Rockstar Games has made it abundantly clear that they are 100 percent behind GTA Online and see it as one of their most prized assets. That is only further solidified by their decision to have it become a standalone title independent of GTA 5 in the second half of 2021.
That move represents the faith and confidence Rockstar Games has in GTA and Red Dead Online as titles that help secure their position in the new era of gaming. In the modern-day, it simply isn't enough to release a game and have it be the final version of that title.
It is essential for studios to look at games as "services." Long-running titles get better with each new update, with new features and functionality as the years go by. GTA Online has been able to do exactly that in the last seven years it has been around, but can Rockstar sustain that momentum and build upon it?
Note: This article is subjective and solely reflects the opinion of the writer.
The future of GTA Online
It takes just one look at the most successful games of the past decade, such as Fortnite, to gauge what exactly works in the industry today. The games have embraced seemingly smaller, free-to-play titles that get better with age and eventually grow into an industry mammoth.
The appeal is that the game at launch isn't representative of what it will eventually be with future updates. GTA Online, when released in 2013, is barely recognizable from the beast it is today.
Rockstar knew that the game could act as a platform for future content and ideas that the studio might have. In 2021, after numerous title updates, GTA Online is one of the most expansive online multiplayer games on the market and has a massive player base to support it.
How will a sequel change things?
This might be a matter of semantics, but the way GTA Online has been named seems to suggest that it essentially acts as a separate entity entirely. Its first iteration came alongside Grand Theft Auto 4, but rather being named GTA 4: Online or GTA 5: Online, it simply never had that particular prefix.
Instead, the way GTA Online works is that it utilizes the assets, features, and the base design of the mainline GTA game and builds an online experience around it. That is now only going to be further solidified with it being released as a standalone title.
Most online games today follow "seasons" of content drops, akin to a TV show. A new season brings new characters, missions, features, and game modes to GTA Online.
GTA 6 will be accompanied by a new iteration of GTA Online that will utilize elements of the mainline sequel. Thus, setting up a new platform for future updates.
Since heists were the centerpiece of GTA 5, a similar centerpiece is likely to feature heavily in the sequel, with GTA Online acting as a way to expand upon the gameplay and lore of its world.