Sound Off: The Great GTA V Divide Mk 2

Welcome to the latest edition of Sound Off, where we once again discuss GTAV’s re-release, expectations, communication, and now a new trailer that has surprised everyone, but not in a good way.

Firstly, let us get the facts of the announcement of the way, just we’re all at a baseline!

Sony held their much anticipated PlayStation Showcase a few days ago, on September 9th. Rockstar entered the chat halfway through the show to debut the first trailer and reveal the new release window of GTAV’s so-called Expanded & Enhanced version, which includes a standalone GTA Online, for the latest generation of consoles.

The trailer, sitting at 1 minute 17 seconds, mostly featured singleplayer footage with a snippet of GTA Online towards the end. Blurbs throughout the trailer promise “improved graphics”, “enhanced gameplay”, “seamless character switching”, “explosive action”“and much more”, closing off with a release window of March 2022 – a four month delay.

The Newswire article posted shortly thereafter re-iterates what had been announced during the Sony stream, with additional details confirming that the game needed some more time for “polishing and fine-tuning”. Rockstar also confirmed that PS+ players can continue to cash in on the free monthly $1million bonus until the new release date, and PS5 players will still be able to download the new GTA Online standalone for free up to three months post-release.

And now here we are… the atmosphere in the community dropped almost immediately following the reveal; the trailer was not what folks expected, and it continues to bring widespread backlash from disappointed fans. With a large ratio of Dislikes>Likes on YouTube and negative comments flooding Social Media, we thought we’d bring our own personal opinions to the table in an attempt to figure out what exactly has gone wrong.

The delay

uNi: Rockstar Games delay releases all the time, they also sell a lot of copies, make of it what you want.

Spider-Vice: I’m not necessarily surprised or really that upset at the fact the game is delayed. I do maintain that a delayed product is better than a rushed one, but I have a feeling other factors contributed to this situation. PS5 and Xbox Series consoles are still heavily hit by scalping, many, many people still can’t get one at this point.
Delaying something like E&E just a few weeks into Christmas, for example, could actually be worse for game sales because it’s probably going to be even harder to buy consoles.

These games, even if they’re not a complete overhaul, take time to make. If there are programming changes, even unrelated to graphics, those can take a long time to perfect and test, especially in a working from home situation – you can’t bring development kits home, you have to rely on a lot of remote connections to test and develop games, etc. I wouldn’t put the blame on the people who are hard at work on this, regardless of your opinion about the actual game and what it is – especially if this means no one is being overworked and everyone is having the free time they deserve especially during the pandemic. Please don’t forget the devs don’t just work on one project at a time. I’m kinda curious as to why the delay is going all the way to March, which is the end of the Take-Two fiscal year, but if things aren’t ready, then they aren’t ready.

As for the “infamous” trailer, not rarely, game trailers use footage from different parts of development. This means that some scenes may have differences between them, and this is something that is normal and was also noticed by the Rockstar community with RDR2 and GTA V. However, using footage with a few obvious bugs was definitely a way to rile up an already upset community into only noticing those things, instead of what the game actually is supposed to be. It is, however, another good sign that the game just isn’t ready to be put on people’s consoles just yet.

That said, we have been through this many times with R*, and thus far, it’s been worth it every time, every delayed product has been far more polished by release. GTA V on PC was delayed 3 times, some people were as outraged on GTAForums as they are now, calling out that the game would be a “port” with the quality of GTA IV’s, among other things. GTA V on PC released in April 2015 looking and running perfectly well.

As with every game delay ever, I’m “disappointed” of course, but I can’t say I’m *upset*, or angry, or mad.

Kirsty: The delay is something that the community seems to feel is the least offensive part of the reveal, given more divisive topics we’ll discuss later. It was a surprise me for it to be announced at a time when we were imagining to start seeing the marketing for it, only two months ahead of its original release date of 11th November with the GTA III 20th anniversary also around the corner. There are those that have their grievances with the fact that the game will now be releasing a full 21 months after it was first announced, which does bring me to question why it was announced so early if the timescale was tight to begin with.

