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GTA Online Economy Broken, Rockstar Fixes Wrong Things

Posted on Thursday, January 16 @ 15:32:28 PST by

Grand Theft Auto Online went offline for maintenance last night in an effort by developers Rockstar Games to remove glitched and hacked funds from in-game bank accounts on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms.

That said, it's pretty laughable that a game about disgusting and totally unlikeable men who engage in rampant and wanton criminality has its multiplayer mode taken over by like-minded individuals who are subsequently punished for engaging in that kind of activity.

Unless Ron and Trevor have asked you to break up the Lost drug deal going down, don't steal fake money because stealing's bad, mkay?

In a blog post describing the purpose of the maintenance period (which is now over), a Rockstar developer wrote that "In recent weeks, a small number of Grand Theft Auto Online players sought to exploit the game by generating and distributing game-breaking amounts of in-game cash, disrupting the experience for other players."

In-game money cheats, glitches, and hacks have been documented in all corners of the GTA Online community and the issue has been affecting gameplay since the servers first opened for business. Still, it's hilarious that a cadre of nefarious players gamed the system so easily and then proceeded to give everyone enough money to buy a garage full of tanks.

That's right, you get a Rhino, and you get a Rhino, and you get a Rhino. YOU ALL GET RHINOS!

Let's ignore for a brief, fleeting second that a lobby full of tank-driving Trevors sounds exactly like the nightmare it is. Let's also forget that Grand Theft Auto's core themes include anarchy, absurdity, tongue-in-cheek and self-referencing humor.

The reality is that well-behaving players like myself never saw more than two or three tank-driving maniacs in any given lobby. Further, isn't this the kind of dynamic, player-driven experience Rockstar excited players with before launch?

"Rockstar games is looking to bring the heart of the Grand Theft Auto experience to a living online world with multiple players," the GTA Online Official Gameplay Video says. "Just what you choose to do in that world is up to you."

The trailer promoting GTA Online talked up constant development, content creator tools, garages and apartments, and more. Lots of this has been delivered, but a few subtle tricks made the trailer look a lot better than the final product.

Notice how often you see eight or more players on screen at the same time? I don't know if I've ever seen this in the playable product. GTA Online simply isn't directed enough to coerce unfriendly players to get friendly and interact more closely.

I've been playing heavily since launch, not as much as some 100+ level players, but enough to speak about how the experience has been changed by money-hackers. A recent check of my stats page says I've spent over 72 hours in multiplayer and on PlayStation 3 alone. I spent several hours on the Xbox 360 version as well and I've played dozens of hours of single-player which isn't tracked by GTA Online's stats page.

Truly, having a few Rhinos patrolling the streets of downtown Los Santos hasn't changed a thing, but segregating players into pools of cheaters and those being punished for bad behavior has.

For the short period of time that hackers and glitchers and cheats were filtered into separate lobbies or "Cheaters Pools", unconnected to those full of "good behavior" players like myself, launching missions became unbearable. Matchmaking and searching for jobs to join quickly simply didn't happen. It's still impossible to find a lobby of players that stick with each other from match to match.

GTA Online's biggest problem isn't in-game funny money. Maybe it is for the suits behind the scenes at Rockstar Games. While players would certainly like easier access to the kind of in-game funds that make free-roam gameplay actually fun, the gameplay experience faces a much bigger issue in its total lack of direction.

The map is littered with hundreds of jobs, more than I could possibly count, and even more are added on a hourly basis thanks to the Content Creator update that lets players craft their own races and deathmatches. The Creator tab in GTA Online could soon be expanded with support for creating heist missions and more and Rockstar have promised to continue adding their own playable content.

There's simply no way to keep all of this organized. You can't launch matchmaking for, say, exclusively deathmatches or exclusively races. You can join a deathmatch or a race, but you can't stick with a group of like-minded players because after the current game is finished, everyone in the lobby is faced with up to 18 more options to vote on varying between deathmatches, races, survival matches, capture matches, and both cooperative and competitive misisons.

GTA Online has about as much variety as the single-player game did, meaning as a package its one of the most diverse and fundamentally varied games I've ever played, but Call of Duty's multiplayer continues to draw millions despite much stagnation because it's extremely directed and you don't waste any time loading from free-roam to lobby to match back to free-roam into another lobby and then back to free-roam because no one is joining your 1 of 500 deathmatch.

Regardless of Rockstar's decision to punish and segment their player base, I think the company has high hopes for GTA Online and will continue to pay careful attention to the ecosystem they've created.

"Just what you choose to do in that world is up to you," the Rockstar lady said. How can Rockstar Games accomplish this as easily as possible while maintaining their environment as one that has the option to grind or pay for in-game funds? Let's answer that question by learning from the nefarious players the developer has had to punish:
  • PROBLEM: Players want to generate insane amounts of cash as fast as they can. They're even willing to sit in front of their consoles for hours and hours at a time selling the same car to Los Santos Customs over and over again.
  • FIX: Make matchmaking and competitive game types fun by maintaining the high cash rewards for out-performing players. In order to generate cash fast, you need to get good at shooting, racing, and other organized thievery.
  • PROBLEM: Players want to share their wealth with others to increase the amount of chaotic, emergent gameplay throughout all corners of San Andreas.
  • FIX: Make Sunday Tank-Day or something. Give players an incentive to get online every weekend with double-money, free sports cars or tanks, and more. People should be canceling plans to hop on GTA Online during specific themed community events. Plan an entire calendar if you have to.
  • PROBLEM: No one can enter and maintain a full deathmatch or race lobby.
  • FIX: When joining a job through matchmaking, subsequent matches continue the same game type through voting and beyond the next match too. If players just finished a race after selecting "Join Race Job" they should be entering another race next, not disconnecting from the players they've met to renavigate menus and lobbies.
Many gamers have written GTA Online off as a boring, incomplete mess with monetization overriding gameplay and mechanics. I hope that's not really the case and I've stated the changes I think could have the most fundamental and beneficial impact on the game in the immediate sense.

In the meantime, I'll lean on the Trevors of the world to keep Rockstar's virtual environment a passively aggressive and neurotically dangerous escape. Even if I maintain good behavior and go without my own Rhino, it'll be fun to see how the developer continues to react to my less-than-stable peers.
Related Games:   Grand Theft Auto V, GTA Online

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