Sound Off: The Lowdown on GTA+

Welcome to the latest edition of Sound Off, where we turn off the mics for a second, leave the simple and incomplete nature of 280 characters behind, and get down n’ dirty into the nitty gritty of things happening in the Rockstar world. This time, it’s the GTA+ subscription model released on Tuesday 29th March, which was, to say the very least, not received very well by the community at all!

Fair warning, this article isn’t for the faint-hearted and turned out to be quite a lengthy read. After checking out all the pros and cons the community has discussed over the last week, this is where we’re at with our initial impressions. We’ve got four broad questions with three different perspectives, and none of them are guaranteed to match your own. For transparency, we each game on different platforms, and only one of us has subscribed to GTA+.

The financial cost of GTA+

uNi: No idea how R* decides items/discounts, but as a introduction for this new service I feel the selection of offers could have been better. Although I did end up receiving GTA$1M instead of the GTA$500k advertised initially so I am curious to see if that is something R* decided to change based on community feedback or if it is just a first month bonus kind of deal. As for the price, it’s not that steep as far subscriptions go, but keeping players will heavily depend of what they choose to offer on the future I suppose.

Spider-Vice: In essence, GTA+ isn’t very different from other game subs out there, including subs for games that are already paid themselves – see Fallout 1st for example: the game is $39.99 on Steam with a $12.99 subscription on top with these mostly static benefits – but that I’ve heard many players like, despite it having been EXTREMELY controversial at launch, even more than GTA+!
Fortnite is free to play but also has the Fortnite Crew subscription model which is $11.99 with monthly changing benefits not too different from GTA+ model, but both these games give you a premium cosmetics-only currency to spend in a cosmetics store.
Final Fantasy XIV is already subscription based itself, $14.99/mo (and the amount of time you subscribe for actually changes how many characters you can have), but also has paid DLC which can go for prices such as $39.99 on top of that subscription – though this is barely new for MMO’s such as this, and even less so for PC players who have been seeing subscription models as far back as World of Warcraft.

As far as subscriptions go, this is far, far from the worst example out there financially. If you’re interested in early access content, free cash deposits (there are reports of players getting GTA$1M instead of GTA$500K, new member bonus?) and other bonuses along with “accelerators” for each weekly event, whether you’re a veteran player with not much time on your hands to play and grind for the latest content, or a newbie who wants a shortcut with some special benefits, then sure, this proposition doesn’t sound that bad.

It doesn’t sound that bad from the point that it gives you a lot of content that is cheaper IRL than one singular Megalodon (GTA$8M) shark card and is worth (in-game) more than those GTA$8M (see the math). Besides, GTA+ is doing what some other games with optional subscriptions do as well – matching the cost of the subscription with that of currency you can also buy. For $5.99 you can get a singular GTA$500K shark card, or you can get GTA+ for the exact same price, you get the same in-game money, and a bunch of other benefits on top, but monthly.

Kirsty: If we’re going to judge GTA+ on the cost alone, then I’d say price is “alright”. Everything is a subscription when it comes to gaming/music/TV/film/shopping these days, so it’s not a new formula, but it does make you groan that there’s another one you could potentially be adding to your balance sheet.

The first month offers bonuses with a worth or saving of around GTA$10million in-game for $5.99. If you needed to buy a Shark Card to cover the exact same purchases, you’d be spending $100 for a Megalodon worth GTA$8million, and you’d still be short by GTA$2million. An important note here is that subscribing doesn’t guarantee you actually need the bonuses on offer. For example, I don’t own a Yacht, so the free Aquarius upgrade bonus this month would be worthless and unused for me as I’d have to fork out GTA$6million to purchase the basic Orion first.

Something else that doesn’t get GTA+ quite off the hook when it comes to pricing is the fact that GTA Online isn’t free to play like many other games that are filling their boots with loot these days. The 3 month sale on new-gen is reasonable, but is it fair to add a subscription service to an almost-nine year old game that at its most expensive costs $40 to buy and requires a PS+/XBL live service subscription to access as well? It’s the type of commercialism that’s a bit meh, for lack of a better description.

