Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
December 5, 2016
arrowPress Releases

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

GTA Online – Fail ?
by Marvin Papin on 11/03/13 11:09:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Behind the cool solo campaign of the 3 days Billion dollars best seller, you’ll find GTA Online a Multiplayer (MP) which uses solo gameplay mechanics to give players a new experience.


The release date or D DAY… I saw nearly all my friend list move from many weird games or old games to GTAV. 2 weeks later, GTA Online came out. I’ll not speak about the whole, massive servers’ access problems but the global design and inducted perception of the game. Finally, please forgive some weird mistakes or formulations (I’m French). Moreover, it's been written hastily.




In 2008 GTA IV gathered many players thanks to its “new” online MP (even if there were the MP of GTA SA on PC). Basically, that was the perfect opposite of GTAO behind its gameplay. No Experience Points (XP), no money management, purchases, vehicle saving. In short, no progression capabilities.

In free mode, every new game session or death made you spawn somewhere else with only the gun (or base weapon) and all weapons and vehicles needed to be found on the map. That’s the free mode.

On another hand, the missions (Coop or VS). You wait in a lobby, the mission began, you spawn with your team somewhere with the base gun for the mission and you still got the possibilities to get guns and vehicles on the map. With of course some objectives.

I’ll not speak more about GTA IV. That was just to notice the difference with both games with one where players are at the same level and the other one fully based on progression/leveling.


People who have tried GTAO know that there are things that “under-motivate” players from playing the game. Today (23 days after release date of GTAO when I began to write this intro), almost all my friends got back on other games. Why a so expected game is experiencing a massive player disinterest?


I know that many people will still disagree with me about some points but keep in mind that’s a whole and taken separately it does not necessary works the same way. But for clearer understanding I’ll sometimes take them apart.

PS : pics just got captured quickly from phone so sorry for the quality but it doesn’t matter.



II.Progression vs No balancing


In GTAO, you start from fresh with no character skills, not much money, a gun and a base car you stole minutes ago.


All the MP is progression based. By playing more and more, you get XPs and money, unlock guns and car parts and can buy them, improve your skills to become stronger, better at driving…


  1. Difference between players


passive mode - SmallUnfortunately other player will nearly never have the same level, stuff or shooting abilities. So, if a player decides to try to kill you with a much bigger level, you know you are in the s”””. Once you’ve been killed you’ll see a wiiierd guy from the local sect. He’ll say you that you can go to passive mode to become “other players’ bulletproof”. That’s supposed to be no longer busted by the other ones.





THAT DOESN’T WORK ! if a player bump you with his car, you’ll be projected and die by hitting the floor. So that could be useful if you’re in a car, but you need to reach it. Moreover, you cannot use weapon, so that mode is nearly always useless and now, some people got tanks are appearing and that awful.



  1. Ok, so leveling ?


So you want to get things, you launch a mission to get XP and Money. You win and figure out that you spent 15 minutes for not much money and some XP. For the moment it works fine but you’ll not take long to see that you’ll need to spend more than ten hours to get to level 15 (on 75 to get most of unlock-able things)(by not only playing straight but also “enjoying” some features). But, of course, levels are increasing exponentially and you can expect more than 300h to go to level 100 (maybe much more).

Note that level progression has been deeply accelerated since last update.

That’s long but this is not the only problem. That’s the money.



  1. Money


According to the level of the mission you do, you’ll get 1000$ to 25000$ for each missions. (Note that since last update it’s often been divided by two). 25000$ missions are hard and many players activate hard mode to get 1.5x XPs. Unfortunately, you often get “one-shooted” by enemies and when you lose you get nothing : no XP, no Money, you just keep your skills and do not recover your ammunitions.

Normally, you cannot get missions with 10000$ before level 25 but you can join other players to get them. It can seems to be much but there are things to know :


In GTAO, you :

  • Buy your ammunitions yourself and they are quite expensive
  • Pay your franchise when your cars has been destroyed (~800$ for a powerful accessible car)
  • Pay your car damage (250$-500$ for core-high damages)(50$ for scratches)(repared if put in own garage (if got one) or between missions)
  • Lose 1/20 of your money maximized at 5000$ (modified to 1/50, and 1/200 within 2 last updates)


When GTAO gets out, that was really hard to go over 20 000$ while playing half the time in free mode due to dying. So you chained high level missions with friends to do some savings. But even with a short mission like “the Titan” at 10 000$ it take hours and hours to get 400 000$ to get the best building in GTAO with 10 places garage.


