GTA Online's next DLC, Transform Races, is out next Tuesday. The update, which is seemingly the last non-dripfed, non-event and non-Adversary Mode update for the rest of 2017, is another take on the stunt race formula introduced by Cunning Stunts a year ago. It looks like great fun, but it also seems all too familiar.
More or less since the release of Further Adventures In Finance And Felony, GTA Online has struggled to innovate in any field outside of the constantly produced Adversary Modes. Rockstar has fallen into a comfortable schedule of alternating between two main DLC archetypes.
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We have the "major" DLCs which usually add new kinds of businesses to the game, a system conceived by Finance and Felony. However, they all follow the same basic framework. Do mission to collect things to sell, take things back to specific property type, wait for a timer/until you collect enough, then do mission to sell thing. Acquire, wait, sell. It's always the same pattern, and while there are some variations, like different sourcing missions across the content of various DLCs, they still come across as being extremely similar.
The second archetype is the "mid" DLC, which is usually a new take on Cunning Stunts. It's not as small as a single vehicle or an Adversary Mode, but not as big as a major DLC, and is usually used to tide players over between two major ones. It's always a variant of stunt races with some small detail changed, or feature added, to make it feel like a new game mode.
And the system works, of course. GTA Online is growing, and what's more the rate of growth is increasing, so if nothing is broken, nothing needs fixing right?
Thing is, two observations have arisen in recent months that just might indicate the unstoppable juggernaut that is GTA 5 is slowing down a lick.
Neither of the past two Take-Two earnings calls have revealed precise numbers of GTA Online's sales or how much revenue it brought in. GTA was named though, as it always is, as one of the main contributors of revenue so things's can't be bad or even unsatisfactory. But maybe instead of being insanely good the numbers were just very good, which in this day and age is a shameful downgrade (just look at Lego - double-digit percentage growth in revenue wasn't "good enough" and resulted in several thousand layoffs).
The other main sign that things aren't running quite as smoothly is the general decrease in media coverage. Months ago, in spite of being a several-year-old game, GTA Online was still the subject of many mainstream gaming journalism sites' posts. While there are still plenty of articles being published about the game, the larger labels are writing less and less about it, new DLC releases notwithstanding.
While GTA Online is very, very far away from being in any sort of trouble, Rockstar can prevent it from peaking by introducing something new, something truly fresh. Developing variations of two main gameplay concepts is no doubt easier on the schedule and budget than coming up with something wholly new, but the latter may be what Rockstar needs to do to keep the game's star on the rise.
If Transform Races truly is the last proper DLC of 2017, then obviously next year is a great place to start this new direction of innovation. The first DLC of 2018 will be a crucial indicator of what direction the developers are taking with the continued support of the game.
The devs are no doubt hardly short on ideas - between all the obvious creative talent showcased in Grand Theft Auto 5 and GTA Online so far, especially through the highly experimental Adversary Modes, we don't doubt that they have plenty of ideas to go around for a major update that isn't a reskin of Cunning Stunts and Finance and Felony. And on the off chance they are dry on ideas, the community would be more than happy to provide, what with complete and well rounded ideas being shared on sites such as Reddit.
We've fielded some of our own concepts on this very site in the past. GTA Online's past DLCs more than prove that the game's framework is highly malleable and the developers can easily create new gameplay mechanics which fit into the world with ease, meaning that budget seems to be the only constraint at this point. And when we're talking about a huge cash cow like GTA Online, that really shouldn't be a problem.
Whether the end of 2017 still holds a surprise like last year's Import/Export, or if we need to wait until 2018 to get the next big update is anyone's guess, but we're hoping that in either case, Rockstar will be able to wow us with a new and fresh concept to liven up GTA Online.