clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

GTA Online’s wealth gap feels bigger than ever

A tale of two cities

GTA Online - A player in a bright yellow race car races down a tunnel, followed by a competitor in a red sports car Image: Rockstar Games
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

The Cayo Perico Heist, first added in GTA Online’s December update, is a ton of fun. For the first time in ages, I find myself antsy to log on and get up to some crime-related antics with the lads. If you’re well-equipped, or have a friend on hand who can sneak you into the newest Heist, you’re in for a great time. However, the game is still a struggle for those stranded outside of Cayo Perico.

Cayo Perico is a few months old now, but players are still scrambling to get the money to go there. After all, it’s more than just a ticket to Cayo Perico — the entire game is full of expensive treats and mission types that only unlock if you drop a million dollars (or two, or three.) Do you like the game’s Heist missions? Well, the Diamond Casino, Doomsday Bunker, and Cayo Perico all take millions to unlock, and the game doesn’t tell you which updates are more important or lucrative.

After years of grinding, my friends and I are finally able to let loose. We’re no longer worried about the grind necessary to make it to the end game. We’re there, and it’s made us rich as heck. We all own nuclear subs, Doomsday bunkers, flying motorcycles that shoot heat-seeking rockets, yachts, businesses, nightclubs, and a few sports cars. Our cups runneth over, and it’s incredibly freeing.

Since there’s no need to grind, we can play sub-optimal missions. For the first time, it’s “worth it” to sell trucks full of cocaine or play in modes like Arena Wars. There’s no payday to look forward to, and we have millions in the bank if any new content happens to come out. We’ve won. Everything is fun, because money doesn’t matter anymore.

GTA Online Gunrunning update - weaponized armored cars Rockstar North/Rockstar Games

If you’re a new player and you don’t have access to Cayo Perico, you’re restricted to older content (unless you fork up around $40 in real world cash to unlock the bare minimum you need from the outset.) But, contrary to the early game missions, The Diamond Casino and Cayo Perico are both extremely high-paying, and allow players to complete the tasks exclusively in a private lobby. This means that you’re not mingling with the general public, who might be using potent hacks or be out to grief. Instead, it’s just you, any friends you can rustle up, and the NPCs of Los Santos. No risk, tons of reward.

A new player to the game might have purchased a meth business, or started their own nightclub — a perfectly reasonable-seeming decision on the surface. However, after spending a start-up fee, there are follow-up upgrades and advancements. All of these criminal careers are nested in microtransaction pyramids. First, you’ll need a bikers’ club, and then you can purchase each individual business, which have expensive upgrades for security and better product. A nightclub or an arcade is necessary if you want to collect all of that — that’s another couple of mil right there.

Even the vehicle warehouse, which is considered one of the most accessible and high paying “starter” businesses, gives a player $80k for a successful car delivery, completed in an open lobby potentially full of malicious players. If you don’t get camped or griefed, that’s pretty decent … but it’s still nothing compared to even one Cayo Perico run.

If a player wants to unlock the Cayo Perico Heist, they have a lot of work ahead of them, and so solo players and new players are the most disadvantaged. While new players are working up from the bottom for Simeon, veterans are seeing millions of dollars pour into their accounts, which they can leisurely spend on orbital strikes or unstoppable weaponry. The gap between the haves and the have-nots has never been higher, and the open world PvP part of the game means that manifests in very real, unpleasant way — like being instantly blown up while carrying expensive cargo, or locked in a cage by a hacker.

Grand Theft Auto Online - the tropical Cayo Perico island, with a guard standing in a tower so he can watch for potential criminals. Image: Rockstar Games

Right now, it’s fun for me and my friends to mess around with “lower level” content, because we have the safety net of Cayo Perico waiting for us. If I lose a shipment of cocaine, I can shrug it off with a smile. A new player doesn’t have that luxury, and thanks to the prevalence of tools like the Oppressor or the nuclear sub’s missiles, we feel confident that we can tackle any antagonistic player short of an all-out hacker.

If you’re new to Los Santos, then the Cayo Perico Heist doesn’t solve any of the game’s problems. There needs to be a way for Rockstar let the ladder down and help up new players who are just trying to find their feet. Right now, that onboarding process is restricted to being lucky enough to have a friend in the endgame, and those who are starting out fresh are in for a tough time.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon