The past few years, more than ever, saw the rise of "AAA" becoming something of a dirty word among the gaming community. Gone are the golden days of gaming when small, rag-tag studios of scruffy passionate developers "writing" games. Games today are being developed by big scary corporations where nameless men in suits order around their developers, churning out one focus-tested monstrosity after another.
Or, at least, that's what a pretty vocal portion of the community would have you believe. This is an issue that extends far beyond GTA Online and Rockstar's, or even Take-Two's business practices. This is something that is and isn't happening throughout the industry. The extent of it is up to debate, the validity of it is up to debate and the relevance of it is up to debate - but the issue remains.
While the demonization of the AAA game industry is very often exaggerated to extremes - no, the board of executives for each big-name publisher didn't, in fact, sell their collective souls to Satan - there is some truth backing the concerns of players. The larger the publisher, the likelier they are to resort to shady business practices in the name of profit.
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What many people forget, however, is that when large publishers are involved, there are many more costs to consider than simply developing games. Countless internal expenses must be met, staff - both full-time employees and contractors - need to be paid and given bonuses. Taxes must be paid, offices need to be rented and the list goes ever on.
Developing games is a business, and all business comes down to making money. Since we're thankfully not being oppressed in a communist system, we hardly have justification for berating a company for wanting to make a profit. In the end, most of the financial decisions related to GTA are made by Take-Two, and Rockstar doesn't even have control over it.
However, like any issue, this one has two sides. Players have been getting increasingly bothered by some of the trends that have appeared in GTA Online recently, and they aren't entirely unfounded. The pressing need to meet profit margins is one thing - but why can some companies meet them without resorting to underhanded tactics, while others can't?
In spite of prevailing view that 'AAA is evil', the situation is a lot more complex. Many large publishers have managed to uphold a positive public image, while others even managed to regain favor after dropping to the pit of hatred. EA, for example, was everyone's favorite punching bag a few years ago, however recent changes in direction have gained them favor among players. Now poor old Ubisoft has replaced it as the publisher that's trendy to hate.
So why all this lead-up about AAA industry policies and disfavor from the community? Well, Rockstar recently let loose the dogs of war and another major ban-wave struck GTA Online in the past few days. Naturally, many "victims" came out of the woodwork to claim false-bans.
Incidentally, Rockstar also recently changed their ban policy. While the news rules do seem effective in discouraging cheating, they are arguably too strict and the potential losses of a player being falsely banned have become immense. It should be noted that 99% of false-ban claims are bullshit, and it's just a butthurt hacker trying to shine a poor light on Rockstar.
The new rules, as detailed in this post, hand out progression wipes for minor infractions and instant perma-bans for bigger ones. Regardless of severity, any second infraction also results in a perma-ban. Players who are hit with permanent bans have only one way to regain access to GTA Online, albeit with a new account - buy the game again.
So, there's a massive ban-wave around the same time there is a holiday sale on the game, coupled with countless claims of false bans. It isn't hard to put two and two together to come up with a conspiracy theory around that. Angry fans have put forward a scenario in which Rockstar is knowingly banning players en-masse regardless of their behavior, only to boost the game's sales with banned players re-purchasing the game because of the discount. Yeaaaaaaaaah.
Prevalent anti-AAA sentiments and general dissatisfaction around the prices of content in the latest DLC, Import/Export, have probably weighed the scales against Rockstar when it comes to popular opinions, and the pack-mentality of internet communities is working in full effect here, so this assumption is likely exaggerated.
However, it does raise some troubling concerns. The timing of the ban-wave is indeed rather convenient with a sale going on, and with the numbers of players being banned so high, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that some of the people getting the hammer didn't actually do anything wrong. Nonetheless, it's a bit of a stretch to immediately assume that this is an evil Rockstar scheme to drive up sales artificially.
One of the biggest arguments against this pretty severe accusation is the simple fact that Rockstar doesn't bloody need to do this. Assuming that they need to resort to this kind of tactic also assumes that sales for GTA 5 are poor. Considering the game broke the 70 million mark recently, not counting digital sales, with rates trending upward, we know for a fact that the game is selling immensely well even without coinciding ban-waves and discounts.
Why on earth would the company behind the best-selling video game in the history of mankind risk doing something that's quite literally illegal just to even further drive up sales, even though the game is practically printing millions already? This would make absolutely no sense from a risk-assessment standpoint.
From a business standpoint, this is also a horrible idea. Should Rockstar mass-ban innocent players, not only would they lose a large percentage of them, discount or no, but that would also cut them out of a large audience of potential Shark Card buyers. On the other hand, even if some of the players buy back in, chances are they won't buy Shark Cards ever again, since they'd be afraid of another false ban, which would make their microtransaction purchase a waste.
In the end, such a dirty scheme to drive up sales via mass-banning would actually result in a loss, not profit. Rockstar and Take-Two are paying a lot of money to people who have degrees in this sort of thing, so if some random game journalist managed to figure this out in the space of a single article, you can all bet your collective asses that those folks in suits figured it out too.
While it's also likely too generous to assume that this latest ban wave is just an early Christmas present for us legitimate players, making the coast even clearer of hackers - even though they've been pretty sparse already - but it does say something about the community that after years and years of complaining about a lack of bans, suddenly when the bans to happen, people assume it's some kind of greedy corporate conspiracy.
Do you think there is some kind of sinister machination behind this recent ban wave, or do you think Rockstar is just doing its part to rid GTA Online of hackers?