That said, the reasons for it appear pretty clear cut. We’re not privy to the amount of resources that have been allocated to the E&E project, and Rockstar are certainly not the first company to push their games into 2022 given the pandemic. It’s a word we’re all kind of tired of hearing by now, but it still remains appropriate to consider given Rockstar are also still committed to putting their employees’ health first with their continued work from home policy and turning their back on crunch culture. If developers with their butts in chairs are pulling out the work (they know most of all what they’re talking about afterall!) and need more time to really reach a satisfactory level, it’s corporate’s responsibility to honour that and delay the game, regardless of our chagrin; something we didn’t see in the infamous Cyberpunk 2077 release.

Given the graphical bugs and glitches identified in random spots of the trailer however, it’s quite obvious that there are creases left to iron out during the timeframe they’ve been given – these bugs haven’t exactly helped the overall community response in terms of their faith in the work that has been put into this release, but it’s pretty public testament to the game just not being ready yet.

The graphics

uNi: We still don’t know what the aim of the upgrade is, and I am not going to judge the release on a single trailer that could be months old by now. Is what we were expecting it would be? Hard to say as we were never told what to expect from it. It seems to be at least on par with the PC version, which I guess it was the goal all along, and it meets that. People like to focus on their own personal experiences, but the true is that a lot of players are on console and they tend to stick with those game versions, as I said on the previous article, for them this version makes total sense. I doubt this was ever aimed as a upgrade for the players that already own the game on the PC.

Spider-Vice: This one’s a tricky one. GTA V is an 8-year-old game, from a development standpoint it doesn’t make much sense to grab it and overhaul the graphics completely, they’d probably rather leave that for a new game like GTA VI. This is especially true if GTA VI isn’t as far away as we think.

A few posts, tweets and such were made over time about how E&E could potentially use bits and bobs of code from RDR2 so it would run better. Software developers can do this, especially if you’re developing within the same codebase/engine – you can sometimes cherry-pick, adapt and backport certain things. Although a lot of RAGE has changed, some fundamentals have not between the two games, it is the same engine after all, and for most game devs that use custom engines, future projects iterate on the immediate previous release or a branch of it.

GTA Online has its performance issues, especially CPU threading issues, and GTA V, as an 8 year old game still using older tech, definitely needs its own share of optimisation (go into the Diamond Casino even on a beefy PC and you’ll notice the videos rendering on the walls bog down performance), so none of that is surprising if it happens, and I speculate that is what E&E is going to focus on with the technical enhancements, instead of just “graphics”.

The posts I mentioned seemingly lead to some people speculating the possibility of them porting the whole graphics engine into the one used in RDR2. Even I speculated about that being *possible* a few months back, but I didn’t necessarily *expect* it. After all, we had no information about the scope of the project, it was all speculation. If the community took mine (and some others’) words as fact, I can’t take fault because I’m not a Rockstar employee or anyone with that knowledge, we were all speculating, whether we believed it or not.

In hindsight, it really doesn’t make much sense when it’s mostly supposed to be an enhanced version of the same game for the PS5 and Xbox Series. I have posted a post on GTAForums detailing some of the changes I’ve noticed, and there’s probably some more subtle ones. I distinctly remember there being complaints about the old enhanced versions as well, because bushes were still “low quality”, trees didn’t sway in the wind, the game’s changes didn’t justify the price tag, etc. You can go back on GTAForums history and you’ll see some of the same discourse, even though that version brought some bigger changes.

We may not have much information, but some facts were thrown around by Sony blog posts about the game running at 4K 60FPS, and unfortunately a lot of people ignored this, instead preferring to look at the streamed trailer at face value. This is admittedly something that could have been announced before, or with the trailer, by R* themselves.

I personally think people’s expectations in this sense were through the roof, and I can’t quite understand why, as I feel like the PS3 to PS4 jump justified a bigger change than now, especially when nowadays there’s a lot of focus on frame rates and resolution (which affects your headroom for fancy graphics) – the generational jump isn’t as big.

