Rockstar and Take-Two: A Tragic Downfall of Self-Sabotage

Rockstar of Old

A legendary company. Countless awards and masterpieces under their belt. The highest regarded company, and simultaneously the bad boy of the videogames industry. Rockstar Games was the business equivalent of a God among men. With their quick wit and dry humour both online and in their games, an affinity for doing what they want, and still releasing full, high-quality products on a regular basis - Seemingly few gaming companies could compete with the true rockstars of the industry.

And don't get me wrong, they're still a company that releases fantastic, detailed and enjoyable content. GTA V and Red Dead Redemption 2 are some of my favourite games and are unparalleled in quality. However, the following article will discuss concerning behaviours seen from Rockstar and their parent company, Take-Two Interactive, as of late.

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Before we begin this article, I would like to simply state that all of this is simply a matter of opinion I've done my best to back up with facts. I do not hate Rockstar, they're my favourite game company. I am only concerned for what has been going on as of late. I hate to see what has been happening to them and to their reputation.

Accountability: Not the Developers

Before I delve deeper into the current state of Rockstar and the treatment of their online games and fanbase, I would like to mention that this is of no fault of the writers, developers, or QA testers. They are all great people who very clearly are passionate about the games that they are working on. I believe that the actions taken by Rockstar are due to the following:

  • A requirement for consistent monetisation, set by Take-Two.
    • Ever since the phenomenal success of GTA Online, we've seen Rockstar push monetisation strategies much akin to that of other Take-Two owned companies. Season passes and microtransactions have both came to Rockstar's online titles since the launch of the ever controversial Shark Cards in GTA Online.
      Rockstar set out to make games, and that's what they do - But ultimately, Take-Two have the final say, and they exist to make money. The Shark Card was proven to be a huge success for them, so they will do whatever they can to boost their sales even more in order to keep the profits flowing in. This includes setting high prices and poor rewards for completing ingame missions, and making them feel more like a grind than enjoyable content.
  • Producers and Marketing Directors who fail to meet fan needs.
    • There's no denying that the marketing and social media for Rockstar is awful. Players are left with silence between releases and announcements, with very little news in-between. A few examples of this:
      • It has been eight years since the launch of Grand Theft Auto V, without even a word on the sequel being mentioned - Only it's fourth version to release since it's original launch on the Xbox 360 and PS3 back in 2013. (Followed by an Xbox One / PS4 port in 2014 and a PC release in 2015)
      • Updates are announced sporadically and sometimes given a date with only a few days notice. Frequently, other live-service games are given a year-long roadmap with plans for updates, patches and live events throughout. These detail upcoming features, changes and more.
        Sure, things change with these planned updates and sometimes fans are disappointed by delays, but it's still much more preferable to knowing nothing about what comes next.
      • Recently, Rockstar's marketing has been focusing a lot on music, and mostly of the club variety. I don't know about you, but that's not to the average gamer's taste - And Rockstar fans have made this very clear.
    • I'd like to mention that the people who write and compose the Newswire articles, Tweets and other social media posts are also not responsible for this, they are simply doing their job within the restrictions placed on them.
  • The Online games being left to a skeleton crew.
    • All you have to do to see this is look at the game credits - There's not a lot of names listed. After completing the singleplayer, Rockstar expect players to jump into their ambitious online experience with friends for the rest of the games' lifespans - But they don't allocate the resources for it. Developers take six months to release updates on a medium-sized scale.
      While we definitely don't want them working in crunch or mandatory overtime, we're left wondering "Why won't they hire more people?" - With the income they're most definitely making from some of the most successful entertainment products of all time, they most definitely have the budget. Hell, they could hire an entire studio or two to simply focus on making content updates for their Online titles. It would allow them to increase the scope and reputation of the updates. (Which Red Dead Online especially needs)

Roadmaps and a Lack of Transparency

As mentioned earlier, most live-service games feature Roadmaps spanning months, or even years. These detail new content updates, features and content coming to their respective games in the future.

