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How GTA Online painfully pulled Rockstar into the 'live games' biz

"As a company we did not realize how challenging it was going to be to have a team that essentially ran a content service, not make normal games," Rockstar's Imran Sarwar tells Game Informer.
"As a company we did not realize how challenging it was going to be to have a team that essentially ran a content service, not make normal games."

- Rockstar Games' Imran Sarwar, speaking to Game Informer about how the company learned to manage a "live game" like Grand Theft Auto Online.

Rockstar Games released Grand Theft Auto V four years ago, and to this day it continues to generate strong revenues for the company -- thanks in large part to its online component, Grand Theft Auto Online.

The studio has released a litany of free updates for GTA Online, but has declined to carry on its habit of following up a big GTA release with some single-player DLC.

In a recent interview with Game Informer, Rockstar design director Imran Sarwar makes it clear that's at least partly due to the studio pouring resources into learning how to operate a "live game" like GTA Online.

"It was not really a conscious decision, it’s just what happened," he said. "The next-gen versions took a year of everyone’s time to get right, then the online component had a lot of potential, but to come close to realizing that potential also sucked up a lot of resources. And then there are other games – in particular Red Dead Redemption II. The combination of these three factors means for this game, we did not feel single-player expansions were either possible or necessary, but we may well do them for future projects."

He goes on to talk at length about how the game has improved since launch, bemoaning the loss of "millions" of players in the first year as Rockstar polished up GTA Online and began releasing new missions, modes, and in-game items.

More importantly, he speaks to an experience many devs may sympathize with: releasing a game with an online component, only to be blindsided by the very real demands of running a game as a service.

"To be totally honest it did not begin very well at all. The launch was rocky," Sarwar told Game Informer. "GTA Online was slowly failing – and quickly losing players – right up until the middle of 2014. The updates were not interesting enough, and as a company we did not realize how challenging it was going to be to have a team that essentially ran a content service, not make normal games."

You can read more from Sarwar about the experience, and how the GTA Online dev team operates (Rockstar evidently has a whole team "that is constantly researching and designing new clothing for all of our games"), over on Game Informer's website.

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