Grand Theft Auto 5 and Online is the gift that keeps on giving, as far as Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive are concerned. First released in 2013 on Xbox 360 and PS3, the game was ported to newer consoles and PC, and is now going for another round in November with another set of next-gen ports.
It takes no small measure of success for one game to span three generations, and GTA 5 sure did that - it helped the GTA franchise generate over $6.4 billion in revenue since its release.
Now, note that not all of that money came directly from GTA 5 itself - older GTA titles are still being sold, and many got minor remasters for mobile ports. The sales of those games contributes to that $6.4 billion figure, as that is the revenue generated by all Grand Theft Auto products since 5 launched. Nonetheless, the bulk of it is owed to V and Online's microtransactions, and other products in the series were also made more popular by that juggernaut.
GTA 5 itself has crossed the 150 shipped copies milestone, which does not account for digital sales. For years now, a returning theme of Take-Two investor calls and earnings reports was the consistent affirmation that microtransactions in GTA Online are providing an immense bulk of the company's revenue, which makes it no surprise that Rockstar is still pumping out major DLC for the game, 8 years after launch.
The latest such update was Los Santos Tuners, with more content on the way.
GTA Online's active player count is also on the constant rise, which is a huge feat for a game this old that isn't an MMO - though it's kinda close. With more and more players joining in, the number of those buying into the microtransactions also rises, prompting Rockstar to pump out more content. As far as live service games go, GTA 5 and Online is in a very healthy place.
But where does this leave fans of the single player GTA experience? Online's runaway success famously melted the planned - and even officially announced - story DLC for GTA 5 which would have provided more narrative adventures for Franklin, Trevor and Michael. With more single player content for GTA 5 off the menu, fans can only look to GTA 6.
GTA 6 is one of the most widely discussed unannounced game in the entire gaming world right now. Leaks, rumors, speculation and more are abound, even though there isn't any official info to go on and Rockstar has barely even acknowledged its existence. It has though, and we know it's coming, we just don't know when. The most legitimate looking rumors still project it to be years away, and in a market climate where delays are this common, even the most bleak predictions might be sooner than the real deal.
It's been way, way longer since the launch of GTA 5 than the gap between it and GTA 4. With GTA Online's explosive and constant success already killing story DLC, many fans have asked the very valid question - is Take-Two deliberately pushing GTA 6 further and further to keep riding this wave? It's possible, but unlikely.
Following an exposé written about crunch culture in the AAA industry also touching upon Rockstar Games among others a few years ago, key changes have been enacted in the studio - fairly rare, with most AAA companies brushing off these allegations. We know from Rockstar developers that the next GTA game will be a smaller, more modest launch to help manage crunch.
With the release of GTA 5's Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 ports this November, GTA Online is also breaking off into a standalone experience - it will separate itself from GTA 5, and be available to purchase and play on its own. This means that Take-Two has long reaching plans for it.
It's continued success as a standalone coupled with the more modest approach to GTA 6 allows us to make a pretty logical, educated guess: GTA 6 won't have any multiplayer, at all. As a purely single player experience, the pressure on the developers will be significantly lower, and GTA Online will be allowed to chug along and print insane amounts of money unimpeded by a competitor from the same franchise.
From a business standpoint, this seems like the path of least resistance - it makes all the sense. It also utterly eliminates any water that the argument of "GTA 6 is being delayed because Online is successful" may hold.
We'll learn more about the earnings and revenue of GTA Online in the next Take-Two earnings call, but don't expect any mention of GTA 6 - unrevealed games don't get discussed during these calls. In any case, Rockstar Games is taking its sweet time with the next installment of what grew to become one of the biggest IPs in gaming globally, but it isn't doing it just because Online is more popular than ever.