Look at the following games, and some of the roadmaps they provided:

d2roadmap

Destiny 2 has been running seasonal events for the past few years now, with 'Season of the Splicer' having just concluded (Leading directly into 'Season of the Lost' with no gap inbetween, might I add)

The game details weekly events and challenges, with all of the special cutscenes and missions mentioned, alongside the seasonal content. Everything is provided with dates and just enough detail to get players excited.

fo76roadmap

Fallout 76 had a rocky launch, but since then, even they have managed to redeem the game to an enjoyable quality. This roadmap features seasons, four major content updates with quality-of-life improvements, additions, changes and full-sized new content updates. Bare in mind, this company is also working on The Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield, and with a much more limited budget in comparison to what Rockstar should have.

halo5roadmap

Much like Fallout 76, Halo 5 launched to mixed reviews - But some of the updates added it's best content. Each of these eight content updates had more details linked within them closer to their release dates - Spanning new armours, special weapons, game modes and Forge build items.
Not to mention, this only spans around the following nine months after the game released.

A vague content plan for Rockstar's games wouldn't be impossible to come up with either. If you click here, I wrote one for Red Dead Online which spanned over eleven updates - All with detailed and carefully balanced content which realistically shouldn't be out of their scope. I even wrote a variety of scripts (here) to coincide with those updates. Between those two articles - That's 57,000 words, more than manageable for one of the largest game studios in the world.

The Cycle

A recent meme has popped up in the Rockstar Community, and not one in Rockstar's favour. Fans have caught on to a cycle:

  1. Rockstar announces a game update
  2. Silence for a while
  3. Rockstar releases more info on the game update
  4. Game update launches around a week later
  5. Rockstar releases drip feed for a few months, with mixed reactions
  6. A few months of mostly mediocre event weeks with no news on more content
  7. Repeat

This isn't ideal, when most games run exciting live events and challenges fortnightly, Rockstar leave fans for up to six or seven months on end without information on the next update. During this time, player counts dwindle and fade away, only to jump on for the rarer worthwhile discounts or if there's a good car to win at the Casino Wheel on GTA Online. Event week bonuses tend to be geared towards newer players, with a lack of focus on rewarding the loyal high-level players with bonuses and rewards for endgame content.

No Feedback: Newswire Comments, Community Livestreams, QnA Posts, etc

The old Rockstar Newswire was fantastic! Members could comment on all their newswire posts, and Rockstar would reply to questions, post clarifications and more. They would announce livestreams with community members, host frequent QnA posts and more.

Granted, the new design looks great, and you get a much better feel for the games the posts are themed around - But the community aspect is totally gone. It feels more like a newsletter than a community post. The lack of ability to see direct community feedback on posts is somewhat alarming, as if they're removing our ability to scrutinise their updates, or even give praise where it's due - After all, Los Santos Tuners would have had people congratulating them in masses on the release post.

It's one of the many things that makes us feel as if Rockstar as a company are driving a wedge between us fans and them. Even the distinct lack of interactions with their fans on social media makes us doubt the rules set in place for the social crew to follow - Rockstar Twitter guy, if you're reading this, I feel you.

Expanded and Enhanced, Where? Sequels, Ever?

The fourth release of GTA V, dubbed "Expanded and Enhanced" was announced on June 11th, 2020 during the Playstation event. Rockstar claimed that the port for Xbox Series X|S and Playsation 5 would "feature a range of technical improvements, visual upgrades and performance enhancements to take full advantage of the latest hardware, making the game more beautiful and more responsive than ever." - And then they fell silent for a year.

This was likely due to the 178k dislikes - 138k likes ratio they got on the trailer, as it only showed footage from previous trailers of Grand Theft Auto V, dating all the way back nine years at the time to 2011, with not a drop of new footage.

