GTA Online recently received the Gunrunning DLC which sets players loose on the rural areas of the game map to traffic illegal weapon shipments while evading hostile mercenaries. This is merely the newest update in a long line of free DLC that has been sequentially released over the years since the game's initial launch. But can the game's original map support this much content?
Further Adventures in Finance and Felony already crowded the city. Gunrunning brought bunkers, weaponized vehicle missions and gun trafficking to Blaine County, while Bikers and Import/Export added to the content of both areas. Preceding these are countless other updates such as Lowriders, Ill-Gotten Gains, Freemode Events and more that littered the open world with heaps of activities for players to perform.
Lobbies are capable of supporting 30 players, all of whom could technically be performing different activities at the same time, all on the same map. When Grand Theft Auto 5 was released, the map felt absolutely adequate - actually, it felt truly massive - for the amount of content available for players to indulge in. Both in single player and Online, the game's world was adjusted to the content with some leeway during development, as it should be.
However, the unprecedented success of GTA Online had Rockstar reconsider future plans for content. We're written novels on the topic of how Online's success ended up killing single player DLC, but the added effect was that Rockstar was, albeit briefly, essentially caught with their pants down. The reason for the notable delay between the launch of GTA Online and the DLC ball being rolled, as well as the relatively small content size of early updates, was because Rockstar wasn't initially prepared for significant post-launch content support.
Now, here we are, almost four years after launch, and in that time the amount of content in GTA Online has increased dramatically. If we were to hazard a guess, we'd say it's more than doubled in that time. Between massive updates like Heists, Executives and Other Criminals, Further Adventures in Finance and Felony and Gunrunning, you've already got a massive amount of stuff added to the game world, and that is without touching other DLCs.
One thing to alleviate the situation is a high number of instanced activities. Going into a Stunt Race won't mean that the track materializes above the same game world as the one players in free roam inhabit, but it means that everyone partaking in the race is spirited away into a pocket dimension within the game to do their thing. Adversary Modes, heists and more are similarly instanced.
However, there are still more than enough non-instanced activities to make the map seem crowded. With Executive Offices in the city, Bunkers in the countryside, and warehouses and clubhouses littered everywhere in between, players racing from one to the other on missions will find that they often have company. If it isn't another enterprising CEO or biker, then its a bunch of players engaged in some Freemode event or other. Maybe it could be a random group having a shootout.
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GTA 5's map is vast, let there be no mistake. It has a metropolis, a desert, wooded areas, small towns, mountain ranges, lakes, beaches, open highways and more. As a multiplayer experience, meeting other players organically is kind of the point of the game. However, it was initially designed with this in mind, and content was balanced accordingly.
In its current state, it is one of the most crowded open world multiplayer games, and one of the least balanced in terms of map-size-to-content ratio. Meeting other players is one thing, but not being able to retreat to a secluded area at all is another. If you have something to do in the city, you have almost no chance of doing it without encountering another player.
In most other MMOs, this wouldn't be an issue, but in GTA Online PvP is the default, and shooting someone as first reaction is the norm. Even if you don't want to piss in the soup of the other player, they might not be similarly inclined, or they might just not know that you harbor no ill will.
Let's be real. GTA Online has its fair share of assholes. This has conditioned decent players to be suspicious as well, and even telegraphing the fact that you're not violent to other players won't prevent trigger happy encounters. Either they will take it as a sign of weakness and kill you for the heck of it, or continue being suspicious because there is a chance that you're just doing it so they let their guard down around you.
The way content figures into this is that certain activities, like delivering crates or stealing cars for their vehicle warehouses, which happen in the regular free roam game world, can lead to players clashing. Having some random less-than-polite bloke rain on your parade isn't something uncommon in MMOs - every World of Warcraft player experienced that one annoying high-level prick who kept hunting you in faction neutral zones while you were still levelling - but this becomes a notable issue in GTA Online due to how frequently it can occur.
Another issue posed is repetition. At the end of the day, whether you're taking supplies to your bunker or to a business, whether you're delivering crates or an imported vehicle, doesn't make any difference from a gameplay point of view. In each case, you need to get the thing from point A to point B without dying, or taking too much damage. The routes can only be so varied when there is so much content crammed into a comparatively small map.
A map expansion would bring with it a number of benefits both for Rockstar and for the player base. For Rockstar, the most notable benefit would, obviously, be money. A map expansion would be big news, thus publicity, and would most likely lead to a large number of players who have left GTA Online behind to return. Additionally, if Rockstar would add a mechanic that, say, charges for plane tickets to reach the new map area, the added costs might drive up Shark Card revenue.
On the other side of things, the players would benefit from a greater amount of space to play in as well as a whole new area to explore - but one issue remains. Simply adding another area won't solve the crowdedness of the existing map. Either content already available would need to be relocated - like no more executive offices in Los Santos, only in the new area, for example - or instead of a map expansion, Rockstar could replace the existing map with a scaled-up version of it. We'd still have Los Santos and Blaine County, and geographically everything would be more or less in the same place, but there would be more land to cover.
In any case, if Rockstar keeps up their current rate of DLC releases, this crowding effect will become much more apparent very soon, and if their plans to keep GTA Online running through 2020 (which seems absolutely viable, based on sales data), they'll definitely need to look at map expansions sometime soon.