There are obviously a lot of moral ambiguities when it comes to microtransactions and their presence in gaming in the first place, but players are going to buy them no matter our position, so in my opinion it’s an important obligation of ours to assess their value factually as well as emotionally so people can make an informed decision and not waste their money if they don’t want or need to.

Essentially, I would be comfortable saying GTA+ is worth the price but only if you are a frequent Shark Card buyer, or you personally find value/worth in the items/bonuses/collectables that are offered. I can’t conclude that it’s worth it financially if neither of those latter statements are true for you or your playstyle as that would mean you’re kinda buying something for nothing. For this reason I’d recommend making a decision on a month by month basis given the benefits update and expire in rotation.

Casuals vs. Community: The target audience

uNi: This is obviously not targeted at everyone and never was marketed as such. Crying about it like it was is just nonsense.

Spider-Vice: As I mentioned before, especially on the PC side, a lot of massively multiplayer online games out there now have subscription services like this, focused on cosmetics, bonuses and freebies, money deposits (although this is usually a different cosmetic-only currency), etc. and they do appease to both the “casuals” and the frequent players (but not all frequent players subscribe anyway, as it usually doesn’t affect non-sub gameplay).

I see this almost as a replacement of Shark Cards for some types of players (see the bit about this in the “financial cost” part above), in the sense you get content, bonuses and money each month, not just money. Literally none of this is mandatory, and as the bonuses stand this month at least, can be completely ignorable if you’re a veteran. You already have it all and you’re not interested in the rest? Ok, good, then it’s not for you and that’s okay, it doesn’t have to be. If you don’t like it or want to “boycott” it, don’t buy it, your wallet votes.
Just as quoted at the end of this article by the amazing Ask A Game Dev:
“If you ever look at DLC or microtransactions and think “I would never pay for that”, it just means it isn’t for you.”

If you’re a collector who is interested in exclusive clothing or someone who, regardless of tenure, wants to enjoy early access to things like vehicles and/or their speed mods, you might see more value in it. Same applies to people who may be regulars but don’t want to do the common “grind” and still want to enjoy the game’s content by either having it made cheaper for them or even given to them via the subscription, along with all other benefits and bonuses that will change monthly.

I expect this to be extremely fluid each month as benefits and early access content change – some players might see more value some months than others, some might cancel some months and others might subscribe other months, etc. etc. Rockstar do have a very lenient cancellation policy (cancel any time, keep everything including bonuses for the month), so it will all depend on which months are attractive to you or not, if you’re even interested.
For both casuals and the “community”/veterans, the worth is ultimately completely dependent on you, but from personal experience and anecdotes from others, this kind of thing can end up attracting veteran players as well.

If what Tez2 speculated about on our forums is true, we could even see subscribers voting on what content will feature on the subscription each month, so this could also help with making it more enticing than having R* choose from a list themselves that players may not always like.

This stuff will, is and has always been forever divisive. No way to make everyone happy with this, regardless of whether we’re talking about GTA, Fortnite, Fallout or any other game with a subscription – it will always have different pros and cons depending on who you ask and clearly, given community backlash, is not something that will satisfy everyone and is obviously being exacerbated by the fact that it was so introduced so late into the game’s lifecycle, which is also what is making me think this is going to go into GTA VI’s Online mode.

I think a good proper FAQ post-backlash would help temper some worries from other players who might not understand that this may not have as many consequences as they think it will. Questions about what content is planned to be made truly exclusive, how will early access work and for what content, etc. etc.

Kirsty: It can be a hard pill to swallow for some, but Shark Cards are the biggest driving force behind DLC and content being free in GTA Online over the years. The massive amount of income they generate for the company is the incentive to keep production value high while moving across generations like they have. Until now, microtransactions from Rockstar have been pretty “friendly” and irrelevant to think all that much about when it comes to the topic of accessing content at a premium. Behind the scenes, casuals pay and grinders play, and everyone just got on with it.

Is Shark Cards’ success a good reason to introduce more monetisation right now? I wouldn’t be confident saying yes, but if they are here to stay, then we have to make peace with the idea that there will be players who will seek out GTA+ for their own reasons. This is where community disappointment speaks loudest, because there are many frustrated voices trying to say there is no value, and the program has already been dubbed a “scam” or “cash grab” with pleas from content creators not to buy into it at all. The longevity of GTAV has grown tiring for many players, so it’s pretty much a double-edged sword of cause and effect. The “game forever milked” they call it, a cow that should be going to pasture as we’re more than ready for the next GTA. It would be naive not to acknowledge Shark Cards’ role in the creation of GTA+ as well as all that free DLC, though, and this is why it’s also important to understand and accept when something isn’t aimed at the audience you’re part of, especially when it is optional.