It wasn't until May 18th, 2021 they announced that the game would be launching on November 11th that year, at the bottom of a post about future updates for Red Dead and GTA Online - Yet they did not, and still haven't shared any screenshots or trailers featuring new gameplay. The distinct lack of promo images and trailers of the game have left fans concerned about the overall quality of the port, and if it will be as good as Rockstar says - After all, a picture paints a thousand words. (And a video paints a million more)

The fact that the supposedly large port of their game was treated like a footnote for their Newswire post about updates to GTA and Red Dead causes concern for their confidence in the overall quality of Expanded and Enhanced.

Naturally, there's a lot to be said about a game getting it's fourth version released after an eight-year lifespan which seems like it will go on for another two or three. Whilst the prolonged existence of GTA V will ensure the long-awaited sequel will have more development time to make it something out of this world, the complete lack of information on said sequel has left fans frustrated, and not just at Rockstar. Under every post of Rockstar, you'll see an almost cult-like image of people practically foaming at the mouth for GTA VI to be announced, with each of those replies having more Rockstar fans spilling into arguments because they're fed up of hearing about it.

It's impossible to even compare the hype for GTA VI to anything else, and for a game that nobody knows anything about - That's worrying. How can it live up to these expectations? I believe if we'd heard more about it now, it would be easier for it to do so. After all, what you imagine will always be perfectly suited to your tastes, and how can anything ever live up to that?

With all this love and focus on GTA, it's also worth noting Red Dead Online has been left in the mud. Rockstar haven't announced any ninth-gen patches for the game, leaving the consoles locked to a now slow-feeling 30FPS. Red Dead fans are constantly left to ponder why GTA always gets more love and attention with larger updates and next-gen ports when it's almost a decade old, whilst their newer, only three-year-old game is seen with less love. Perhaps they only wanted to make a Red Dead singleplayer and forget Online, but were forced into it - But even then, why not give it the same love GTA Online gets in order to make it the same level of money-making success? We know it's possible.

Patches in Updates

Patches and bug fixes are an essential part of keeping a live-service game at it's tip top quality, so when it comes to most game companies - Smaller patches are released frequently (Sometimes even on a monthly basis) in order to keep things running at their optimal condition. Rockstar, however, only release around four patches per year. Two of these are their larger titled updates, with two smaller bug fix updates following - Which tend to only address some of the issues at hand.

Each large patch seems to be bringing more and more issues now, too. For Red Dead Online, 'Moonshiners' brought numerous bugs and glitches to the game, making animals essentially extinct like some cyberpunk dystopia. 'The Naturalist' and it's following patch (Which needed to be reversed for a short while) literally made the game unplayable for most fans, with constant crashes and black screens, and the most recent 'Blood Money'  has had semi-consistent launch issues for Playstation players with the issues not even being acknowledged by Rockstar as of the time I'm writing this article, almost two months after the update released.

There is only one upside to the infrequent patches to Rockstar's Online games, however. We get to enjoy the more fun and innocent glitches for a little while longer:

The Fun Police: Patching Harmless Glitches

It used to be that Rockstar would leave funny glitches and bugs in their games if the community found enjoyment in them. The swingset launch in GTA IV being a prime example - People in both singleplayer GTA IV and it's Multiplayer mode would spend hours on end throwing themselves into the sky at terminal velocity simply by driving into some swings at a park. Nowadays, however, this isn't the case.

Such fun, harmless bugs such as the Pike's Basin bridge launch in Red Dead Online and numerous incompatible clothes mixing and matching glitches in GTA Online have been patched for seemingly no reason other than to quell player fun. People could ponder why these were patched for days - Immersion breaking potential, or perhaps being launched across the country at the speed of light could cause server issues - but it would be fruitless. Rockstar's lack of communication and transparency between community managers and players means we're left unknowing why some of our favourite pass-times or ways to customize our characters are removed from the games we love.

Understandably, Rockstar will patch any glitches and exploits which impact the game economy, giving certain players an unfair advantage over others. But why fix issues that seem to be harmless fun? It gives off the feeling that Rockstar wants everything to be hyper-polished, forgetting that sometimes players enjoy the things that don't work perfectly. Even an explanation for why certain beloved bugs were fixed would be acceptable, just so we can know what's going on behind the scenes and have it justified. Otherwise, embrace the stupid fun - It certainly works for Bethesda.