Kirsty: The strongest discourse mostly stems from feedback surrounding the graphics of the trailer. It’s pretty hard to tackle it from a neutral standing because it’s near-widespread thumbs-down from the community, and even the most subtle changes highlighted are refuted. There’s a lot of discussion about how E&E looks the same as it already does, essentially, and this has lead the call of labelling it a “scam” due to the presumption that it will cost full price to purchase. The most frequently mentioned comments I’ve read point out that vehicle mirrors have the same reflections as old-gen, particle physics are not vastly different, draw distance seems reduced with far away objects missing, reduced props in some scenes (though increased in others), general lack of improved textures and models, and the odd inclusion of highlighter-yellow license plates. The lighting and colourisation of the sky does seem overhauled and bares similiarity to RDR2, but the community suggests that Rockstar’s practice of moving the sun’s position during trailers to give better shadows with lens flare is merely an attempt to make the graphics look better than they are. General editing remarks about the lack of footage beyond singleplayer cutscenes or other angles that would really show off what improvements there could be has also marred the reveal, with the trailer mostly feeling haphazard and uninspired to most.

Videos showing comparisons between PS4, PS5 and PC pretty much places E&E in-between these versions in my eyes, which is technically an enhancement, so if you hadn’t watched the trailer for yourself yet you’d probably think that feedback sounds harsh and surprising against Rockstar’s usual quality, but as mentioned, the discourse has been pretty overwhelming.

It’s not particularly clear why the community did have such high expectations to begin with, however, for a game that is due to reach it’s 8th anniversary next week. Factually, we haven’t had any confirmation of what exactly the improvements (or price for that matter) were meant to be if they go beyond this trailer. Previous mentions of 4K+60FPS were only referred to by Sony indirectly, but Rockstar have been vague and held back on details that may have proved much more significant than they perhaps anticipated.

For myself, I’m not actually too bothered about graphical upgrades, so my expectations were a level playing field due to general indifference. As a mostly-console player, the game will surely run a lot smoother on a new-gen system, and I think the improvements will be felt most in the performance of GTA Online, even if the graphical changes are not as vast as the difference between PS3>PS4.

The possibilties of “expanded” content

uNi: It can be a lot of things, but we have no idea yet. We have talked about this version possibly using RDR2 version of the engine, but I guess that doesn’t automatically it would look like RDR2 out of the gate. Most of the improvements from that will be under the hood, and makes sense if they intend to keep maintaining GTA Online for the years to come.

Spider-Vice: This is tricky to speculate about as it could be pretty much anything. Personally I’m not expecting anything huge like some of the community have – things like Liberty City being added to the game, or something of the sort. I very honestly can’t understand why people were expecting such large additions, when not even the old enhanced versions actually went to that extent. It still is supposed to be largely the same game, much like the previous version.

However, I think one cool thing to add to the E&E version would be GTA Online vehicles being enabled in Story Mode, and perhaps even the apartments, reintroducing an allegedly cut feature from the game where you could buy other property from the Dynasty 8 website. Because you can’t buy GTA$ with real money in Story Mode, I think there also would be less challenges in adding the Diamond Casino & Resort to the Story Mode, allowing players to gamble their money away freely, or win large sums. The casino wheel could even be introduced in Story Mode as well.
GTAForums member Commander S pointed it out in a post and I think it would be interesting to see the stock car races, or something like Benny’s mod shop in Story Mode.

I think some technical improvements could also count as “expanded”, things like increased traffic density, pedestrian density, props being re-enabled (see the end of the previous GTAF post I linked), which would make the world more rich in detail, etc. I honestly wouldn’t go expecting full-on map expansions for the “expanded” part, I think there’s a lot more things they could expand, including within GTA Online.

Kirsty: Spider has pretty much covered all the points I could make on this one. There hasn’t been too much commentary on the possible additional content heading our way due to the hyper-focus on the problems with the trailer. Concerns mostly stem from the wish that Rockstar had just taken the opportunity to provide some tidbits of details about what’s in store, rather than a vague “more soon”.

Personally, I think the “expanded” features of E&E is the perfect opportunity to add GTA Online content to singleplayer; it doesn’t have to be everything, but your most basic GTA foundations like the vehicles and weaponry, and even some of the apartments, would be a cool addition for those that still enjoy messing around with Michael, Trevor and Franklin. Maybe that sounds counter-intuitive to the business folk, given planned DLC from the past got shelved or absorbed into GTA Online, but after 8 years and 150 million sales, it seems like a nice way to close the chapter of GTAV as we move into the future of the series.

