On September 17th, 2013, a game released that changed pop-culture forever. Grand Theft Auto V had a level of success that can’t really be put into words… but you clicked on this page, so I’ll try my best.
There’s something serendipitous about this 7 year anniversary. When GTA V released in 2013, it was just 2 months before the release of the Xbox One and PS4. Now, in 2020, we’re 2 months away from Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Funnily enough, Grand Theft Auto V is coming to those consoles as well. It’s a game that is so wildly popular it has survived three console generations without taking a moment to breathe.
But I want to analyze how Rockstar Games has maintained that longevity. So, let’s go back to that day in 2013. I vividly remember the night and day contrast of the game’s first hour. You start out in the cold, dreary fictional Midwest state of North Yankton. A bank heist goes south, resulting in you heading west to the blue-skied state of San Andreas.
You hit the sun-soaked streets of Los Santos in a flashy sports car, weaving through traffic and parking garages. The world had this unbelievable richness that captured me with such immediacy. The radio featured all these incredible songs and artists as well as a satirical yet enrapturing series of hosts and commercials. The skyscrapers felt large. The pedestrians felt unique. There was an unbelievable leap from GTA 4 to GTA 5.
Rockstar sucked us all in with a rich story that echoed cinematic crime classics like Heat. The set pieces were spectacular and layered. The characters were rich and allowed for these intertwining stories. Grand Theft Auto V brought a scope and scale never seen before by any other game.
Yes, we had numerous other open-world games. Yes, we were seeing the rise of cinematic stories. But Grand Theft Auto V operated at a level that every other game wished it could operate at. Even to this day, many games pale in comparison to the 2013 title. One might have expected developers to chase the ideas and concepts from GTA V but not many did.
There aren’t any other major games with three protagonists you can switch between on the fly. Unlike the trendchasers of Grand Theft Auto 3, it seems everyone recognized they weren’t going to match GTA V’s ambition and scale. The big playground filled with speed boats, planes, roaring cars, and chaos is unrivaled.
There are a lot of games that can create big booms and car chases but not all of them do it well. The sound, the graphics, the gunplay, the handling of the vehicles, it all melds together here to create something wonderful. Of course, all of this laid the foundation for what has allowed GTA V to dominate for 7 years: GTA Online.
Rockstar made players wait 2 weeks after launch to play the ambitious new multiplayer mode. This gave people plenty of time to focus on campaign and go all-in on the online when it dropped in October 2013. The idea was big and something fans had long dreamed of. A world where you climbed the ranks of the criminal underworld, amassing riches and assets.
You and over a dozen other people would be in a lobby where you could fight or join forces in the satirical city of angels. Your clothes, vehicles, and home were a sign of status. Of course, like real life, people wanted those status symbols badly. They found ways to exploit the game, giving them unfathomable levels of wealth.
This created this fascinating in-balance in the in-game economy which the game still suffers from. While the best car in the game in 2013 was about a million dollars, there are many cars now worth double that or more. Rockstar has done their best to counter these cheaters but when you have a game that has sold over 135 million copies, it becomes hard to control.
Many people wonder how the game is still selling copies. You’d think everyone has a copy by now but the beauty of Grand Theft Auto is that its the white whale of so many younger gamers. It’s the rebellious game, it’s the rock and roll of video games. It’s the one your parents tell you that you can’t play growing up, making you only want it more.
When they eventually become old enough to play it, they go out and buy it. A new audience of players comes in year after year because it’s this fabled gem. It’s this cycle that will likely never end until Grand Theft Auto VI releases.
Grand Theft Auto V also released when YouTube’s gaming scene was really starting to peak. Channels like Rooster Teeth boosted the game with fun and creative let’s plays, giving a portal into the game for people who didn’t have it. Other channels stoked the fires of in-game conspiracies such as a mystery surrounding the game’s tallest mountain. Some believed a jetpack lied within it. Maybe aliens were involved. Some people even found ghosts.
Rockstar created a game ripe for social media right as it was starting to really become a huge tool used for marketing games. Grand Theft Auto V essentially marketed itself thanks to YouTubers. As of 2019, the game had gained nearly 40 billion views across all the videos about the game. It was the third highest viewed video game of that year on YouTube.
That same support has also allowed the game to get frequent updates. We’ve gotten heists, houses, a working casino, and more. The scope and scale of the game has only gotten more and more insane. When it began, it was a simple rags to riches online game. It could get whacky if you wanted but it was still grounded within reason.
Now, in 2020, there’s laser guns, UFOs, flying cars and bikes, and much more. Remember how the first Fast and Furious was about stealing DVD players? Now the 9th movie is going to space, apparently. That’s what Grand Theft Auto V is like, except all in one game.
As we approach 2021, Grand Theft Auto V will continue to expand. A new location for GTA Online is planned for 2020 and a next-gen version will release in 2021 with exclusive updates. There will probably never be anything quite as big and well-supported as GTA V besides GTA VI.
While we have no idea when Grand Theft Auto VI is coming, one thing is probably certain. When it releases, Rockstar will probably have enough money to start manufacturing real flying cars.