Red Dead Online: Daily Challenge Nerfs

Back in December of 2020, Rockstar released a continuation to Red Dead Online's "Bounty Hunter" role. Players were originally eager to get into more fast-paced action, until they were given some dire news. Rockstar were nerfing the best way to earn Gold Bars - Red Dead Online's premium currency which can be both earned ingame or bought directly from Rockstar.

And it wasn't a light nerf, either. Rockstar halved all daily challenge rewards, and begun resetting streaks once they hit 28 days so players wouldn't consistently earn more gold for playing the game. This outraged a lot of fans, some of which had streaks burning for over a year at the time who now felt like they had spent the consistent daily effort of logging into the game for nothing.

Loco Motives: CircoLoco

Although this isn't the first time Rockstar ventured into the nightclub and music business, the game company have stretched out in an unusual way - Publishing club mixes. Rockstar launched a new record label, dubbed "CircoLoco Records" and have been on a spree promoting it as of late.

Naturally, even branching into music is a strange choice for a videogame company - But club music? For the most part, the average gamer isn't the type of person to spend all their time at nightclubs which is the only place that type of music really works. 

For a short period of time, all that anybody could see on Rockstar's Twitter feed was promotional Tweets for CircoLoco, or them retweeting the separate CircoLoco account. It was becoming very clear from the replies that Rockstar fans were becoming increasingly fed up of their Twitter notifications being filled with announcements about music they didn't care for. Many prominent community members spoke up about it, until Rockstar finally returned their focus to videogame content.

GTA: The Musical - Focus on Music in DLC

With Rockstar's recent focus on music, it isn't a surprise that it has found it's way into their games too. Red Dead Online and GTA Online have both received updates with heavy musical themes in them, with consistent promotion from Rockstar on their Twitter. Blood Money had Bluewater Man, Los Santos Tuners had it's own mix and Cayo Perico featured two dance party locations with their own sets of multiple rotating DJs.

Of course, we're talking about open world crime games here, not Just Dance 1899 or DJ Booth Hero V, so regardless of their recent business ventures - it's strange to see them push the musical aspect of the games to the forefront. Everyone has enjoyed the tunes of Rockstar's games over the years, but they've never been the main focus of them until recently. It's beginning to feel like they're using their Online titles as a boat to market their new music venture, with gameplay being a secondary focus at times. It's feeling like it won't be long until we get the anticipated sequel of "Bully: High School Musical" on our consoles.

It's Not Covid

Naturally, the past year and a half has been rough on all of us. Strict work-from-home rules, social distancing, and the general worry of a deadly plague spreading around the world all take a toll on work efficiency. That is entirely understandable, and my heart goes out to all developers who have had to work through this historical event.

I'm not denying it's tough, but it seems like some mega-fans are consistently trying to use the pandemic as an excuse for the strange behaviour from Rockstar as of recent. I simply do not see this as the case, over the past year and a half, multiple successful games and updates have been released with great customer satisfaction, quality and value. Earlier, I mentioned Destiny 2 and Fallout 76 for their roadmaps - Both of those games have had great successes, and produced amazing work during Covid-19. Other games such as Minecraft, Halo, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Overwatch, The Sims, Payday and Back 4 Blood have managed to develop games and updates of high standards with only some delays, so why can't the multi-studio titan that is Rockstar manage?

The truth is, they can manage. They likely are. What is going on right now is not due to Covid-19, it began even before we had even heard the phrase "Social distance" - The signs were there when Red Dead Online originally launched as a bare-bones beta with an unfinished story, infrequent updates, and no clear plan on where to go from there. As I mentioned, this isn't the fault of the developers, or the situation they're under - They themselves have done a great job considering the circumstances. It's due to the choices of upper management at Rockstar and Take-Two making strange business decisions.

The Confusing Treatment of Fansites

This entire article is a risky move on our side, and what you're about to read will explain why.