I know they did the game to buy progressively but if you can buy a 100 000$ poor house with garage and the best house with garage at 400 000$, choice is quickly done. Mainly when you know how far you lose money in free mode.



  1. Buying power


You also need to unlock weapons. Even if you unlock a submachine gun quite quickly it takes time to get a core assault rifle and much more to get a better one.

In versus deathmatch, you use the weapons you’ve bought so, even if the game tends to equilibrate teams, you have big chances to fall against a guy with much more fire power due to its level.

Same thing for races, if you steal a car and put a marker or buy one, it’s yours. You can then empowered it with new parts and use it in races in their categories. That means that you can launch a race and use the base car while higher level players can use their fully upgraded cars. Did I miss an episode???? So, that mean the more you play, the more you’re better, the more you get things that make you better...



  1. Get back to money


Ok, so, out of leveling, money is really hard to get and Rockstar decreased the amount of money (by 2 under weird conditions) you can get instead of increasing it (note : friends already left before update).


I will do as if we are still before last update without playing in free mode. So normally, except some ammunition (that I’ll consider barely negligible due to the particular mission and several friends), you do not spend or lose money.

I take the mission “The Titan” with 8 players max. You have to go to the airport from San Andreas, kill around 20 Merryweathers gun holders, steal the big plane and get it back to the aerodrome. Simple and quite fast. I will take 1 mission over 10 failed.

So approximately : 5 minutes to take cars and go to airport, 5 minutes to get rid of guys move truck and steal the plane and 5 to bring it back. +5 min to get the mission back, re-invite, relaunch with loadings.

15 minutes as a base.


Math : 100 000$ / (10 000$ * 9/10) = 10*9/10* 20min =~ 180 min


Approximately 3h to get a quarter of the biggest house.


If you take in account that ONE super sport car cost from 400 000$ to 750 000$ without any upgrades, best army vehicles cost around 1 000 000 $ for tank, titan, armed chopper. That just a turbo for a Sandking (big 4x4) by example costs 35 000$, for a Sultan RS (Subaru Impreza) 45 000$ (and you need to do several races to get them). This is just awful.


Now imagine that you are a guy who “just” play 4-5 hours a week. You don’t think long!


Moreover if you consider that you can have 1 250 000 for 20$, instead of some things I heard in from some reviews, it’s a Pay to Win scheme.






Repartition of money at the end of a race


(Custom cars)





III.Other important design problems


Behind this important lack of progression and money, there are many other big design problems that, unified, create a big mess of unsporting behavior or crazy attempts to hack money and levels.



  1. Virtual money and money laundering


Giving moneyFirst, of course players went naturally in search of getting money. Thanks to little bugs in the game they manage to get some “Virtual virtual money” (VVM). Money created from nothing within the game. Of course Rockstar reacted, notably by deleting accounts.

But behind that, before Rockstar remove the functionality, players were able to give money to another player. Of course, it’s really hard to know if that money has been gotten legitimately or if it’s just to avoid account deletion. So, in short, this is a kind of money laundering and it’s been momently fixed.



  1. Car parts


Car parts are not only really expensive, they are also quite hard to get, to unlock them you must either get a certain level or win a certain amount of races in the vehicle’s category. But when you play a race, you can use your own customized vehicle, which can give a really big advantage to the most advanced players and you will most likely know you’ll lose.

Note : 25 000$ just to stick your crew emblem onto your hood.



  1. Hard Mode


Probably to appeal most players, 3 difficulty levels are available in missions: Easy, Normal, Hard. In Hard Mode, you get 1.5x XPs. So when you’re not the host, you cannot change that and you must play in that mode. Unfortunately, in this gameplay style, when enemies have more accuracy and cause more damage, it gives a versatile difficulty according to the situation. By example, an enemy car overtakes you and shoot a blast in your character. You often die really quickly in that situation, to not say instantaneously. And so, in many other situations, that’s the same behavior, mainly when you’re close to the enemy and the auto-lock fails.

Of course if there are no more lives, mission ends and you get no money, no XPs, and you spent 15mn to do survive and hide yourself continuously to increase the health lowered by the shoots. And if you’re unlucky you can fail a mission for just a little action.

This sometimes takes twice for a host to understand that it’s not worth it to play in Hard Mode.



  1. Lives


In missions, lives are shared among players and you got 2 extra lives in Normal Mode and 1 in Hard Mode. Even if this is important to have not an “infinite lives” gameplay model (to not have to protect people or have a timer), they should have found an alternative that allow players to continue playing when they have no more lives. Because, if you’re not lucky enough, you sometimes wait 15min watching others.