The lack of communication

uNi: Regardless of the trailer’s fiasco, we need better and more communication from R*. They used to talk to us a whole lot more back during the 2006 – 2013 era and I think that improved the R* – Fan Sites relationship a lot.

Spider-Vice: Personally, I think this is the only bit I can direct more towards R* (community, marketing and PR teams), in the sense there are a few things to point out. This is all said with the assumption there were no contractual marketing obligations to meet with Sony – I don’t know how those things work – and it’s possible that Take-Two/Rockstar PR and marketing are stuck with having to do stuff when Sony wants to even if it’s not ready.

I think the first trailer was fatal for people’s expectations of the game. The game could have still been announced when it was, but this probably could have happened in text form instead, teasing some of the improvements/plans for E&E, leaving an actual trailer like the one we got on Thursday for a later time. It feels like it was announced too early, when development teams didn’t have anything to show, and they had to make do with old footage. I feel like if it hadn’t been this way, the community wouldn’t be as upset right now. Likely still upset, but not with the first trailer on the back of their minds to make it worse.

I’ve admittedly always appreciated Rockstar’s culture and secrecy, it’s part of their charm and I think they know how to please people whenever news about games come out, and have most times done so for the better part of those almost two decades I’ve been a fan.
However, I think currently, in a world where social media communication is basically key, and outrage culture is unfortunately at its peak, it might be preferable to be a bit more open about what you want to do and the scope of a project like this. This is especially relevant for smaller projects like E&E that might cause more scepticism – clarifying more specifically E&E’s features, dropping info occasionally, perhaps a screenshot or specific comparison, a teaser of some of the new content, just for expectation management at the very least. I think this would have made the community a lot less mad.

I can totally understand withdrawing from dealing with a community that can be rude and thankless, R* aren’t the only ones (Naughty Dog had to run away from all the exaggerated hate for The Last of Us 2 as well), and if I were a game dev or someone in marketing/PR, I would be discouraged as well (hell, this is even happening with us as a fan site), but I think the only way to extinguish fires caused by long periods of silence and vague information drops is by actually communicating more often about what’s going on and slam all that hate where it should be – in the bin. Condemning some of the community’s recent actions towards others including your employees, and clarify what’s to come for E&E or draw out a plan/roadmap of sorts, even if it’s not super detailed, would be a great starting point.
I think nowadays it can be an invitation for a PR nightmare to be silent about a project that probably is going to have people expecting too much from it, like GTA V E&E. As I mentioned, this applies more to projects like E&E than mainline ones like, say, GTA VI – Rockstar large game reveals are like no other, but even then sometimes those have extremely long periods of silence (see GTA V’s original release).

In a sense, I also feel like this kind of PR silence can negatively affect dev teams. Some outside the PR/marketing sphere may also agree that it’s better to not say anything because of the community outrage and because “gamers” are very volatile – it truly is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.
Game dev is an extremely thankless job, you spend sometimes years working hard on something, and some gamers prefer to hate on things they don’t have knowledge about, completely ignore all the nuance that goes behind each decision, each thing that shows up in a video game, and prefer to dunk on it the first second they see it, without ever being constructive and not thinking of the human.
It’s not just Rockstar, granted – as I write this, God of War is getting hate just because of an allegedly “incorrect” representation of some Norse mythology characters, because the devs reused an animation that took nearly an year to perfect and develop for the previous game, and Uncharted on PS5 is getting hate because it’s not “enhanced enough” too. There were news of Life is Strange: True Colours being review-bombed as well by specific groups of people.
However, leaving the community frustrated with silence for too long can be an almost sure-fire way for a sudden announcement of bad news (like this delay) to backfire on those same poor people, some of which I have had the great pleasure of getting closer to in a more personal way outside me being a R* fan, and they don’t deserve any of the stuff that is being thrown at them by the angry mob – the angry mob who, sure, is also very much at fault, more so than R*, but perhaps some extra communication would have calmed them down.