Even with the divided audience of GTA+, one still generally thinks they speak for the other. The community is the “public facing” audience here and they represent the games online. The players that use their platforms to give feedback and take part in debates, build reputation out of producing content such as guides or mods, market and advertise the games through news or virtual photography; they’re the people who the gaming media looks to during these announcements. And when a chunk of these people are unhappy for one reason or another? The reaction ends up making announcements appear badly timed or tone-deaf, which only serves to burden the ever-crumbling bridge between the community and community management. Some people take the importance of criticism in the gaming space a little too literally, so in times of discord, getting your facts straight and thinking outside the box to be constructive is far more helpful. I believe that even though GTA+ has an obvious audience, a bit of well-placed understanding through player-friendly messaging with less corporate language would have smoothed over this introduction a little bit.

The short-term impact on GTA Online

uNi: I can’t foresee a big impact short-term, you may need to wait a couple days for a new car or GTA+ players get a slightly bigger bonus but that is it. If any major changes are to occur it will be in the next iteration of GTAO. I expect to see a bigger emphasis on monetisation there. It is how it works all over the industry and R* will need to follow suit if it wants GTAO to keep relevant and profitable. I don’t see the majority of the community regularly spending money on GTAO2 as long what they get in return is good enough.

Spider-Vice: If GTA+ is kept as is, like most other games with optional subscriptions? None whatsoever in my view.

Many people thought Shark Cards and those being advertised more aggressively again a few years back was “the beginning of the end”, with massive nerfs and what not incoming and that never really happened. In fact, R* even with Shark Cards has released content packs like the Cayo Perico Heist and The Contract which are both very good money makers (thus potentially negating Shark Card sales), and Cayo Perico has not been nerfed thus far like many people thought it would – “no way these payouts will be kept!” – so far, they are. Emphasis on “so far”.
R* also willingly gave people a bunch of money by multiplying the Dre storyline earnings in The Contract by x1.5 and x2 respectively in two different weeks, along with that same content pack’s Payphone Hits getting the same treatment. These were pretty much weeks of joy for grinders and regular players alike – I’ve never been richer in GTA Online and it was because of those two weeks.

Let’s also not forget they buffed the Nightclub safe for current-gen and the Career Builder already gives you access to some property (even if on a budget) and some sort of proper starting point even if you’re not a subscriber, so even if they were already planning GTA+ for a while, to me it doesn’t really feel like they want to shove it in everyone’s face that much.

A lot of people in the community have expressed concerns over regular non-subscriber weekly event bonuses being nerfed because there are GTA$ and RP “accelerators” that seem to apply to those same event weeks, but I personally think what’s going to happen is that subscribers are going to get buffed and not non-subscribers getting nerfed (i.e. x2 as usual on an adversary mode would be x3 for subscribers, instead of regular players getting nerfed down to x1.5 so GTA+ can get x2).
As I type this, in fact, R* have released their first event week since the release of GTA+ and there have been absolutely no nerfs whatsoever, instead GTA+ gets a x4 buff in Street Races.
I have seen a few community members on GTAF be relieved that nothing was nerfed or made exclusive or anything this week which kind of calmed their worries about GTA+, so I’m honestly not really worried about that stuff until/if it happens.

I personally think we’d have seen major nerfs by now to things like the Cayo Perico Heist and none of these discounts if they wanted to “forcefully” push GTA+ and its bonuses, especially considering it may have been in development for quite a while.

Again, for me, short term impact on GTA Online if everything is kept as is? None. If GTA+ doesn’t interest you and you see no value in it… you can play the game as normal and get 95% of the things in it normally, except the cosmetics. There are some adjustments to things like PvP incoming, and perhaps there might be some economy adjustments, but it remains to be seen and again I currently have no reason to think we’re seeing nerfs, as I said earlier. I will eat my words if it happens, but as it stands… Nope, not worried at all.

