It turns out that save for a small, if vocal, snippet of the community, players are actually happy with the business model GTA Online works with, at least in the face of the alternatives. As often as we might see complaining about Shark Cards and in-game prices on community sites, the fans still prefer this over paid DLC.
As a response to some vocal criticism of Rockstar's handling of the GTA Online business model, namely the 'drip feeding' of weekly DLC packets in between major releases, we kicked off a poll asking players which business model they would see as ideal for GTA Online, including the current one which is implemented and a number of alternatives which would still provide Rockstar with a revenue stream to fund the development of DLC.
In total, we gave six options, but the current DLC and Shark Card model won with over 50% of the votes total, making it clear that the majority of players prefer this model over any of the others proposed. The second runner-up was a skewed model where all DLC was paid but at a very low price, in exchange for the lowering of in-game prices.
While the current model winning out wasn't ultimately a surprise - you can't make over $500 million in revenue off a system that the majority dislikes - we were surprised by the ranking of the other proposed solutions, such as paid cosmetic goods being the least popular option.
Indirectly, this poll goes to show the massive divide between the hardcore and casual gaming crowds, who seemingly not only differ in tastes for games, but tastes for DLC models as well. The prevailing opinion among hardcore players is that when a game has paid content, the best possible option is to include premium cosmetic items.
This way you have access to all the meaningful content without additional payment, and the premium content is entirely optional because it does not influence gameplay, balance or anything at all beyond what you look like in the virtual world.
Even the ever-hated freemium "pay to win" model got more votes in the poll which is baffling at first, but when we remember that casual freemium mobile games make even more cash than GTA 5 does it becomes apparent that the model in question isn't as widely condemned as we'd think.
The fact that both options with paid DLC as a compromise being in the upper half of the contestants shows that casual players are much more open to the concept of recurrent player spending. This, we presume, could be attributed to the fact that hardcore gamers tend to buy several games each year, or even each month, whereas casual players only buy one or two a year.
Hence, hardcore players spend more on the games themselves, and exposing themselves to many examples of 'complete' titles which do not demand additional payments for bits of content that have been walled off. Casual players are more open to the concept, because hey, it's not like they spent much on games anyway, right?
This also acts as confirmation of our oft-repeated analysis that the vast, overwhelming majority of GTA Online's playerbase is comprised of casual players who tend to look for other things in their digital entertainment of choice. The way these various factors connect to one another weaves a rather intricate web which, as a gestalt, can be referenced as the cause for the unprecedented success of the game.
Why paid cosmetic goods were so unpopular is still beyond us. Many highly popular and ostensibly mainstream games with a casual (and obviously hardcore, too) following work on that precise model. League of Legends is the biggest one, which features several different skins for each champion, for example. While grinding up in-game currency is possible, it would take a lot of time for those who don't dedicate several hours per day to the game, thus simply dropping real cash seems attractive to some players.
These skins do not affect gameplay in any way (sometimes arguments about visibility against the map's backdrop pop up, but seriously, that's bullshit for a multitude of reasons such as outlines and the massive health bars) and yet they are a sought-after commodity. A similar game, DOTA 2, has this model as well, however in that case skins can only be bought with real money.
In any case, this just goes to show that GTA 5 and Online have attracted an altogether different demographic than most games, and that the players have expectations tempered in different manners. The main takeaway here is that no matter how many strongly worded threads pop up on community sites deriding the "greedy" business model of Online, remember that the author is in the minority here.