  1. Bounties


“Thanks” to Lester, you can put a bounty over another player’s head. Even if it brings dynamism to free mode, things are unclear and it brings tensions between players. It’s caused by some lack of information :

1 - You know when you get a bounty and how much but you keep it 24h (GTA time) or if you got killed and if you do not reenter a GTAO game, you have nothing to remind you that you have a bounty and how much it is.

2 - The amount of bounty is not displayed on map. That means that another player who do not remind that amount will most likely kill the target if he is near. Even if it’s only 1000$ (read nothing…)

Of course, you don’t know if a player kills you just to have fun or to get a bounty. So players are avenging and there are collateral damages and that’s the mess again and again, vehicle got destroyed and players must pay other player’s vehicle fees…



  1. Random events


By leveling, random events are unlocked, by example, at level 30 :

  • Simeon Cars (steal them, repaint them, and bring them to docks)
  • Crates drop (go to the drop zone, kill enemies and leave)
  • Armored Trucks (get to them, blow out the back doors and get the money)

By doing those events, you get money. You can share the money once done with other concerned players. However, only one gets the money and it creates rivalries between players. Mostly, that doesn’t worth it due to that and that doesn’t encourage cooperation. That went from a good intention, but cost too much money, are too much risky and not enough interesting and too much random.



  1. Mission kicking


Hosts have the ability to kick payers in the lobby. But each time you go into lobby the game loads the map at mission (from high) point and when you’re kicked you load the point (low) or house (load from high then approaching), and so you join a new mission and it’s reloading. That’s long and missions are sometimes low level ones or versus which gives nearly no money and are boring (too simple).

But that’s probably due to some bugs about private state that disable. And, in fact, the main “private state switch” is in parameter and it’s hard to find, not really ergonomic.

You’ll lose much time to load and reload. (it’s not advised to put your game on hard drive, but it works quite well for me)

It also allows players to get rid of potential threat in races. You’re good, you get out.

And you can also be kicked in the middle of a mission…



  1. 500 000 $


People who are following a little bit video game news know that Rockstar will give 500 000 $ to the players who played GTA V in October. Presented as compensation, it looks more like a way to retain player and appeal them once they give them money. That’s not a design problem but this shows that Rockstar doesn’t seem to understand how much that means for players. While it’s really long to get, it’s still not much and represents only a core supersports car like the Infernus, of course with no customization.



  1. Mechanic and Changing car


Since this really long to cross the city and go to your garage, you can call your mechanic to bring back your car. There are 5 minutes between to vehicles he can bring back so if you select the wrong one, you’ll have to find another solution but the problem is not here.

Imagine that you have 10 cars in your garage and you quite away from your garage. The game sets that you have to be at more than 150m from your Garage or personal vehicle to call the mechanic. That means that you must let your car take another one, leave, call the mechanic and then get another car. It’s a really painfull, time killing process based on weird design. I would have preferred get the actual car disappeared instead of doing that. Moreover, your mechanic should be mentally deficient and never bring your car at less than 30m !?!?


Special mention for being crushed by 2 mechanics one after the other who brought cars to other players in a mission. And I was against a safety railing. A long mission and there was no more lives remaining.



  1. Headshots


Headshots work well in campaign. However, in versus multiplayer, things can come weird. Taking a bullet in your head kills you instantaneously. That means that somebody can kill you quite easily in your car, mainly thanks to strongly assisted aiming system. While in your car you must hold the fire button wait the character for aiming and automatically shoot at fixed rate. 1) it comes really hard to shoot from car 2) you lose many bullets with automatic weapons 3) it simply take time to fire.


I won’t take more time to describe associated behavior but give another example that derives from that :

From a motorcycle, you can use a sewed barrel shotgun. An enemy in free mode (no reason why), decided to follow me with his bike and if I avoided first shoot, he gets back and aimed at me in the car at quite high speed. When he fired, I’ll took one of the projectile in the head and died.


This kind of design gives really bad behaviors which do not appeal most players.



  1. Unsporting behaviors


Behind the “I don’t know how that works” unsporting behavior recognition mechanics implemented in multiplayer (breath!), there are some behaviors that are naturally inducted by the global MP design. From the “Hey, your car is cool, Baaammm (read, “headshot”), now I can try it” to “I kill you, you spawned, but I’m in a car and I kill you again” or “I’ve a bigger gun”, everything gives a back taste of uninteresting gameplay and the progression doesn’t encourage playing.

