The long-running GTA Online is in the news again, this time with the teaser of a new island on their Twitter feed. From what we’ve seen, this teaser is tied to an upcoming heist placed on the new island of El Rubio. With developer Rockstar teasing earlier this year that 2020 would see the release of GTA Online’s “biggest update ever”, this tease seems pretty much a guarantee. So, why a new island, and what could this mean for GTA 6?
— Rockstar Games (@RockstarGames) November 19, 2020
More Than a Heist
While announced as a location for a heist, there is zero chance that this island would exist solely for a few simple missions. At this point, with the exclusion of a few small indoor areas, every heist in the game exists as part of the wider GTA Online map. Creating outdoor environments is an enormous undertaking, and confining a map to a type of mission not everyone plays would be a waste of time.
This idea is further bolstered by the existence of the new map as an island. Since GTA Online’s San Andreas map is itself an island, this means no map transitions would, at least in theory, be necessary. Simply add the new island off the coast of San Andreas, possibly add a connecting bridge, and you have a simple way to combine the two areas into one whole.
Why a Map?
The reason that Rockstar would add a map over jumping to GTA 6 is similarly simple. GTA Online already exists, and, according to Steam Charts, it has an average player-count of around 70,000 people. As one of the top-ten most played games on Steam, it’s a safer bet to maintain this online support rather than start new.
Adding to this is the extended development cycle which Rockstar’s games have slowly adopted. From 2000-2010, Rockstar officially released 37 games. From 2010-2020 this number dropped to 6, including just one game since 2014. As a company, they’ve moved to pushing tech to the limits rather than releasing more modest experiences, and this takes an enormous investment of time and money. While it’s likely that GTA 6 is in development, it could be years before we even have a release date.
The issue here is that games don’t need to push systems to the absolute limit to be successful. For an illustration of this, we could look at online casino titles like those on Space Casino. Whether looking at slots, table games, or live offerings, these are enormously popular on even less powerful devices. While not exactly analogous to traditional video gaming, this still shows that, despite Rockstar’s direction, you don’t always need to swing for the technological fences.
So, what comes next for GTA Online? As one of the rare online games to survive three different console generations (remember it launched back on the PS3 in 2013), GTA Online looks to have a long life in it yet. With a free release on PS5 as detailed at Forbes and a new map, it looks like Rockstar could be leaning on online as a more permanent platform. As for what this means for GTA 6 Online, if such a feature is released, remains in question. At least, if Rockstar is going all-in on Online, we could hope they finally address the hacker issue, but after seven years, we wouldn’t hold our breath.