GTA Online Delay Was Smart, But Terrible For Reviewers
Posted on Thursday, October 24 @ 09:37:32 Eastern by Nicholas Tan
There's no question that delaying GTA Online was a smart decision by Rockstar. As the release for Grand Theft Auto V inched closer to September 17, 2013, the developer knew that GTA Online wouldn't be ready and decided to delay its online mode by a few weeks. With all of its issues at launch, including my own inability to access GTA Online for a week due to the notorious loading screen stall at the mandatory car race in the tutorial, this was a beneficial plan.
Even now, Rockstar is busy patching GTA Online by fixing all of the infinite money glitches, vehicular bugs, and cloud save issues. Before that, many of my friends and I have experienced our characters being deleted and us being unable to save them to the cloud system at all. But GTA Online, though meant to be a part of the package of Grand Theft Auto V, had been positioned by Rockstar as a separate mode and, in fact, an entirely different game altogether, as strange as that sounds. With the main characters, activities, and heists from the single-player so integral to the multiplayer experience, there's a better argument for GTA Online being integrated rather than separate.
Still, GTA Online was thought of as a bonus standalone MMO, so if it was at all disappointing or buggy, it wasn't much of a big deal. And the reviewers bought it, with over 40 perfect scores logged on Metacritic. Now that's not to say that those reviewers were wrong, as it's difficult to criticize something that isn't there. Given Rockstar's reputation and the grand-eur of the Grand Theft Auto brand, it would behoove them to give Rockstar the benefit of the doubt on GTA Online. Worse case scenario, any of GTA Online's faults could be swept under the rug, letting the impressive single-player speak on its behalf. And of course, it doesn't need to be said that its impression alone was enough to make critics drool.
However, if GTA Online had been released as the multiplayer mode for GTAV at launch—as it should have been—it would have given reviewers an opening for criticism. It would have been like pairing the perfect porterhouse steak... with undercooked green beans. It's unknown how many reviewers would have lowered their score, if but a hair, or how many would have still brushed GTA Online aside in favor of the core single-player. But considering all the problems it had at launch, and given that the GTA Online entry on Metacritic has a score of 71, I surmise that the Metacritic score for GTAV would have dropped anywhere from 5 to 10 points, and perhaps out of "Game of the Year" range.
But as smart as this decision is, to separate the single-player and multiplayer mode, it sets a dangerous precedent for games in the future. What's to prevent publishers from forcing reviewers to ignore an unpolished multiplayer mode by detaching it and then delaying it? Or is this privilege reserved for Grand Theft Auto and its inevitable sequels? Or any triple-A franchise whose publisher has enough pull to convince everyone to look the other way?
Maybe this isn't going to be an issue, and I'm acknowledging a problem that will only have a single instance. In that case, I hope so. I hope I'm wrong. But this may be a problem in the making, and I won't say I didn't warn you.
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