By Timothy Geigner
A little over five years ago, I wrote about the seeming emergence of a new trend in the video game space: living and evolving game worlds instead of single-serving “games”. While MMOs and other online games certainly weren’t new even then, what with World of Warcraft having a decade under its belt at that point, the post did focus on several game publishers beginning to make noises about focusing on these breathing ongoing experiences rather than selling shiny discs, or even digital downloads of one-and-done games. And if that trend became the norm, it really would change the industry. Development cycles for the release of games wouldn’t so much be a thing compared with the ongoing and time-spanning development that would go into consistently creating new experiences within an existing game. For those interested in the gaming industry, or those concerned with how traditional development cycles and “crunch” have impacted design labor, this really could be something of an inflection point.
Five years later, this trend has only gotten more prevalent. There are many examples of living, breathing game worlds out there to choose from, but the example I will use is Grand Theft Auto 5, which has been an active hit for so long that it literally passed by a console generation. The game was originally released in 2013 as a single-player game, only to have its online component launch shortly after, putting it in the ongoing development cycle.
Grand Theft Auto V, in case you forget, was first released on the Xbox 360 and PS3 in September 2013. It didn’t arrive on the PS4 and Xbox One until 2014.
Let that wash over you for just a second. A single video game that was released before the PS4 and Xbox One even hit the shelves has remained both culturally relevant and commercially successful throughout those console’s entire lifetimes, and will now see an even longer shelf-life once it is released on the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
To give you an idea of just how long ago that was, the game was released with a trailer that spoke to America’s attempts to recover from its last financial meltdown, and there’s been time to have had another since. Other games on the best-selling list for September 2013 include Diablo III, Disney Infinity and Saints Row IV.
And, again, the game is still in active development, both on the online and first-person side of things. There will be an updated version of the game that comes out on the next generation of consoles, while the online community is still actively involved and playing in all of the new updates and releases Rockstar has continued to create.
The success of the game has far-reaching implications. Rockstar Games, with its own notorious reputation of putting its developers through so-called “crunch” periods, notably isn’t suffering from a ton of stories of crunch when it comes to the developers of the ongoing GTA5 world. Which makes sense: the deadlines are more squishy than getting out a AAA single-player game. It also means potentially less individual games coming out, which may be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. For reference, The PS2-era of consoles saw three GTA games get released, while the PS3 had 2 and the PS4’s only GTA game was the port of GTA5.
All of that is because the development efforts are going into a lasting game with a ton of gaming participation, even seven-plus years after its release. If the gaming public is happy enough with that, then so be it. But it’s going to change the industry as this trend continues.