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The Shady Side Of GTA

The "Grand Theft Auto" franchise is an unstoppable juggernaut, with over a dozen games offering players wacky escapism into a world of crime and satire. Despite all of the terrible things that the player characters have to do in "GTA" games, there's just something undeniably exhilarating about running absolutely wild in an open world like Los Santos or Liberty City. However, not all of the shady activities in the "Grand Theft Auto" franchise are actually part of a story campaign. 


The series has remained a controversy magnet ever since its inception. Congressional hearings have been held to discuss the game's violence and adult content, while "GTA" developer Rockstar Games and parent company Take-Two Interactive have often found themselves on the receiving end of lawsuits and fan complaints over the years. Some of these controversies have been blown out of proportion, while others have risen from justifiable concerns.

"Grand Theft Auto" may be a series all about shady people, but here are a few occasions when the series itself came across as pretty shady on its own.

GTA was originally promoted by a criminal publicist

While doing research for his book, "Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto," journalist David Kushner discovered that many of the franchise's earlier controversies could be traced back to one man: a publicist named Max Clifford. Though he may not be a household name, Clifford made a career out of stoking outrage in the press in order to garner greater attention for his clients. Among his more famous attention-grabbing moves, Clifford paid people to make up steamy stories about celebrities and once claimed to have helped make the Beatles into a household name.


When it came to Rockstar, one of Clifford's more offensive tactics included spinning a programmer's real-life car crash into a story about the people behind "GTA" being loose cannons. This almost got the game banned and certainly got the public talking about "Grand Theft Auto." When speaking with The Times in 2012, "GTA" co-creators David Jones and Mike Dailly revealed, "[Max Clifford] designed all the outcry ... He told us how he would play [the campaign], who he would target, what those people targeted would say. Every word he said came true." 

Though he may have helped put "GTA" on the map (but certainly not the Beatles), Max Clifford was arrested in 2012 for some particularly heinous crimes of his own. 


GTA 5 was made during Rockstar's crunch culture days

"Grand Theft Auto 5" is one of the best-selling games of all time, with "GTA Online" still providing Rockstar with a steady flow of cash after a decade of play. Unfortunately, the game's high quality upon release didn't come easily.


When news broke that the team making "Cyberpunk 2077" would be working longer hours to complete the game on time, former Rockstar developer Liam Edwards revealed that six months of crunch time was added to the "GTA 5" development cycle each time it was delayed — and it was delayed a total of three times. For those keeping score, that's an additional 18 months of longer workdays.

Of course, this isn't the first that fans have heard of crunch at Rockstar, as the studio reportedly enforced 100-hour work weeks leading up to the launch of "Red Dead Redemption 2." This particular controversy brought the company's longstanding labor practices to light, for which Rockstar and Take-Two apologized. Edwards acknowledged that Rockstar has apparently changed its act since those days, but the difficult truth is that making "Grand Theft Auto 5" took a lot out of its team.


An unwilling drug runner was recruited through GTA Online

As if "Grand Theft Auto Online" wasn't already full of ne'er-do-wells and rival gangs, it turns out that real life criminal organizations are using the game as something of a recruitment tool. In 2022, Forbes reported that a woman named Alyssa Navarro was caught by Arizona Border Protection as she drove a car carrying 60kg of methamphetamine in the back. Even scarier, she had done this without knowing she was participating in a crime.


According to law enforcement, Navarro had simply accepted a job offered to her by a fellow "GTA Online" player: drive the car to its intended destination and be paid upon arrival. She was told she'd be moving electronics and was instructed not to go through the trunk. Who knows how much worse things could have gotten for Navarro if she'd actually gotten where she was headed?

Because of this incident and others like it, authorities continue to keep tabs on "Grand Theft Auto" and other popular online games to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Replacing good GTA games with inferior 'remasters'

"Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – Definitive Edition" stands as one of the franchise's biggest missteps in recent memory. The HD remasters of "GTA 3," "Vice City," and "San Andreas" were met with derision and ridicule from fans due to the number of glitches and visual issues plaguing the collection. Making matters worse was the fact that Rockstar Games was apparently so confident in this collection's success that it severely limited the availability of earlier versions of these games, pulling them from digital storefronts.


Though Rockstar never directly copped to removing the games from sale in order to juice sales for "The Trilogy," fans are pretty sure this was the company's reasoning. Following the negative backlash against "The Trilogy," Rockstar announced that it would be promptly re-issuing "GTA 3," "Vice City," and "San Andreas" as a bundle on the Rockstar Store.

Rockstar has since re-released "The Trilogy" to Steam, with plans to eventually bring the remasters to mobile platforms. It remains to be seen if these editions will be in better shape.

Phishing scams capitalizing on GTA 6 hype

"Grand Theft Auto 6" is definitely on its way, but it's not entirely complete. As work continues on the highly anticipated sequel, some scammers have taken advantage of the hype by pretending to offer jobs working on Rockstar's upcoming projects. As a result, unsuspecting fans — no doubt eager to contribute to the next "GTA" game and other Rockstar titles — have fallen for phishing scams perpetrated by phony recruiters and given out their private information. These fake recruitment ads were really ramping up in 2021, prompting Rockstar to issue a warning on social media:


According to Rockstar's support page, "Rockstar Games does not use instant messaging to contact prospective employees or conduct interviews. We never require prospective employees to send personal information or incur fees as part of our recruiting process." In order to combat these scams, Rockstar has asked for anyone who's been impacted by one to contact the company immediately.