Rockstar likes to play favourites with fansites, and right now, it seems anybody who questions them is put on some form of blacklist. Here, I'm going to show the contrast between the treatments of two other Rockstar fansites.

Our friends over at RockstarINTEL have been hit by a slew of complaints and letters from Take-Two for their branding - Some of these are things that all us fansites do, too. Be it fonts, names or shapes used in logos or elsewhere. The folks over at INTEL have done nothing to hurt the community or Rockstar, they've been quite vocal fans in fact, sharing honest and mostly positive opinions when it comes to the company, with fair criticism when needed.

At the same time, we have other friends at GTANet who are frequently retweeted by Rockstar and have even managed to score interviews with them, as well as being wished a happy 20th anniversary. Of course, GTANet is also the group behind the GTAForums - The most active community page themed around Rockstar Games. They also don't share much in the way of reviews, criticism, or opinions of Rockstar's content - It's all inoffensive, really.

Of course, we at GTABase have no issues with either of these sites - We have sympathy for the treatment of one, and congratulate the other on their amazing feats. We also love the teams behind both of these sites. We're just worried where we may fall on their radar eventually. Thankfully, Rockstar hasn't raised any issues with us as of yet, and still follow us on Twitter - After all, we don't want beef with our favourite company, we just want them to be the best they can be. That's why I'm raising my concerns right now, I fear it'll get worse.

Rockstar VS Map and Graphic Mods

Some of the most recent controversy surrounding Rockstar has been their treatment of many singleplayer mods focused around graphics enhancements and additional maps, applying to both Grand Theft Auto V and older titles - Much of these are listed by Kotaku here.

The majority of these mods focused on graphics enhancements for the 3D era of Grand Theft Auto games, or porting their maps to Grand Theft Auto V for players to explore. Rockstar's sudden DMCA takedowns on these mods have been reminding players of when they stomped out a port of Red Dead Redemption's map to GTA V on PC, shortly before RDR2 was announced. This has had players ears perk up as speculation has begun to fly about remakes and remasters of the GTA 3D era trilogy, with some people believing the games to be officially confirmed even though no official information has come from Rockstar.

Of course, that returns us to the issue of Rockstar's poor communication. Rumours fly, then people get angry when they don't turn out to be true. Rockstar could easily put these to bed and confirm that they are only rumours, but their "Stay silent and pretend nobody is saying anything" method just allows the speculation to fly further off the rails.

Is this the end?

Many people have been predicting this is the final downfall of Rockstar Games, with them currently placing the final few nails in the coffin before they become the next EA. Others, believe this is just a rough patch in their lifecycle, hammered in by Take-Two trying to squeeze them for every last cent they can. It's hard to tell who will be right in the end, but the last thing any of us want to see is for Rockstar to fail. The company has achieved incredible feats, including their two most recent games being the most successful entertainment products of all time. Naturally, whatever comes next will be up there too, it's very hard to doubt this fact, even with the bad taste left in everyone's mouths after the way their online titles have been handled as of late.

I don't think it's the end, personally. If anything, I hope the consistent community feedback eventually serves as a wakeup call, and brings back the Rockstar we all know and love. After all, as they themselves have proven with their amazing rootin'-tootin' Western franchise - It's never too late for redemption.

 

What did you think about this article? Be sure to give us feedback on Twitter @GTABase, use our comment system below, and share it around with some more people!

Say something here...
characters left.
Log in with
or post as a guest
Loading comment... The comment will be refreshed after 00:00.

Don't like Ads? VIP Members don't see Ads

The website takes a lot of work and time, so that’s why we have to rely on ads. In alternative, we created a VIP Membership that allows you to browse the site without ads and get some extra features, for a small price.

By becoming a VIP Member, you support our work and allow us to create even more amazing features and content for you.

Work With Us - Join The Team!

We're looking for new staff members with passion for GTA and Rockstar Games, and willingness to contribute in any of the website areas. If you're interested, feel free to contact us!

Top