Pushing Buttons: How Grand Theft Auto 6 has been a decade in the making (so far)

Last week, Rockstar revealed in a blogpost that the first trailer for Grand Theft Auto 6 would debut in early December. This sent everyone into paroxysms, particularly publisher Take-Two’s shareholders, who enjoyed a nice little bump in their theoretical wealth. Meanwhile, delirious fans are attempting to use the moon to predict the game’s release date.

Let’s remember that Rockstar hasn’t actually revealed a game: it just announced the reveal of a game. But that game is Grand Theft Auto, so that was enough to make it the biggest news of the month.

Why all the fuss? Well. Take-Two claimed in 2018 that Grand Theft Auto 5 was the single most profitable entertainment product of all time. Today, GTA 5’s sales total stands at 195m copies, and it has made $8.3bn. It is an unrivalled cash cow, but it’s also had an enormous impact on culture. Rockstar has made a habit of pushing video games in general forwards, whether narratively, technically or conceptually; GTA 3, 4 and 5 all did things that felt impossible on the console hardware of their time, with their ever-expanding cities and casts and creative opportunities for mayhem. Players have been waiting a long time for this, and they are hopeful for another expansion of gaming’s possibilities.

It has been a full 10 years since Grand Theft Auto 5 released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, an unprecedented gap between games. Most of gaming’s other massive earners, including of course Call of Duty and Fifa, have trotted out a new instalment every year or two. Even Nintendo produces a new Zelda on average every five years.

Grand Theft Auto III
Grand Theft Auto 3. Photograph: Rockstar

But game development has become a lot more expensive and time-consuming in recent years. There are 231 names in the credits of 2001’s Grand Theft Auto 3 and more than 4,000 people credited on Rockstar’s most recent game, 2018’s Red Dead Redemption 2. This goes some way towards explaining the delay, but also, Rockstar has upgraded and ported Grand Theft Auto 5 to every new console that’s been released over the last decade, and kept up a constant stream of content for its ludicrously profitable online mode GTA Online. GTA Online’s success isn’t the entire reason we’ve been waiting 10 years for GTA 6, but it’s a factor.

Rockstar itself has changed plenty over the past decade, too. Its co-founder Dan Houser left in 2020. Another key figure, Leslie Benzies, left shortly after GTA 5’s release and spent years embroiled in legal battle with his former employer. Around the time of Red Dead Redemption 2’s release, criticism of Rockstar’s working culture started to emerge. Changes to working practices followed.

But I think the biggest challenge facing GTA 6 is the pace at which the real world has changed. In 2013, Donald Trump becoming president was exactly the kind of sick joke that Grand Theft Auto would have made. In our post-truth era, some of its most outlandish satire, from cartoonishly evil social media companies to grotesquely lame tech billionaires to extreme-right gun-loving politicians, has become reality.

Grand Theft Auto has always been strongly influenced by real-world events, politics and cultural obsessions, and in turn it has strongly influenced the real world. It’s been involved in plenty of culture and legal wars, placed at the centre of the decades-long media scaremongering over video game violence. After Hillary Clinton called for a federal investigation into a sex mini-game hidden deep in GTA San Andreas’ code in 2005, Rockstar responded by ensuring that Grand Theft Auto 4’s version of the Statue of Liberty bore an uncanny resemblance. Politicians are still tabling bills that call for Grand Theft Auto to be banned today.

Can GTA evolve to be a satire fit for our absolutely wild times? What we currently know about the forthcoming game mostly comes from in-progress footage obtained through a hack last year, when a British teenager managed to gain access to Rockstar’s internal servers: it has two protagonists, one of them female, and it is likely set in Vice City, Rockstar’s satirical Miami. Perhaps no game will ever be as big as GTA 5 again, but when it comes to satirising modern America, Rockstar has plenty to take aim at.

What to play

Sociable Soccer 24
A cult hero returns … Jon Hare’s Sociable Soccer 24. Photograph: Tower Studios

If you remember 1992’s Sensible Soccer, which is still played by people who consider it the pinnacle of arcade football games more than 30 years later, then you should check out its creator Jon Hare’s new game Sociable Soccer 24. Sociable Soccer is already a hit on Apple Arcade, but this version is designed for PC and console, and especially for couch multiplayer. It is a more outrageous and accessible take on football than EA Sports FC, with 10,000 licensed players (no creative mis-spellings necessary) and none of those uneasy Ultimate Team micro-transactions.

Available on: PC tomorrow, consoles later this year
Estimated playtime: five minutes per match, repeat forever

skip past newsletter promotion

What to read

Alan Wake 2.
Alan Wake 2. Photograph: Remedy Entertainment
  • The Game Awards nominees have been announced. Most nominated: Baldur’s Gate 3 and Alan Wake 2, closely followed by Hi-Fi Rush and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Biggest snub: no Starfield in all but one category, which will surely upset Xbox and Bethesda.

  • Valve has revealed a new-and-improved OLED Steam Deck, for anyone who’s been holding off buying the portable PC gaming system. Kotaku got their hands on the new system, and found it to be a worthwhile upgrade.

  • In other slightly-unnecessary-but-cool-portable-console news, reviews of the PlayStation Portal have appeared in some US outlets – this is a Sony device that lets you play PS5 games remotely, on a handheld screen. Here’s The Verge’s verdict.

  • If you were beguiled by Night in the Woods, you will be sad to hear that Revenant Hill, a new game from several members of its development team, has been cancelled. Developer Scott Benson shared that he has been diagnosed with “severe heart failure”, and the rest of the team decided that they wouldn’t continue without him.

What to click

Question Block

God of War.
God of War. Photograph: Sony

Reader Liam asks this week’s question: “I enjoy playing through whole series of games. I’ve just replayed through Marvel’s Spider-Man and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales ahead of the release of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. This does run the risk of burning out while playing the new thing, though. Do other people do this? Which series are best to plough through in one go?”

This feels kind of like the concept of an ultramarathon to me: it’s cool that humans can do this, but why? But I do know many people who do this, Liam, and with especially draining games, such as playing through FromSoftware’s entire opus from Demon’s Souls onwards, right up to Bloodborne, in a row. I also know someone who played through every Zelda game chronologically according to the series’ timeline – which is quite the feat. You do get to see exactly how a series (and game design in general) has evolved, as well as giving yourself a narrative refresher. I think you’d go mad trying to play all the Call of Duty games in a row, or something very time-consuming like Final Fantasy, but if you played God of War and then Ragnarök right after each other, they’d go together beautifully – as would the Ace Attorney games, or of course the two instalments of The Last of Us.


Leave a Reply