a new perspective on Los Santos and Blaine County. It's entirely possible that the next GTA game will be set in Vice City, but it won't be called GTA 6.
Taking the disparity in success between spin-offs and expansions further, here's a theory as to what happened to that single player DLC for GTA 5 that we never got: seeing that the DLCs for GTA 4 did poorly, while the spin-offs were popular, Rockstar cut the in-development story DLC loose out of GTA 5 and are beefing it up to be its own standalone game.
We see this as being GTA: San Andreas Stories, which would incorporate the stories of the three protagonists, Franklin, Trevor and Michael as a side-thread, with the three appearing as NPCs. Players could take control either of existing characters like Lamar, or new and original characters created expressly for this story.
As in the past, changes to the map itself would be minimal, however there would be new vehicles, weapons, clothes, characters, activities and missions for players to enjoy. As a standalone title, it wouldn't require ownership of GTA 5, and while the plot would be referential, it could be understood without having played the 2013 title.
Something that would definitely go down well with the community would be incorporating references and elements of GTA San Andreas, and linking it to 5. In fact, the game could serve as an interlude between the two, potentially confirming long-held fan theories about a familiar link between CJ and Franklin.
Rockstar putting the story of GTA 5 on ice for all these years after having announced a DLC to expand upon it seems like too much of a cop-out for them, especially after the decade-long history of GTA always being single-player above all else... at least before 5 came around. Spin-offs are engrained so deep in the franchise's DNA that we highly doubt Rockstar would end the practice in favor of a new numbered main game immediately after this one.
Red Dead Redemption 2's development really shouldn't impact this issue, since Rockstar North only had a support role in the project with San Diego bearing its brunt. The bulk of North is likely diligently chipping away at the pre-production phase of the next GTA title.
In any case, regardless of what it will be called, there's no question about how much players anticipate the next GTA title.