As mentioned earlier, I think some expectation management in terms of features wouldn’t have hurt, and it would have benefitted everyone in the long haul. I obviously understand game development is highly iterative, unpredictable, and there can be brick walls at every turn of the corner causing delays and making marketing teams be uncomfortable about announcing something, but at least some kind of expectation management could have worked well here.

I love R*, but they need to talk more on the PR side and be a lot more organised with their public facing. Retweeting some Snapmatics and posting GTA Online and Red Dead Online bonus weeks doesn’t cut it for everyone in 2021, and I think some transparency, and more often, would be appreciated especially in these dire situations.
There has been deep mutual support between us and R* for the better part of the 20 years we exist, perhaps we could even help a little with something, or get some extra information as a recognised fan site we could help spread, or bring awareness to? We’d even sign an NDA if needed, to tease something to the community like on GTAForums for you, ha! Even if you don’t want to address the whole community directly, we wouldn’t mind helping out with something either, using our mutual support relationship for that. Could even use us for more interviews/info drops like the Q&A we are very happy to be able to have done with you!

It would also be a great time to do something cool to try and extinguish some fires after last Thursday I reckon. 😉

Kirsty: There’s an appropriate meme circling around game devs circles about what happens when companies try to come out of their box and interact more – they just end up getting punched out by gamer hate and retreat far away from us. For that reason, telling Rockstar to just communicate more doesn’t encapsulate what they actually need to change. Rockstar is very well known for their privacy, something I can admire and respect; all eyes on are them yet they place priority in only their work and their employees over a impatient fanbase that is often expecting too much of them. There will *always* be trolls in online spaces, but the landscape has changed over the past 10 years, and Rockstar seem very resistant to embrace it.

Now, I’m not suggesting that community managers should put themselves out there to be attacked by rabid fans, nor should it be necessary to get involved with other brands for keks or other forms of cringey behaviour for the sake of trying to be relevant, but without an overall consistent level of engagement with the community, information to keep people informed and updated on even the bare minimum of details, and a little bit of meaningful interaction beyond Likes and Retweets of virtual photography, there is no one left to represent them in a brand capacity and their silence becomes deafening. And it’s not just the community that misses out in this regard – without role models to admonish awful behaviour, clarify situations or encourage positivity, their employees become targets, leaving no one to safeguard them in circumstances like these last few days apart from fans and fansites who are mature enough to put themselves in target range as well and speak out.

In contrast, we can question if the community even deserve anything from Rockstar given how toxic things can become? As a target of harassment myself for “defending” their choices, I’ve stated publicly that we don’t deserve it, but in hindsight why should those that speak loudest take away from everyone else? It’s a double-edged sword, and it is discouraging, but this is not what we see from other companies and even though this is something that used to set Rockstar at a higher bar above others, the community perceive it as lack of interest or nonchalance.

It’s not a culture that could be changed overnight admittedly, baby steps have a longer standing impact, and it’s not something that would even jeopardise their privacy over projects, but a little would go along way (our recent Q&A was an amazing start, slap us with an NDA and we’d even be your outreach if it could come to that!) and I firmly believe the response to E&E would be vastly different had transparency been valued from the beginning.

The community feedback

GTANet: Unfortunately, we have to make the response to this be more of a statement, and be very rough here from the moment this not only affects us, but many other people we also, by now, consider friends and/or closer to our hearts – one another as GTANet admins, R* employees, other community members.
A lot of people have suddenly forgotten basic human empathy, and have resorted to joining hate mobs, echo chambers and doing things to other humans (even behind a screen) that they likely wouldn’t do in real life.

R* may not have helped with releasing vague information about the game, but the sheer toxicity that is going on around social media, Reddit and even GTAForums towards both Rockstar, its employees and fan sites like GTANet including us as admins, is abhorrent and completely dehumanising. We have gone from global outrage towards more positive comments about the release, to proper harassment of others and even shameful shows of bigotry and homophobia. We are talking about video games. This is a virtual world. No one was murdered. It’s a video game.
Although there are a ton of level-headed people still in the community (We see you and appreciate you!), this is the biggest amount of backlash and toxicity we have ever seen coming from the Rockstar community and it absolutely saddens us to see the state of it. We have seen a lot of toxicity in our time on GTANet, which even meant that a couple of us as admins have been involved in arguments with the community before – e.g. with the initial GTA V delay, the GTA V PC delay, etc. – but this is something we almost never imagined happening (but kinda expected unfortunately), something that was very much made worse by the current climate of outrage on social media, and pandemic isolation.