Kirsty: Rockstar have already announced plans for re-balancing of certain PvP related stuff, so there have been some worries about them nerfing money-earning as well now with GTA+, such as Cayo Perico Heist returns. I think if this were to come to fruition, we would see a lot of animosity from the fanbase on a scale we probably haven’t seen before! There’s always a chance that features veteran players or hardcore grinders really take advantage of can get nerfed, just look at the Red Dead Online streaks and daily challenges, but I don’t necessarily agree that GTA+ increases those odds right now. Doing this wouldn’t encourage those players to subscribe in the long run, it might even turn them off playing completely, so what would it achieve?

At this point I just don’t see it, but I am happy to eat my words in light of it happening. It’s easier than ever for anyone to make money in the game, new or old, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they are assessing the kind of payouts that make this possible. There have been some recent adjustments to increase passive income lately, such as from the Nightclub, and the introduction of the Career Builder on new-gen consoles means new players get a good start as well.

Another short term issue heavily discussed is regarding clothing/liveries that appear to be completely exclusive. The initial offerings aren’t actually entirely new, they’ve appeared in the files before but have been left unused/inaccessible unless glitched in on PC. They’re non-essential cosmetics, but this could be a way to entice the collector community towards the subscription as I understand it’s quite a hobby for some players.

Concerns for the future and how things could change

uNi: The only thing that is surprising about a GTA Online subscription model is that it did not happen years ago already. If you look at other games under the T2 portfolio this happens everywhere. If anything, the fact that GTAO has been left alone so long (apart from Shark Cards) is promising for future iterations of Online and SP games coming from R*.

Spider-Vice: I’m actually surprised this didn’t happen much earlier, people in the community had been speculating about a potential GTA Online subscription for years now. Stuff like targeted discounts and bonuses for shark card buyers advertised on the loading screens, speculation about handling flag changes being related to potential paid vehicle speed upgrades, and so on.

Looking at other games’ subscription models, where in some cases private lobbies and private features are offered, along with subscription locked non-cosmetic content, all-in-all I don’t see any reason to worry about GTA+ doing that just yet, if at all. From what I can understand from the official info, GTA+ seems to be mostly based on early access, rewards, bonuses and exclusive cosmetics (which I personally don’t mind, but others will), which I think is a fair deal if you’re paying out of your pocket IRL, at least to have some sort of incentive to keep your subscription.

I’m not going to worry about something that’s not happening and I see no sign, personally, that any of these things are going to happen just yet. Looking at other games’ models and how (despite everything, let’s be honest) friendly T2 seems to be with their R* microtransactions vs. even others within the T2 portfolio, I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Something else I’ve personally noticed is that the wording for the vehicle and property benefits is very different from the one used in the cosmetic benefits in the GTA+ website. Property and vehicle-related benefits mention discounts or them being free, if there’s discounts then this means they’ll be available for all players, just at a discounted price or even free.

In terms of the far future, whilst reading the GTA+ topic on GTAForums, one of the mods made a very interesting prediction based on their experience with other subscription-based games that I’m willing to agree with and am starting to think is what’s going to happen, especially given Red Dead Online already experimented with this.
What if Rockstar are introducing a secondary currency for the next iteration of GTA Online? What if Red Dead Online was already a test for the next iteration of GTAO based on what other games are already doing?
In RDO the Gold Bars were mostly for cosmetic content, except unlike other subscription-based games with premium currencies, you could earn them in-game as well – most other games with subscriptions and premium currency reserve that currency for subscribers only.

This new currency would be for subscribers, with drops every month much like regular money, and you could use it on cosmetics – some games even have a premium currency shop for subscriber-exclusive stuff. Most games that do this centre it all around cosmetic items, and R* themselves in a deleted part of the official GTA+ page referred to “items” from the next GTA Online Update. This is another one of the reasons why I don’t think they are going to ever lock actual vehicles and progression-related content behind the subscription – other than cosmetics, but as much as this might sour parts of the player base, especially collectors… it can actually be what makes it sell in other games for both newbies and veterans alike.

