GTA Online – Rockstar Games’ half-baked money generating engine

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Most days of my life, I couldn’t recount precisely where I was. However, September 17, 2013 is an exception. At midnight, I was standing in line at the midnight launch of Grand Theft Auto V, at the time, the hottest and most awaited game to come out, in a very, very long time. At least it was for me, having been a long time member of Grand Theft Auto multiplayer mod communities since 2005. With a budget of $265 million USD, it had no choice but to be one of the best games of all time, or an epic and total disaster. Fortunately for them, it was the first of the two, earning them  7 world records:

  • Best-selling action-adventure video game in 24 hours
  • Best-selling video game in 24 hours
  • Fastest entertainment property to gross $1 billion
  • Fastest video game to gross $1 billion
  • Highest-grossing video game in 24 hours
  • Highest revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours
  • Most viewed trailer for an action-adventure video game

Notice some of those aren’t even in a genre of Video Games. That is how big this was 3 years ago. On only 2 platforms; Xbox 360 and PS3.

Since then, it has been released on Xbox One, PS4 and PC, shipping about 65 million copies as of May 18th 2016, generating a staggering amount of money (estimated at about $3 Billion USD to date). The month following the initial release, however, started a revolution. Grand Theft Auto Online.

Over the last 3 years, Rockstar Games have had countless issues with their server stability and eventually led to updating them to improve their stability in early 2016. Before, the players were irate. Rockstar Support merely ignored the userbase when they contacted them, having their connections blamed, or silly things like ‘failing to login to online platforms’ or were simply told to do irrelevant things like port forwarding port 80 on their routers to their Xbox. Fun fact, inbound port 80 on most consumer grade internet services, is blocked at an ISP level, and outgoing traffic doesn’t go out port 80, even if that is the destination. I dare you to prove me wrong.

Grand Theft Auto Online, recently revealed by Leslie Benzies’ lawsuit against Rockstar Games over royalty payments, has revealed that the online version of the Los Santos world, has generated an astonishing amount of money, circling the neighborhood of $500 Million USD. I will take that with a grain of salt, however, it is entirely possible, judging by the value of their Shark Card micro transactions to buy in-game money, and the amount of jets blowing me up every chance they get.

So my issue with Grand Theft Auto Online is this: their support team is a joke, stability is laughable, and the only thing they care about is the almighty dollar, which to be fair, was what was rumored before hand. Rumors described the game pre-launch as it being all about the ‘almighty dollar’.  So with their reputation on the line, and strong earnings, they would fix their stability issues, right?

Wrong.

It would appear that by not taking any reports seriously, or evaluating their users’ reports with anything other of ‘call your ISP’, that they simply don’t care. Even though they have made a pile of money that will fund their next big title, and probably the next two, they have little to no interest in achieving a respectable industry acceptable uptime when it comes to their servers.

As a Software Engineer and Systems Administrator for a large Trampoline Park Management Company, it is our goal to achieve 100% uptime. We even have a datacenter who promises the same. We have procedures in place to avoid outages, whether it be network, or unexpected server downtime. Effectively, if we are down, we aren’t making money. So we have a aggressive approach, 100% uptime, or die trying.

100% uptime is pretty much impossible though, to say fairly. Sometimes the datacenter drops a carrier node, or that new RAM we put in the machines just didn’t work right. Or maybe its just maintenance has to be done, and cause an outage in the process. When we know there will be an issue, we convey that to our userbase. When we are having an issue, we convey that to our userbase. If we are planning maintenance, we tell our userbase ahead of time. Its the right thing to do. Rockstar does none of these things. In regards to the Grand Theft Auto Online servers, they tend to just be doing whatever it is they want, and will get back to restoring that service whenever we can. Which if we did that at my job, it would be grounds for termination. Not from my boss, the CTO, but from the CEO. It’s called bad business.

Having outages daily for a week in explicitly inexcusable from any standpoint. If that is occuring, you had better make a statement, have every developer apart of the project, and datacenter technicians working on the issue, around the clock until it is resolved.

As of recently the new Grand Theft Auto Online content expansion title “Further Adventures in Finance and Felony” has been released, and with that came server stability changes, as well as new content for the masses. Just in time for summer, and all the kids playing it all day while on Summer vacation.  But it appears the load is too much to handle, causing the servers to drop every day for the past three days, near what would be a peak time for US Consumers. Every day, I have received text messages from my brother ‘Servers crashed again’. To which I load up the support page, and sure enough, the whole platform for all consoles is marked as limited. If it was due to the load of the new update, wouldn’t the old consoles be untouched?

Either way, Rockstar Games needs to address this, as this is a turning point for Grand Theft Auto Online. Turn it into one of the largest grossing online services and act like it, or stop pretending they can pull it off. Because at this point, they only appear to be banking the checks, and not funding the server farm in the basement.

 

Sources:

http://www.gamespot.com/articles/gta-5s-online-mode-has-generated-half-a-billion-do/1100-6438765/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Theft_Auto_V#Sales

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leslie_Benzies

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