Whilst most people who still play GTA/Red Dead Online, and support the content we put out as a fan site, haven’t changed their tone much during the reveal, which we appreciate, a fair few number of echo chambers have come to attack us for something as simple as having a more positive outlook about the E&E release, as fans who don’t engage in any kind of hate even in the worst moments.
For some, this immediately means we are “shills” just because we are a large, recognised fan site, and for some reason, for some, this means we are paid to be positive, or to be “shilling”, or anything – as if we aren’t entitled to our own opinions, and aren’t entitled to take in the situation more maturely. This has happened to a lesser extent to other fan pages as well, as this “shilling” discourse has been going on for several years in some circles of the community, even towards content creators.

It’s apparently very shocking to some that we just prefer to be mature about things. We all have other things to do and worry about in life than to be slinging hate about a video game or its developer on social media, much less when that’s not what none of us feel. We are allowed to think GTA V E&E is a completely fine project to exist, while at the same time commenting on the lack of communication behind it. Which we have earlier. We are also allowed to speculate about what it’s going to contain or not contain. One of us specifically has been accused of “shilling” just because they said something as simple as “we don’t know if this release is going to be full price, regardless of what you may think about Take-Two”. If any other member of the community says it, it’s fine, but because we are running a large fan site, we must be paid.

A fan site is not Rockstar Games, we are not employees, we are simply fans who run a large fan site. We do not make them change the way they do things. Widespread community backlash like this might, but that is as long as it’s respectful, or sticks to at least yelling about the game/company as a whole.
When it drops to levels like what we’ve seen over the weekend, attacking other individuals, being rude and offensive, then you lose any reason you could’ve had.

Very honestly, that kind of behaviour truly makes us think sometimes that perhaps it’s better Rockstar doesn’t communicate at all, if that’s what they’re going to get back. Complain all you want (preferably to the right entity and not individuals). But do not be rude, offensive, and bigoted. That is not complaining or voicing your opinion, that is being hateful and immature for the sake of social media outrage clout.

Actual hate speech aside, obviously none of this is necessarily surprising, because the community was already sceptical about GTA V E&E due to the lack of clear information and an underwhelming reveal trailer – which made this trailer, coupled with the sudden delay announcement, be just like throwing a large can of petrol into a raging fire. People are right to be sceptical and criticise how nothing was said about E&E for an year, but they are not right to be hateful, and this is where we start drawing the line and very honestly say that the actions of the angrier community members are far worse than anything R* have ever done, with communication issues or not.

There is a lot of unrealistic feedback being spread around, people saying that developers are at fault for business decisions, or that developers have been “doing nothing” for a year when Rockstar has over 3000 employees and most certainly more projects going on, which could mean E&E has a smaller overall team versus, say, something like GTA VI’s production or something else. There has been no sense of reality or humanity in a lot of groups, it’s just raw hate based on preconceived opinions. Some have even resorted to calling names to the actors that featured in the games, this is how ridiculous the hate train has gotten.

Be better. This is just disappointing. More so than any delay, any underwhelming reveal, anything.

And there you have it!

It’s taken us a few days to digest everything that is being thrown around in the community, but given the overwhelming reactions, our idea was always to articulate these problems into an article that showed both sides of the coin in addition to our personal perspectives. Our integrity as a fansite has been questioned for not joining in with the masses to roll it all out immediately, but to those people let us explain – we’re an old school fansite with an old school forum, from the length of this article you’ll see we do things differently; we process these events and put it into something that takes up more room than 280 characters (unless you’re naturally a man of little words like uNi!). You may have harsher views about E&E and Rockstar and that’s OK, our platform is your platform, and that’s the reason we’re around after two decades – there are just basic decency rules to follow if you want to be constructive.

Join in with the GTAV E&E discussions and debates here on GTAForums

Stills taken from the GTAV E&E Trailer

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