Why won't Rockstar release Grand Theft Auto 6?

You know it's coming. There's never been a bigger gaming franchise than Grand Theft Auto. Its last installment, Grand Theft Auto 5, is the best-selling video game of all time, at least in the United States. Like death and taxes, Grand Theft Auto 6 is inevitable.

But don't hold your breath waiting for the next entry in Rockstar Games' open-world crime simulator–you'll pass out. Grand Theft Auto 6 will hit consoles and PCs eventually, but Rockstar is in no hurry. Here's why.

Grand Theft Auto 5 is still selling crazy well

Grand Theft Auto 5 launched in 2013 on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It was an immediate hit, moving over 11 million units in its first 24 hours on the market, raking in over $815.7 million in revenue, and setting all kinds of world records. Just over a year later, after the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions hit the market, Grand Theft Auto 5 went on to become the best-selling game ever released in the United Kingdom, period.

In the years since, Grand Theft Auto 5 hasn't lost any of its momentum. In June 2017, Grand Theft Auto 5 topped the UK sales charts, beating out newer hits like Horizon Zero Dawn, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Between May and November 2017, Rockstar sold over 5 million copies to American gamers, pushing the game's lifetime total to 85 million copies sold. That's more than every Sims game combined, and over twice as many sales as Super Mario Bros.

It's bananas. If Grand Theft Auto 5 is still selling that well four years after launch, who knows when it'll start slowing down? And, more importantly, why would Rockstar bother releasing a sequel? As far as the company's bottom line is concerned, a new Grand Theft Auto is unnecessary. The last one is still doing just fine.

Grand Theft Auto: Online still receives regular updates

One of the reasons why Grand Theft Auto 5 continues to thrive is its multiplayer component, known as Grand Theft Auto Online. While Grand Theft Auto Online features the same map and open world as Grand Theft Auto 5, the internet-connected version of San Andreas offers players a bunch of extra content, including complex multiplayer heists, in addition to the ability to cause mayhem and destruction with friends.

Grand Theft Auto Online receives regular, free updates, too, each of which adds tons of new content to the game. The "Further Adventures in Finance and Felony" update from 2016, for example, lets players trade vehicular manslaughter for white-collar crime. With "Smugglers' Run," players can use aircraft to traffic guns, jewelry, and all kinds of illicit items. In many ways, Grand Theft Auto: Online is the last Grand Theft Auto game you'd ever need. It's ever-changing and never ends, and it's kept players hooked for years.

Grand Theft Auto Online also has made Rockstar a tidy profit, thanks largely to the ability to buy GTA currency for real-world cash (don't worry—if you don't want to empty your wallet, the game is well-balanced, so you won't have to). It's the gift that keeps on giving for both players and the publisher. While we can't help but wonder what a revamped and modern Grand Theft Auto Online might look like, we probably won't find out until the current iteration runs its course. At this rate, that's not going to happen for a very, very long time.

The studio behind Grand Theft Auto is super-busy

Here's how thin Rockstar North, the studio that traditionally handles Grand Theft Auto development, is stretched: the developer didn't even have time to finish Grand Theft Auto 5. Oh, sure, the game came out as planned with a lengthy single-player campaign, and Grand Theft Auto Online is a runaway success. But that single-player, story-focused downloadable content that Rockstar promised? It never arrived. Rockstar's team was just too busy to get it done.

"It was not really a conscious decision, it's just what happened," Rockstar's director of design Imran Sarwar explained to IGN. Everyone was just too busy. First, Grand Theft Auto 5's campaign, which features three separate protagonists, "was three games in one," leaving designers exhausted and players relatively content. Next, the team had to work on the souped up Xbox One and PlayStation 4 editions of Grand Theft Auto 5, which included new missions and objects and a game-changing first-person mode. Grand Theft Auto Online launched without its biggest selling point, the multiplayer heists, and getting those into the game while also making sure that Online lived up to its full potential "sucked up a lot of resources." Finally, Grand Theft Auto isn't the only franchise in Rockstar's stable. The developers had to work on other games, too.

Given how much effort Theft Auto 5 took—and still takes—on Rockstar's part, it's no surprise that Grand Theft Auto 6 is a long ways off. Time is a finite resource, after all, and Rockstar simply doesn't have enough of it.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is around the corner

The folks over at Rockstar aren't dummies. They've been at this video game thing for a while, and they know that there's no good reason to compete against yourself. Ubisoft can get away with releasing South Park: The Fractured but Whole and Assassin's Creed Origins within a couple of weeks of each other because they're fundamentally different games. 

Red Dead Redemption 2, on the other hand, checks a lot of the same boxes as the Grand Theft Auto franchise. Settings aside, they're both open-world games that let players live out their tawdry criminal fantasies. Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto are essentially cousins, and releasing a new Grand Theft Auto shortly after the western adventure would undoubtedly cut into Red Dead's profits.

Rockstar executives basically admitted as much themselves, saying they'll probably alter the Grand Theft Auto Online schedule in order to pave way for the upcoming action game. "The rollout of updates may change a little in order to encourage players to try Red Dead Redemption 2 when it launches," Imran Sarwar told Game Informer. "It would be great to have players splitting time between two incredible worlds, but we shall see how things evolve."