If this is what’s happening, this doesn’t change the gameplay and progression loop at all other than offering extra perks and bonuses to players who wish to pay, and I personally don’t have many concerns, if any at all, for the future of GTA Online and much less Rockstar.
I play Rockstar’s new games mostly for the single player (and only then the Online, I took a while to get into RDO) and I don’t think that’s going anywhere or decreasing in quality whatsoever over something as simple as this, that most certainly isn’t going to take any development time away more than any other GTA Online DLC. Rockstar-quality Story Modes aren’t going anywhere.

To me, what we’re seeing is R*/T2 adapting to current times just like they did with the original GTA Online, in fact, I’d even argue they’ve been waiting for this for a long time while observing what other companies were doing. In 2013 we had Shark Cards when other companies started putting similar microtransactions in games (EA was already being mocked for years), nowadays subscriptions can be more profitable and more “worth it” in terms of bonuses and content versus just buying a bunch of money (recall the math), and is the new reality in a lot of parts of gaming. I have no reason to worry about anything. But we’ll see what the next few months bring.

Now excuse me while I go and listen to Moodymann and Sessanta in the Auto Shop, call Franklin for a payphone hit and go and spin the Diamond Casino & Resort Lucky Wheel. Maybe I should replay the Dre story for a million, been a while…

Oh also, let me plug Ask A Game Dev again, as there’s another interesting article about microtransactions that is a good read. Please, please, do some reading before engaging in blind social media outrage, and if you want to be outraged, at least aim it at the companies and not at individuals!

Kirsty: Prices and morals about monetisation aside, something I’m mostly cautious about is the precedent this move will set for new games and how far exactly the monetisation will go in GTA VI’s iteration of GTA Online. There’s been a lot of talk about the possibility of completely exclusive items, content, or DLC heading to GTA Online that’s only available for GTA+ subscribers. I’m not going to get too upset about something that doesn’t exist yet, Rockstar haven’t implied that this will be the case whatsoever, but it’s food for thought as we get closer to the next GTA. Introducing it so late in the lifecycle of the game indicates to me that it’s a way to transition players into a broader purchasing scheme that will be established in the future, or a way to evaluate what kind of content players are willing to part money for in order to introduce premium items later down the line. In other words, if players get used to GTA+ now, then it’ll be easier to accept or buy into at GTA VI launch.

This impression could be completely wrong and misjudged of course, it’s only the first month! I would speculate that tables would even start turning if they ever offered a premium shop of sorts, as I bet a lot of players would actually eat that right up (see Fortnite and the success they have with celebrity/character skins), but I think it’s an understandable and genuine concern to have without further insight. People are going to spend their money however they want to, but it’s also OK to be upset at the extent of “money making” moves in a franchise you treasure.

To tap into the mentality and market of gamers who are happy to spend, it seems to me that they wanted to innovate their own streams of revenue to ensure continued success into the future. It then makes sense to assume that they looked at what other popular and high-earning games offer their own fanbases, and yep, it’s subscriptions. The reason I express caution about the possibility of long-standing changes is the way it could fracture the fanbase, such as a more obvious divide between those who pay to win and play to earn, limiting progression or overall access; it would just feel unnecessary for a game that is already hugely successful.

Optional and background monetisation is easy to ignore, but pushing premium content might feel insincere, like players are are no longer valued unless they produce profit despite their activity being what keeps games alive and relevant amongst competitors. To be fair I guess the former is kinda true for any business, we’re here to “consume”, but we’re also here to have fun. I did note, however, that there was no mention of GTA+ on the latest Newswire about the weekly bonuses; the GTA+ website was updated and there are indicators in-game, but I think it was a worthy decision to avoid giving it too much platform as this way it remains the player’s choice whether they seek it out or not, exactly like Shark Cards. I don’t know if this will be consistent of course, but credit where credit is due for putting regular players first for now. I’ll reiterate as well though that perhaps the void wouldn’t be filling up with all this unfounded speculation about the future if there wasn’t such a limited community management presence in the space to begin with.

And there you have it!

If your own views don’t fall in line with any or only parts of ours, that’s perfectly valid, as right now there’s a lot more where all this came from! Why not join in with the GTA+ discussions and debates with us on GTAForums?

GTA+ Announcement Topic
GTA+ Bitch & Moan Topic
GTA+ Subscribers Topic