Like for Max Payne 3, there are servers for bad behavior players but for the moment, that only means “players who destroyed many other player’s cars” and cheaters. But as most are cheating to enjoy the game, I have some friends that I can’t even play with due to server locks. That could have been cool but the whole game pushed players to play that way and that comes a problem.


  1. Mission choice


Unfortunately, you cannot choose your mission (or some from pause menu). So due to their progression system, You will not be able to choose your mission and will probably go through many loading before getting a correct one.




  1. A special example


Before pointing out little problems with some images, I’ll give a concrete combination of design problems.

Before all, the bases :

  • To sprint in the game, and so, to move faster, you have to repeatedly push the “A” button (on 360).
  • When you garage is full, if you put a tracker in your car,  you must replace one of your car.
  • You can only get rid of a car by replacing it or selling it in a mod shop (but sometimes they don’t want cars)

So I found a Sabre Turbo and decided to bring it to my garage to replace one of my other cars. When I arrived to my garage, I enter it and they ask me if I wanna replace another car. After, came a longer than usual loading ‘til my character appears into the garage. I expected a menu to replace the car, but after few seconds, nothing. I thought that was a bug, so I move forward to take a car. I pushed the joystick in that direction, pushed repeatedly “A” (a reflex). However, the menu appeared when I was 2m from my spawning place. By pushing “A”, you select the first car and by pushing it again, you accept replacement. So, that made me replaced the Zion by Sabre, without any possibility to come back due to automatic saving.


IMG_20131021_155005On the left : my former Zion

35 000 $ a turbo

25 000 $ bulletproof tires

25 000 $ crew emblem

14 000 $ orange matte painting 1

7 000 $ orange matte painting 2

5 000 $ custom rims

5 000 $ xenon headlights

~116 000 $ lost (ouch)


V.Some images




Spawning under that bridge in a mission and you’ll have to go around.





IMG_20131024_222022IMG_20131024_221214No, this off-road vehicle is not 4WD, although there are to bridges but one is not connected.





The game even encourage the player to shout in the chat while taking a shower or doing a hold-up.








Best apartment (thanks to biggest garage). But you can only have 1 house with 1 garage (10 places max). So what are the others used for ?






A guy who wanted to have fun or just to improve his piloting skill while playing the “Titan mission”.


Guess what happened few seconds later ?


- Game Over -



IMG_20131021_165900IMG_20131022_020515Total respect for the tech.





















Waiting the end of the mission? Have a look to the last(s) player.




My first car. Powerful sport cars must be bought.





Only 16 000 $ to bring back that car (in competition with other players), with last update and missions gains divided by 2, this is much.





Just delivered by insurance supplier.








Ouch, many fees.


1/20th your money until 100 000 $ for each death (reduced by ten since last update)


18 000 for a MINI before first update when cabs had bugged and were not found able.






Stupid mechanic…







Most people don’t realize that you can eat to get some health.







GTA V.  Conclusion


There could be many other things to mention but I just can advise you to play the game. The fact is that most reviewers are resting on [the solo campaign and the MP overview]’s note and nobody seems to speak on the game while news are showing the records that Rockstar have beaten. I think, personally, that we’ve got here one of the worst social/money management design - inducted by every features in the game - that makes GTA V a case study to not do that mess.

Today many games are using a progression system of that kind (popularized by CoD series). But it’s just a way to rewind badly the player by giving him mostly more power. As in BF3, whole design is altered by the unlocking of aiming sights and more powerful weapons and vehicle accessories. Weren’t games better and more balanced when were not progressing, trying to get “Cold-Blooded” perk to avoid massive killstreak massacre in CoD. Is this the result of a bad design just aiming at rewarding the player the bad way ?


I don’t know about the numbers of GTA V, but most people are leaving the game and with the lower amount of money you get at the end of a mission, it’s not going to change. And even if many could disagree, this is a problem that has to be pointed out and not only got reviewers comments of that kind : “we cannot really give a note to the MP because there are servers problems and it seems good close to the release date”.


The game remains interesting, but the whole MP gives a back taste of mess and you always seems to not be rewarded or rewarded the wrong way.


Related Jobs

Soulbound Studios
Soulbound Studios — Bellevue, Washington, United States

Sr. Engine Programmer
Soulbound Studios
Soulbound Studios — Bellevue, Washington, United States

Technical Art Lead
Soulbound Studios
Soulbound Studios — Bellevue, Washington, United States

Sr. Gameplay Programmer
Age of Learning, Inc.
Age of Learning, Inc. — Glendale, California, United States

Software Engineer - PHP Web Services

Loading Comments

loader image