For just about three years now, players have been waiting with bated breaths to return to GTA 5's rendition of Los Santos once again in a story-driven single-player expansion, adding to the story of Trevor, Michael and Franklin. After years of no information, most have lost hope, but what if Rockstar is preparing for the biggest curveball in the game's history?
Whenever Story DLC is discussed, and it's discussed often, it and Online DLC are seen as being at odds with one another. It's a question of either/or: will Rockstar make singleplayer DLC or will they continue to support Online?
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Of course, Rockstar has more than enough resources to develop both concurrently. Not even Red Dead Redemption 2's impending release can hinder them. They have more than enough funding to spin all these plates, RDR 2 is handled by a different studio, and with the game releasing this Fall, development proper has probably wrapped up by now (please don't delay it Rockstar!).
Since Rockstar's lips are sealed regarding Story DLC, we have no definitive answer as to why it's MIA, however we can guess. While paid story DLC would likely cost a lot to make in order to ensure it's up to snuff, it wouldn't be as profitable - in spite of what our polls indicate - as producing low-investment GTA Online updates which boost Shark Card sales.
Rockstar seems to think singleplayer DLC isn't worth the effort and money invested, whereas continued support for GTA Online will help keep it a relevant game in the ever-changing landscape of top multiplayer titles. Discussions often see some variation of "Shark Cards sell well, therefore no singleplayer DLC".
Well here's an idea: separate the concepts "Story DLC" and "Singleplayer DLC". Who says Rockstar can't put the story into Online? Countless MMOs have recently attempted in creating narrative-driven experiences as opposed to being large open worlds with all kinds of unrelated fluff tossed in, and they've been succeeding.
If you can't really envision narrative entering GTA Online in a big way, you need to look no further than games such as Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Both put heavy emphasis on the RPG elements of their formulas (since, you know, they're RPGs) and offer branching storylines to individual players whilst also featuring all the typical MMO trappings. And both happen to be fantastic games.
Implementing a storyline into GTA Online wouldn't be as difficult to do as it may seem at first glance. The roughest of drafts is already present, as depicted in the tutorial section of Online, as well as the contact missions, though this is about as bare-bones as you can get.
Story-based MMOs are set up in a way that the narrative and the open-world sections do not clash by way of instancing. Whenever you enter a story mission, you're essentially plucked out of the shared open-world and placed into a virtual pocket dimension of sorts where only you and those players you invite can affect the world.
Progress, however, carries over to the open world. All items, experience points and currency acquired in the story mission will remain with you once it's done. To simplify it further, if a player were to initiate a story mission in downtown Los Santos, they would be placed into a smaller, more limited version of what amounts to a private lobby altered to fit the specific mission at hand.
This allows for the implementation of longer, potentially interactive cutscenes, more assets due to the lowered load, and more complex objectives that wouldn't interfere with the overworld. This system is actually already present in GTA Online, as seen in Heists, jobs and Adversary Modes.
Upon completing the mission object, the player would be loaded back into the Freemode lobby they joined the mission from. The framework is already there to add a more significant narrative element to GTA Online, and it would be a change of pace that many players would likely welcome.
A great way to structure Online Story content would be an episodic approach. Rockstar would develop their complete Online storyline, and release it in chunks. Alternatively, they could release multiple Online story updates, each with a self-contained storyline. Think Online versions of The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and Damned, however in both cases, your Online character is the protagonist.
If profitability is a concern (and seeing as Rockstar's execs kind of have to pay the salaries of their employees, it is), this content would be accessible for free, however the story missions would have prerequisites. Instead of outright charging GTA$ to play them, they could all have checklists of items that are necessary to complete them, which the player must buy. Ideally, these would be included as general use DLC items like vehicles and weapons, while complemented by special "quest items".
When appropriate for the story, players may be required to provide funding like in the case of heists. Naturally, the rewards for completing story content should be scaled accordingly. Unique rewards and unlocks should be awarded to players who complete these missions as opposed to just more cash and RP. Maybe an opponent has a custom car in the story missions with a livery and upgrades not usually available in Online. By finishing the mission where you kill said opponent, you take their car, thus unlocking said upgrades and liveries.
Story content for Online would still be a major undertaking compared to standard Online updates. More voice acting would be needed, the missions would need to be more complex, likely more new assets would be required, and writers would need to be paid to develop the storylines.
This approach to DLC would also require a different kind of gameplay design mentality than what we've seen in most Online updates and something more like what we saw in GTA 5's solo campaign. The missions would follow one another in a logical sequence, meaning they can build upon one another not only in terms of narrative but in terms of gameplay.
We saw some of this in Heists and to a more limited degree in Import/Export, where you need to do mission A before mission B for it to work out. This stands opposite of regular Online jobs and activities, which are self-contained experiences. Generally speaking, multiplayer games tend to be much more repetitive than their narrative-driven, singleplayer counterparts.
Story DLC in GTA Online will need to have a greater variety of objective than simply "drive here, kill dudes, drive here, kill more dudes, drive here quick before someone else". Honestly, the best case scenario would see the implementation of entirely new gameplay mechanics, down to a new skill called "social" or "charisma", which would be used in interactive, branching conversations wherein the player must convince NPCs of various things.
There is a reason why pretty much every MMO out there is an RPG or has some measure of RPG elements. It assists in the creation of longevity for the title, as players will become more connected if they feel they have a greater measure of control over what their personas are like in the virtual world.
GTA Online's RPG elements are quite limited, and would definitely benefit from being expanded upon in a potential Story DLC. Canned concepts like NPC factions could even make comebacks, changing the storyline and outcome of missions depending on which you've allied yourself with.
In the end however, if incentivized well with the right prices set on the right items, GTA Online story DLC could turn out to be a great prospect for both players and Rockstar. While sticking to single player for Story DLC would give Rockstar a greater measure of freedom, necessity is the mother of ingenuity after all, and it would be more interesting to see how they implement a narrative-driven experience within the confines of GTA Online and its established mechanics and limitations.
Nonetheless, while all of this looks exciting and interesting on paper (not to mention profitable!), chances are we won't see such a wild departure from Rockstar's modus operandi. They've been running GTA Online in a given way for three years now, and their way is clearly generating massive amounts of revenue.
While some kind of deviation, something truly major will be required to weather the storm of RDR2's release, it is more likely that this will be of the map expansion variety rather than the introduction of a narrative experience in GTA Online. Alas, we can dream.
Would you like to see story content appear in GTA Online?