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What happens to GTA Online when GTA 6 comes out?

Rockstar’s biggest challenge is following the success of its enduring online mode

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Artwork from Grand Theft Auto Online, featuring illustrations of three NPC characters and a variety of customized street cars against at city backdrop Image: Rockstar Games
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Grand Theft Auto 6’s first trailer gives fans of the open-world crime franchise a peek at the first new GTA in more than a decade. As impressive as GTA 6 looks, it comes with immense expectations. Its predecessor, Grand Theft Auto 5, is one of the biggest games of all time; Rockstar has sold more than 190 million copies of the game across three console generations, and following that massive success won’t be an easy task.

But Rockstar has another monumental challenge as GTA 6 creeps closer: delivering a successor, or companion, to Grand Theft Auto Online, the hugely successful multiplayer component built on GTA 5. Since launching in 2013, GTA Online is regularly played by millions of players — players who have invested hundreds of millions of hours (and dollars) in the game.

With GTA 6 slated for 2025, Rockstar has a difficult needle to thread. It has millions of loyal fans who will continue to play GTA Online for years to come, plus a new game to support, hopefully with the same longevity and vitality of GTA 5. It also has a new location, a modern-day Vice City (and locations beyond), and a decade’s worth of technological advancements to capitalize on for a potential online expansion for GTA 6.

Rockstar can’t simply move its entire GTA Online player base and tech to a new town and a new game and ask everyone to start over. Other developers have tried, and stumbled, to transition their loyal communities from one successful game to a follow-up. Companies are often left competing with themselves, as with the recently launched Payday 3, which is struggling to match the player numbers of the decade-old, hugely popular Payday 2. Developers Valve and Blizzard took a separate approach to sequelizing two of their popular games, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch, effectively replacing them with Counter-Strike 2 and Overwatch 2 but to mixed results. Rockstar wound up competing with itself with the launch of Red Dead Online in 2018, with GTA Online being the clear victor. (Last year, the studio announced it was effectively winding down development of RDO to put resources toward GTA 6.)

Rockstar doesn’t have the luxury of replacing Grand Theft Auto Online with a straight sequel. It would leave too many players behind. But the gamemaker might try to attempt something different altogether. The developer’s purchase of GTA role-playing mod maker, the team that makes FiveM and RedM, could signal its approach to building out the online side of GTA 6. Those mods allow players to take on just about any role in the worlds of Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead, letting them not just become the masters of criminal organizations and famous outlaws, but taxi drivers, gang members, and horse ranchers.

Rockstar may also take a more subscription-based approach; its GTA Plus subscription, launched in 2022, appears to have been quite successful at bringing in consistent month-to-month revenue for the company.

What exactly Rockstar plans to do with GTA Online and multiplayer integration for GTA 6 is almost completely opaque right now. Rockstar’s debut trailer for 6 focuses largely on the main characters and setting of its next Grand Theft Auto game, and the company is famously a black box of pre-release information. (Polygon reached out to Rockstar for comment on the future of GTA Online and will update when the company responds.) Even Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick hasn’t said anything substantive about the future of Grand Theft Auto Online, only remarking on the outstanding recurring revenue brought in by Rockstar and acknowledging the daunting task of following GTA 5 and GTA Online.

“I think that’s a challenge that the folks at Rockstar face every time there’s a new iteration of Grand Theft Auto,” Zelnick said on a podcast appearance earlier this year. “It needs to be something you’ve never seen before on one hand, and it needs to reflect the feeling that we have about Grand Theft Auto, and that’s a big challenge for the team.”

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