GTA Online's failures illustrate a larger industry problem with online gaming

Posted on Wednesday, October 2nd 2013 at 1:36 p.m.

Gamers expecting to have the opportunity to try out the new online play of Grand Theft Auto were met with error messages or queued for game sessions that never launched. The screenshot above is a good example of what I spent about 15 minutes staring at before deciding to go back to single player mode.

Rockstar has responded with a relatively contrite message on their support site: “We are continuing to look into these issues and are working around the clock on resolving them as quickly as possible. This includes close monitoring of our Support systems, forums, social media, and in-game data to measure traffic along with Community sentiment to ensure ongoing improvements to stability. Please stay tuned for more updates.” An earlier Rockstar article stated (in reference to general GTAV gameplay issues) “We are humbled and overwhelmed by the response to Grand Theft Auto V – literally overwhelmed in the case of some of our servers!”

Earlier complaints were heard in the gaming community upon discovery that the mobile companion game iFruit was only available on iOS and not available for Android devices. iFruit allows players to play a mobile game whose gameplay results impact both GTAV and GTA Online.

While these issues do not take anything away from the excellent quality of the single-player mode in GTAV, in my opinion they illustrate a larger issue at hand in game publishing: the inability of major publishers to make their online gameplay elements work right from the start. In the past 18 months we’ve been treated to massive online failures from Diablo 3, Black Ops 2, and SimCity. While some performance degradation can be expected on launch day, complete failure or unavailability should not be an option given the amount of money and resources that major publishers have at their disposal. As an example, GTAV’s budget was $280 million – couldn’t they devote some of that budgeting towards a robust online experience?

Online failures such as these contribute to fears that were voiced about the XboxOne (and Playstation 4)’s “always online” configuration. If gamers can’t trust EA or Activision to get their online setups correct, how can they expect Microsoft and Sony to do any better?

Consumers are partly to blame for this situation. As long as preorders continue to flow in, publishers will continue to pursue the “release now, patch later” strategy. I can’t count the number of gamers who have stated “I will never buy a (insert publisher name here) game again!” only to race out for a day one preorder when the next AAA title is announced. Game companies will only sit up and take notice when consumers stop preordering games and instead wait until after release day to confirm that the game is performing as expected.

I hope that Rockstar is able to swiftly clear up its online issues. If they can’t, gamers may become more frustrated with what publishers claim they can deliver, and may eventually vote with their wallets.

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