There are a lot of rumors about GTA 6 and the release date, let’s try to figure it out.
In the summer of 2020, a terrible event occurred in the USA—a police officer killed a black citizen, George Floyd. Following this, Rockstar Games decided to delay the new game mode for Grand Theft Auto Online.
The mode is called Cops ‘n’ Crooks (available in GTA4-ed.). As conceived by the authors, in it the players unite into teams of police officers and criminals in order to confront each other. But after the scandalous wrongdoing and subsequent murder of George Floyd, the world began to massively condemn any law enforcement violence. Rockstar Games management was extremely concerned about how the audience would accept the new mode at a time of massive skepticism and mistrust of the American police. As a result, top managers decided to postpone the release of Cops ‘n’ Crooks indefinitely. People familiar with the development process assure us that the publisher is thinking of not launching the mode in GTA Online at all.
This is one of several tough decisions Rockstar and Take-Two have made over the past few years. The company has also removed transphobic jokes from the latest Grand Theft Auto 5 console update, as well as equalized salaries between men and women. According to insiders, a female protagonist will debut for the first time in the sixth part of Grand Theft Auto. She will be part of a duo of main characters inspired by the famous bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde. The developers also do not plan to make fun of fringe groups, as they did in past releases of GTA.
Such actions once seemed unthinkable for a company whose best-selling game series is an inventive satire of America. In their games, the main roles are always played by bandits, who do not have to kill a civilian, and women are positioned as sexual objects. Grand Theft Auto 5 was a nihilistic parody. The authors of the game mocked everyone—both conservatives and liberals. And the company itself had a toxic corporate culture. Rockstar employees, during their work, allowed themselves to drink, visit strip clubs together, and even fight. The company began crunching—managers and developers worked overtime, often staying overnight and often working weekends. This state of affairs was justified by the timing of the release of games.
This strategy paid off: Grand Theft Auto 5 eventually became the second most profitable game of all time. Its circulation is now 165 million copies. This policy also led to employee burnout, employee exodus, and the subsequent scandal in 2018, which prompted hundreds of Rockstar employees to speak publicly about the difficult situation within the team.
Following these events, Rockstar attempted to improve working conditions. This was confirmed by more than 20 anonymous employees who work for or have recently left the company. One of them described Rockstar Games as "a club that has become a real company." A Rockstar spokesperson declined to comment on these claims.
Will the updated Rockstar Games be able to release high-quality games that will break all sales charts? Some employees are unsure about this. According to many employees, morale at the company is now higher than ever. But the development of Grand Theft Auto 6 has been slower than expected by dedicated fans and developers who have been with the company for years.
The slowdown in development is due not only to the COVID-19 pandemic but also to a number of changes that are aimed at improving work conditions. For example, top managers restructured the design department. Some workers say they are still trying to figure out how to create games within the new cultural agenda. The management also fails to understand what the new Grand Theft Auto should look like in the modern world. Several Rockstar employees commented that making fun of America now is difficult because the country has long become a parody of itself.
The company changed direction on all fronts, and in 2019 Dan Houser left the company-he was the creative director for many Rockstar games. These developments clearly indicate that Grand Theft Auto 6 will be very different from its predecessor.
Rockstar Games was founded in 1998 by some British video game enthusiasts. As a result, the studio became a subsidiary of the Take-Two publishing house. With the release of Grand Theft Auto 3 and its sequels in 2001, Rockstar revolutionized open world gaming. Financial success allowed the studio to expand its staff to several thousand people and open offices in California, New York, the UK and other countries. Take-Two’s total revenue was 31% accounted for by the Grand Theft Auto series. In fiscal year 2022, according to the report, the publisher’s revenue was $3.5 billion.
Rockstar Games co-founder Jamie King said that the company’s corporate policy used to be a stable seven-day work week for all employees. He stated that such a culture is “unsustainable”. The absolute hits, Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3, required some developers to work 14-hour days for months, including weekends. This practice had a negative impact on the mental health and other aspects of employees’ lives, including their personal lives.
In October 2018, shortly before the release of Red Dead Redemption 2, Dan Houser stated that his team had been working “100-hour weeks” to complete development by the deadline. After Hauser retracted his words, the statement still became a turning point for many employees.
In recent years, similar complaints have swept across the gaming industry. Employees from Activision Blizzard, Riot Games, and Ubisoft have criticized their employers for sexual discrimination, crunches, and other issues. Last summer, the DFEH (Department of Labor Compliance) filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. The California department has accused the company of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The accused companies acknowledged the problems and promised to change. But none of them has done as much in response to employee outrage as Rockstar. This was told to me by the staff of the studio.
According to them, Rockstar Games has transformed. The work schedule was changed, contractors were transferred to the state, and toxic managers, who were very difficult to work with, were fired.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, management provided employees with all the necessary medicine and protective masks, and even issued cash bonuses. During the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd, the company said it would send donations to Black Lives Matter charities. Employees were provided with new mental health and furlough benefits. A new policy called “flexible hours” allows employees to take time off for every extra hour they work. And for four years now, management has been promising that Grand Theft Auto 6, one of the most anticipated games for fans and investors, will not have to work overtime to release Grand Theft Auto 6.
The new company policy has led to changes in the game. Initially, the project, which is codenamed Project Americas, was planned to be bigger than any other game in the GTA series. According to insiders who are well acquainted with the development process, in the early stages of design, the authors wanted to model territories similar to the vast expanses of North and South America. But the company abandoned those ambitions and reduced the main map to a fictional version of Miami and surrounding areas.
Now Rockstar plans to constantly update the game, regularly adding new missions and cities to it. The company’s management hopes that this will have a positive impact on development. However, the game’s world remains big enough, with more locations than previous games in the series. But such a strategy affects the development time.
To avoid reworking, Rockstar additionally attracted producers to carefully monitor the progress of development. This had a positive effect on the work, but at the same time there were small problems. Some employees say that they had to spend a lot of time communicating with intermediaries. And some thought that their work was supervised by several people, because of which they did not know which of the managers had the final say.
Rockstar has introduced a new management structure following the departure of former design director Imran Sarwar, who was accused of bullying and abuse by several employees. Three other directors have taken his place, creating situations where design decisions are often left in limbo or contradict each other. As a result, some key aspects of the game, such as the combat system, were subject to frequent changes.
Industry analysts suggest that the next Grand Theft Auto will be released around fiscal year 2024, which runs from April 2023 to March 2024. At the same time, developers are skeptical. The game has been in development since 2014. Despite the fact that there are free schedules, people interviewed for this article noted that they do not even know the approximate release date of the sixth part of GTA. They hope that the game will be released in at least two years. Earlier this year, a group of designers quit Rockstar’s Edinburgh office, telling colleagues they were fed up with the lack of progress.
At the same time, many say that they are satisfied with the work environment in the company. Now they are not under pressure to release a new game. Grand Theft Auto 5, which was released back in 2013, has become the most profitable entertainment project of all time, thanks in large part to Grand Theft Auto Online. This unprecedented financial success gave Rockstar the freedom to make radical changes and start a new project. As one anonymous employee pointed out, reshaping Rockstar’s culture could help retain and attract staff, as well as lead to the creation of even better games that investors and players alike will appreciate.