We probably won’t see the next major ‘Grand Theft Auto’ game until at least 2020, after the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles launch — here’s why

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Rockstar Games

Nearly five years after “Grand Theft Auto 5” first launched, the game continues to quietly dominate. As of late June, nearly 100 million copies have been sold.

It’s the third best-selling game of all time, just below “Tetris” and “Minecraft.” That’s because it keeps selling – “GTA 5” has been on the top 20 best-selling games in the US every month since it launched, barring a single month where it dropped to number 21.

And the studio that made “GTA 5,” Rockstar Games, is on the verge of releasing a brand new game: “Red Dead Redemption 2.”

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“Red Dead Redemption 2” is conceptually similar to the “GTA” series, in that it’s an open-world, third-person action game. Tonally, it’s very different.
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Rockstar Games

It’s for these reasons, broadly speaking, that we’re likely still years away from the next entry in the “Grand Theft Auto” series.

But, as you might expect, it’s much more complicated than that.


1. “GTA 5” keeps selling.

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Rockstar Games/Take-Two Interactive

Games like “Grand Theft Auto 5” – third-person, story-driven, open-world action games – don’t usually enjoy sales performance like “GTA 5” does. Most games in general don’t enjoy the type of sales performance of a title like “GTA 5.”

It is an anomaly, statistically speaking. “Its performance is just other worldly,” The NPD Group’s Mat Piscatella told me in a recent email; NPD tracks game sales data in the United States. “No other title comes anywhere near close.”

Since “GTA 5” went on sale in September 2013, it has appeared in the top 20 best-selling games list 57 out of 58 times. “The only time it didn’t was October 2014 when it hit at #21,” Piscatella said.

Simply put: Why release a new “GTA” when the last one is still selling so well?

In fact, Rockstar Games re-issued “GTA 5” in a “Premium Edition” earlier this year. It comes with additional content and a bunch of virtual money to use in “GTA Online” – the massively popular online component of “GTA 5.”


2. “GTA Online” is very popular.

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The latest expansion to “GTA Online” was called “After Hours,” and included characters from “GTA” history.
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Rockstar Games/Take-Two Interactive

Speaking of, “GTA Online” is quite popular. It’s not clear exactly how popular it is, as Rockstar Games doesn’t release player numbers. When we asked, representatives declined to answer.

Here’s what we do know about how popular it is: Rockstar Games said in January that “GTA Online” had more players in December 2017 than any previous time. Which is to say that more and more people are playing “GTA Online” over time.

It’s not surprising, either. With 100 million copies sold, that means that even if only 1% of buyers are playing “GTA Online,” that’s still a million people. And given Rockstar’s previous comments on player growth, we can assume that it’s probably much more than 1%.

We also know that it’s popular enough that Rockstar keeps making major additions – and those additions aren’t cheap to make.

Part of what makes “GTA Online” so alluring is it takes the open world of the offline game and turns it into a multiplayer playground. You can take on heists with friends, or go racing around San Andreas, or become a business magnate.

Better still: It costs nothing to play other than the initial price of the game. There are virtual items and bonuses you can buy within “GTA Online,” but it’s otherwise an infinite extension of an already massive open-world game.


3. It doesn’t make sense to release a new “GTA” game anywhere near “Red Dead Redemption 2” because it could hurt sales of both.

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Rockstar Games

Games like “Grand Theft Auto 5” are rare.

Not just open-world, third-person action games – there are lots of those every year – but games with massive worlds brimming with possibility. Those games tend to be beloved. I’m talking about stuff like “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” or “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.” The kind of games where players spend hundreds of hours exploring, long after the main story has ended, just for the thrill of it.

These are also the games that sell huge, record-setting numbers. They break out of the “core” gaming audience and enter the mainstream. And they sell for years.

But there can only be so many of those games. They are the exceptions – mainstream audiences will only buy so many games, and even the most hardcore players don’t have time to focus on multiple massive open-world games.

In so many words: Putting out a second massive open-world game in “GTA 6” anywhere near the release of “Red Dead Redemption 2” would be a mistake.

It could limit both games as people chose one or the other, or fell off of the first one to pick up the second, or simply skipped the first for the latter. If history is any indication, Rockstar intends to continue selling “Red Dead Redemption 2” long after its initial launch in October.


4. Rockstar puts out games infrequently, historically speaking.

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Rockstar / Grand Theft Auto V

“Red Dead Redemption 2” is Rockstar’s first new game since “GTA 5,” which launched in September 2013. Before that, “Red Dead Redemption” launched in May 2010. And prior to that, “Grand Theft Auto IV” launched in April 2008. Outside of a publishing deal Rockstar made with an outside development studio (to publish 2011’s “L.A. Noire”), the company has a steady cadence of one major game launch every two to three years – sometimes it goes even longer, like the five-year gap between “GTA 5” and “Red Dead Redemption 2.”

Given that history, it’s unlikely that Rockstar is suddenly changing how it operates and releasing two major new games anywhere near each other.


5. Rockstar Games almost certainly isn’t capable of simultaneously developing “Red Dead Redemption 2,” “GTA Online,” and “GTA 6.”

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Rockstar / GTA V

Making gigantic games like “Red Dead Redemption” and “Grand Theft Auto” is extremely resource-intensive. It takes hundreds of people, hundreds of millions of dollars, and years of coordinated work to create these massive games. “GTA 5” reportedly employed over 1,000 people in its creation.

Things get even more complicated when the concept of continual development gets introduced, as is the case with “GTA Online.” It’s a living game that requires maintenance, community support, and additional content generation – and that means a dedicated staff.

Given that Rockstar Games has been focused on creating “Red Dead Redemption 2” for the past several years, and is continually working on “GTA Online,” it’s unlikely that it could also be in full production on a new “Grand Theft Auto” game.

Which, to be clear, it is extremely likely that Rockstar is already working on “GTA 6” in some capacity. It’s even been mentioned by major Rockstar execs at least once in the past, though purely in a conceptual sense. But it’s likely that the work is preliminary at most, still years away from a finished product.


6. By the time a new “GTA” game is complete, new versions of the Xbox and PlayStation are likely to be available.

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Sony

Just like “Grand Theft Auto 5,” both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are nearing their fifth anniversaries – both consoles came out in fall 2013. Also like “GTA 5,” neither is going anywhere just yet.

According to the early rumors and reports, new Xbox and PlayStation consoles are in the works – but they probably won’t arrive until 2020 at the earliest. Neither Microsoft nor Sony is anywhere close to ready.

Given Rockstar’s history of launching a game every few years, and the impending launch of “Red Dead Redemption 2,” it looks like Rockstar’s next “GTA” game is unlikely to arrive on the current generation of consoles.

Perhaps it’ll end up like “GTA 5,” which arrived on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launched. It was one of the last major game launches on a console generation coming to an end, which then transitioned to a new generation even more successfully – “GTA 5” launched one year later on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Either way, we’re unlikely to see “Grand Theft Auto 6” anytime soon.

Rockstar Games declined a request for comment on this story.