Recently, some rumors have been flying around the Internet about an upcoming Grand Theft Auto MMO. Now, while most of these rumors are entirely unfounded with no evidence whatsoever, you have to admit that the idea of a GTA MMO is pretty damn cool. So while we aren't necessarily saying that a GTA MMO is in the works, we figure it couldn't hurt to speculate on what a GTA MMO would actually be like.
First of all, Rockstar founder Sam Houser once said that a GTA MMO is a "Holy Grail" of game design. He believed that it was doable, but not without providing its design team with numerous challenges. Most notably, the challenge would be reigning in GTA's open world aspects. In a GTA game, players can have endless fun riding tanks down city streets and shooting rocket launchers at cops because there are no actual consequences. Should the player die or get arrested, they will simply spawn at the nearest hospital or safe house with some lost cash or equipment.
Also, the player is the only real destructive force in the game world. While there are other gangs, mobs, and criminals on the streets, they only seem to appear during missions. Most of the time, the only one committing random acts of violence is you, and that actually supports GTA's allure of being a massive violence sandbox.
However, when you add other players to the mix, this whole formula starts to break down. When anyone can hop in a tank and shoot rocket launchers at the cops, these actions become far more common and blasé. Thus a GTA MMO without proper restrictions might simply devolve into a chaotic ammunitions fest that prevents any character from getting missions done.
How does a developer circumvent this problem? Well, dying and being arrested could come with serious penalties. Progress would have to be set back rather drastically every time players get caught by the cops. This should dissuade players from committing random acts of violence for no good reason.
However, then we have the problem of the game no longer appealing to the GTA fan base. GTA fans want to be randomly chaotic and destructive, shooting prostitutes in the face and robbing old people of their classic cars. If performing these acts becomes detrimental to character progress, the whole GTA feel is lost.
The way you deal with this is by introducing rewards to the player's wanted level. For example, jacking a cop car in GTA would normally give you access to the weapons the cops had in the car. Something like that would make raising your wanted level useful during difficult missions but less enticing during idle gameplay. It introduces a risk/reward system into the game, which always serves to deepen gameplay.
A GTA MMO would probably focus primarily on single-player missions. Criminals tend to not work well together. If multiplayer missions were included in the game, it would be nice to see party ties kept loose. It would be pretty cool to work together with another group of criminals to pull off a bank heist, only to double cross them at the very end to take all the money for yourself. If the game's systems were deep enough, you could even do things like plant a hidden bomb on your escape vehicle threatening to blow you and everyone else sky high if they don't give you the money. While this would be extremely compelling, it also might make the game more chaotic, as most players would begin to choose to opt for all-or-nothing scenarios. Get five players together, each threatening to blow everyone else up unless they get the money, and the situation becomes less tense and more stupid.
There's a solution to this problem as well, and that's intimidation. There's no good way to simulate the branching dialogue options of a single-player game in a massively multiplayer setting. Instead, giving the player an intimidation stat and intimidation abilities can take the place of these social options. Say you are the man who wants to blow everyone up unless he gets all the money for himself. In real life, this would be a tense situation, but in a video game, people care much less about the death of their avatars. However, if a character has an intimidation rating, avatars can be made to care. Intimidation abilities can disable the ability to shoot or harm characters for short amounts of time and can force compliance in situations involving loot or monetary exchange. Of course, these abilities would not have a 100% success rate and could be defended against. So your attempts to intimidate your friends could very well get you shot in the face.
Finally, a GTA game would most likely only give you XP through completing missions, which would make the game far easier to manage. If players could earn XP or cash through mugging random people on the street, that's all they would ever need to do. Never underestimate the ability for gamers to play a game in the most boring and most grindy fashion. In addition, XP rewards should be doled out based on how a mission was completed as well. Higher wanted level? More XP. Betrayed your friends? More XP. Counteracted a betrayal? Even more XP than the betrayal would have given you.
Overall, the biggest challenge that a GTA MMO faces is the insuppressible urge for every gamer to become a giant walking ball of chaos and death. However, if the designers can reign in these destructive tendencies, we may find ourselves sharing the streets of Liberty City yet.
Angelo M. D'Argenio
Date: May 30, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*