In the age of the modern AAA game, where single-player games like GTA are becoming rarer by the day, how well is the single-player campaign doing?
Back during the early days of the GTA franchise, single-player campaigns had an iron-vice grip on the industry. Any game with ambitions to succeed had to have a solid campaign to achieve its targets financially and critically.
But with the advent of Xbox Live and the rise of online multiplayer games, audiences began seeing the appeal of the endlessly replayable multiplayer game. Contrary to a campaign in a GTA game that one can finish after a while, a multiplayer mode in Halo could be played for hours on end.
Shorter single-player campaigns
In 2021, the biggest and most popular games are online multiplayer titles with endless replayability like Fortnite. As a result, lengthy single-player campaigns have become even rarer, with even huge AAA single-player games like Cyberpunk 2077 opting for shorter campaigns.
It was a direct response to multiple research which showed that only a small fraction of players finish a single-player campaign. Even the most popular titles like GTA 5, Red Dead Redemption 2, and The Witcher 3 have a low completion rate, which is quite alarming for studios.
It becomes incumbent upon studios like Rockstar Games to manage and utilize their resources. If the market responds better to GTA Online, spending limitless resources on a single-player campaign starts to make less sense.
Yet, there is something different regarding the GTA franchise than a new IP like Cyberpunk 2077.
What is the ideal single-player campaign length for a GTA game?
What is different about the GTA franchise is that the franchise made its name on the back of single-player campaigns. It is impossible to think of a lengthy single-player campaign and not immediately think of the GTA franchise.
Playing through the campaign was never an afterthought in the series, but it was always front and center. Campaigns within the series have only gotten lengthier as time progressed, with GTA 5 clocking in at about an average playtime of 31 hours.
Yet, according to stats and research conducted before its release, it pointed to a rather discomforting trend. Essentially cementing that players don't seem to finish the campaign, especially when they are as lengthy as the GTA franchise.
While this doesn't necessarily affect sales, the GTA franchise has been one of the best-selling series of video games ever. With Grand Theft Auto 5 being one of the highest-selling games of all time. It could stand to reason that the publisher might make changes as to whether a single-player campaign requires the resources.
The situation regarding completion rates of campaigns hasn't gotten significantly better, as CD Projekt Red did cite Witcher 3's completion rate to explain a shorter campaign in Cyberpunk 2077.
Even though Cyberpunk 2077 clocks in at a respectable 22-hour average playtime, it is dwarfed three times over by the studio's previous project - The Witcher 3. The studio's explanation was their feeling that players will get to finish the game and see the end of the story through a shorter campaign.
Does GTA 6 need to be shorter or longer?
Suppose one looks at the mainline entries in the series. Both GTA 5 and San Andreas clocked in at about 31 hours on an average playthrough. While Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City for about 16-19 hours.
GTA IV clocked in at about 28 hours, which seems like a happy medium between the two. Yet, given the number of missions just spent driving around and chatting to people, even that number can come down by a lot.
A shorter, tighter campaign allows the studio to eliminate padding and unnecessary missions that do not progress the plot or introduce innovative gameplay. Both GTA 5 and San Andreas are guilty of ridiculous padding, such as the mission "Scouting the Port," which is extremely boring on a second playthrough.
At the same time, a shorter campaign might compromise the ultimate payoff by the game's end. Longer campaigns tend to allow players to truly invest in the game world and characters, as well as the story. Thus, Rockstar Games has some pretty big decisions to make regarding how long the campaign must be.
A game as vast and expansive as GTA demands a similarly larger-than-life story and campaign. Whether a shorter campaign can deliver that remains to be seen.