Even though GTA 5 is hardly about to go anywhere and Rockstar has their hands full with Red Dead Redemption 2, many fans are already hotly anticipating the next installment in the company's flagship modern-day criminal sandbox franchise. However what many fans don't consider is the ever-changing landscape of the industry as well as some internal shakeups in Rockstar that might result in GTA 6 being a whole lot different than what we might expect.
Generally speaking, the majority probably assume that the next game in the franchise will return to one of the previously visited cities. Based on the pattern of each of the three main locations - Liberty City, San Andreas and Vice City - appearing in each "era" at least once we might conclude that the next game will go to Vice City. This fan theory is the most popular and even spawned a nifty little logo with "VI" stylized as a neon sign that sometimes flashes "VICE".
This assumption by itself doesn't seem unlikely and might very well end up being true. However, the most common fan theories also include a vast single player campaign with a lengthy and spectacular plot, memorable characters and a whole lot of side activities to pad things out with. Additionally, we'd get the next iteration of GTA Online.
Of course, it is logical to assume this. Before GTA 5, the franchise has first and foremost (and often exclusively) a single player game with character-focused storylines. The franchise became popular as a single player affair and was very often praised for its storytelling alongside the gameplay.
However, the winds of change blow across the vast plains of the gaming industry and GTA 5 proved to be an entirely different beast. The game exploded in popularity soon after launch and remains one of the best selling - at times the best selling - video games, beating even new major AAA releases time and again.
The game recently broke 75 million shipped copies and GTA Online saw its most active month last December. Now, with the massive success of the game, you might assume Rockstar will just do more of the same when sequel time comes. However not every aspect of GTA 5 is going to live on into the future, and fans might soon learn that popularity isn't all sunshine and rainbows.
Over the course of three years, the game attracted an altogether different audience than the core gaming crowd that elevated the franchise to fame in the first place. It is this change in demography might leave its mark on the future games of the franchise. See, back in the 3D era, GTA titles were built with meaningful storylines and deep characters in mind because that's what the primary audience of the game expected.
Thing is, the average GTA player has changed drastically with the explosion of Online into the mainstream market. No longer is the average GTA player a hardcore gamer interested in a quality single player experience with a high production value, oh no. These players are the minority. The average GTA player is the casual kind who cares more about multiplayer, K/D ratios and graphics than any measure of depth in terms of storyline, characters and mechanics.
So, when it's that kind of player who generates $500 million in microtransactions, accounts for the majority of the over 8 million unique log-ins each week and helps propel the game to the top of the sales charts three times within 2 months, then that's the kind of player that is going to be catered to.
When it comes to GTA 6, the developers will try to please an altogether different audience than in the past. The players who enjoy a good solo experience will be sidelined, like how GTA 5 hasn't and very likely won't ever get story DLC, even though Rockstar announced it via the Newswire at one point.
There just isn't as much money in single player these days. All the biggest hits - the truly big hits - are multiplayer focused. Recurrent player spending is the main goal for companies since that offers the biggest profit margin. A singleplayer game is something the customer buys once and then it's adieu. However when there are microtransactions present in a persistent multiplayer game, the players keep on spending.
So what should we expect when it comes to GTA 6? We've discussed a pretty grim outlook on the topic before and while it might seem like a stretch, it's still a possibility. Worst case scenario is that the next installment of the franchise will be a free to play multiplayer only title.
However, luckily things are hardly that bad. Take-Two isn't the kind of company that just tosses the entire status quo of their most prestigious IP. Strauss Zelnick has often stressed the importance of quality when it comes to their games, and while some titles like Evolve and Battleborn did show that the company was trying to wade into dlc-heavy waters, they did so with new IP.
GTA is far too well established as a mainline gaming franchise to suddenly turn into freemium fast-food trash for the masses. GTA 5's success might be dangerous because it shows that multiplayer and microtransactions are what break the records, but it's also a safety-line proving that the model works with a paid game format too.
An alternative view could be splitting the multiplayer and singleplayer modes of GTA into separate products down the line. GTA Online could evolve into its own thing while the main franchise continues. The HD era so far is devoid of the additional, non-numbered spin-off titles that were prevalent in the 3D era such as Vice City, San Andreas, and the two "Stories" games.
It's very possible that as opposed to GTA 6, we'll get a spin-off title in the vein of Stories next that is solely a single player game like the good old GTA titles, while GTA Online becomes standalone and operates alongside it as a separate entity. The long-time, hardcore fans of the single player would be given their proper GTA Experience, while the mainstream crowd (and any fans who like Online as well, of course) would have access to a dedicated multiplayer environment in the standalone Online game.
Of course, it's entirely possible - and most likely - that the next GTA title will be structured exactly like 5. One full-price $60 title with both a single player mode and Online 2.0, except less effort will be dedicated to the single player mode, and the only place we'll see Rockstar flash their masterful skill at creating a living, breathing open world will be in the Red Dead franchise.
Whatever which way the future of the franchise goes, fans should be ready to expect that the massive reach and success of GTA 5 will leave its mark on future installments of the franchise in ways that will push it further away from its roots. Whether that is a good or bad thing is up for debate, but we'll likely have to wait at least half a decade before finding out.