If Red Dead Redemption 2 fails to catch on with audiences, then sure, we might see Grand Theft Auto 6 sooner rather than later. But given how pumped Red Dead fans got about a single red-and-black preview image, anything short of a massive success seems unlikely.

Agent (hopefully) and Bully (maybe) are clogging up the pipeline

Rockstar announced Agent, an action game based on a brand new intellectual property, way back in 2009. A press release promised that Agent would deliver an exciting adventure during the height of the Cold War, and would send players on a "paranoid journey into the world of counter-intelligence, espionage and political assassinations." Rockstar Games co-founder Sam Houser described Agent as "the ultimate action game." Of course, the press release also says that Agent will be a PlayStation 3 exclusive, so the information is probably a little dated.

Still, it's about all we've got. Since Agent's big reveal, Rockstar hasn't said much about the long-languishing project, leading many fans to assume that the game has been cancelled. Apparently, it hasn't. In December 2016, Rockstar renewed its Agent trademark, giving the company another three and a half years to use the name. In August, 2017, screenshots allegedly showing one of Agent's snowy stages appeared online. As a bonus, a few pieces of concept art teasing Bully 2 were leaked as well.

If Rockstar is still actively working on Agent, and if it has the much-wanted Bully 2 waiting in the pipeline as well, there probably aren't a ton of company resources left over for Grand Theft Auto. Rockstar is a major developer, but it makes big games, and that takes a lot of time and a lot of people. Not only did over 1,000 developers work on Grand Theft Auto 5, but as Rockstar North president Leslie Benzies explained to Develop, the company tends to focus on one project at a time. With Red Dead Redemption 2, Agent, and maybe Bully all in the queue, that puts Grand Theft Auto 6's potential release far, far away.

Does Grand Theft Auto 6 have a setting yet?

In Grand Theft Auto, the setting is just as important as the characters. Vice City wouldn't be the game it is without its neon-soaked, cocaine-laced '80s vibe. Grand Theft Auto 5's show business storylines, like the paparazzo quests, only work because of the glitzy faux-Hollywood backdrop. And you couldn't tell a tale like Grand Theft Auto 4's immigrant drama anywhere other than Liberty City.

Accordingly, Rockstar's Leslie Benzies told Develop that when creating a Grand Theft Auto game, "Where is it going to be set is the first question. Then that defines the missions; you're doing different things in LA than in New York or Miami." 

But as far as the public knows, that question hasn't been answered yet. According to a report by TechRadar, while "preliminary" development on GTA 6 has begun, the location of the next Grand Theft Auto still hadn't been decided as of 2016, when the article was published. In years past, Rockstar staff took a scouting trip to Tokyo, but ultimately decided against using the Japanese capital as the backdrop.

But that was a while ago, and Rockstar's realized that its satirical take on America is a fundamental part of the series' appeal (although the company did release two Grand Theft Auto: London titles a few years before GTA made the leap to 3D). We may not know exactly where the next Grand Theft Auto will happen, but if you're a US citizen, expect it to look fairly familiar.

Not enough time has passed

Grand Theft Auto isn't an annual franchise like Call of Duty or Madden. Rockstar doesn't crank them out every year or two. Ever since GTA made the move to 3D, the numbered installments have been few and far between. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas might've come out one and three years after Grand Theft Auto III, respectively, but those aren't fully-fledged sequels. They're more like spin-offs, using the same engine as their predecessors with some new content thrown in. Mobile installments, like Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories, use many of the same assets and maps as their console counterparts.

A truly new Grand Theft Auto only comes out a couple of times a decade. After Grand Theft Auto III's 2001 debut, fans had to wait seven years before 2008's Grand Theft Auto 4. Grand Theft Auto 5 didn't come out until 2013—a five year gap—and the next-generation editions of the same game didn't hit the market until 2014. The PC version of the game arrived even later: players without consoles had to wait until 2015 to cruise Los Santos' crime-ridden streets.

Considering Grand Theft Auto 5's record-setting sales, it's hard to imagine that there's anyone out there who hasn't played GTA 5, and yet many members of the gaming community have only had the opportunity to play for a couple of years. Given Rockstar's typical schedule, we probably won't see Grand Theft Auto 6 until around 2020—and even that seems like a longshot.

Players haven't finished enjoying everything that Grand Theft Auto 5 has to offer

Even if Rockstar did have Grand Theft Auto 6 locked in and ready to go, there's no guarantee that players would be prepared for it. Close to half a decade after launch, people are still finding new ways to have fun with Grand Theft Auto 5.

Some are busy using GTA 5's filmmaking tools to put together movies. Others use Grand Theft Auto Online's multiplayer infrastructure to assemble motorcycle gangs, to put together parkour-themed race courses, and to challenge each other to complete insane stunts. A group of dedicated conspiracy theorists has dedicated its time to unraveling the sprawling Mount Chiliad Mystery by both investigating the in-game world and by searching Grand Theft Auto 5's code for clues.

On PCs, players are even busier. Grand Theft Auto 5 has a dedicated and productive modding community, and its members are augmenting (and breaking) the game in all kinds of ways. With mods, players can take to Los Santos' skies in Tony Stark's Iron Man armor, play as police officers, travel through time, and catch unsuspecting civilians Pokémon-style.

Chances are, Rockstar is going to be done with Grand Theft Auto 5 well before players are. Take your time with Grand Theft Auto 6, guys. In the meantime, we'll be just fine.