This October marks two decades since the first release of Grand Theft Auto (GTA), and Rockstar Games’s flagship product continues to provoke controversy and debate, as well as provide exhilarating fun for players. While technically the game has come on leaps and bounds since the simple 2D graphics and top-down perspective of that first version, GTA has kept its edgy and adult theme in all subsequent releases, gaining 18+ certifications worldwide, and has even ended up being banned in several countries.
With the release of GTA III in 2001, the game switched to an open 3D world played from a first-person perspective, and subsequent editions have built on this platform to make the streets, buildings, cars and characters more and more realistic. The latest release (GTA V, in 2013) is now a truly immersive experience with trees that sway with the breeze, radio stations playing songs from the real world, and 49 square miles of city, forest and mountain to explore.
Although there hasn’t been a new edition in four years, fans are continually drawn back to GTA thanks to regular releases of paid downloadable content (or DLC’s) which expand aspects of the game. For example, fans can buy vehicles such as cars and helicopters to help them explore the virtual world, new missions to accomplish and new parts of the city to explore, ranging from mansions in the hills to whole new districts. Alongside the possibility to purchase virtual money for use in the game, such add-on content has become a big side business for the developer, with Rock Star picking up half a billion dollars in DLC sales alone by the middle of 2016. With the development of GTA V estimated to have cost a measly quarter of a billion dollars, DLC is certainly serious business, and the appetite for such content seems to be limitless.
Any look at a GTA fan site or a forum quickly uncovers wish lists for new DLC’s, and one idea that keeps on coming up is for a casino DLC, where gamers can use virtual money to bet at one of the casinos in the game. In fact, speculation has been rife for years that there is some masterplan from Rockstar Games to one day expand into the casino games market using the GTA franchise in the same way that Zynga has made a fortune from slots and poker on the Facebook platform. Gamers salivate at the prospect of walking into the Vinewood casino, winning big on a hand of poker and buying a helicopter to make getting across town that much easier.
In fact, given that casinos have played a prominent role in the game since Caligula’s Palace in GTA: San Andreas, it’s a surprise that we haven’t been able to play casino games already, particularly since the Vinewood casino teases players with ‘opening soon’ banners. This has led to speculation among the fan community about the reasons why Rockstar have not dipped their toe into the casino waters. The consensus among many gamers is that due to the murky legal position of gambling across the world and even between States of the US, Rockstar fear legal action from various governments. However, on closer examination, this is highly unlikely to be reason why Rockstar hasn’t allowed gamers to play for real in their casinos.
For a start, although GTA fans can already deposit real-world money to buy virtual currency in the shape of Shark Cards, there is no means to withdraw that money back into players’ bank accounts. Therefore, there is no way for players to realize any of their virtual world winnings, or allow money launderers to legitimize their ill-gotten gains. From a regulatory standpoint, gambling in GTA’s Vinewood casino would be as legit as playing poker on Zynga, which has never been formally challenged by any government. In fact, given GTA’s 18+ rating in most countries, Rockstar would probably find themselves in a stronger legal position than Zynga.
A more likely reason for the lack of casino content in any DLC release so far is the problem of hacking, with horror stories of players being hit with in-game insurance fraud, draining the virtual money from their shark cards, and eroding confidence in the fan community. However, recent weeks have seen Rockstar declare war on the hackers, even going so far as to send a cease and desist order to the Open IV modding group, whose software they claim enables harassment of users and worse. Rockstar are clearly cracking down on hackers to protect their revenue streams, and don’t seem to care about the side effect of alienating the hardcore modding community.
With this recent turn of events, it seems to us that Rockstar is laying the groundwork for an expansion of its revenue possibilities, with casino games being an obvious cash cow, which would sit well with the kind of demographics who play the game. In fact, Rockstar may well see the fact that many forms of real-money betting are banned in major markets such as the US as an opportunity. As well as Zynga have shown with poker, Daily Fantasy Sports operators such as Fan Duel have taken full advantage of Americans’ desire to gamble on sports in a legal way. Rockstar Games are unlikely to pass up such an opportunity to maximize revenues, and we see the war on hacking as a precursor to a move to open their casinos to players.
If Rockstar games does finally release a casino DLC, leaked evidence suggests they are likely to offer poker, blackjack, roulette and slots games, where players can try to win money to fund their virtual mansion in the hills. Given how the culturally influential GTA has managed to rekindle interest in 80’s music (thanks Fernando Martinez!) and classic cars, we can see this development leading to a surge in interest in poker and slot strategy. Rockstar Games are known for their attention to detail and will likely model the game mechanics on existing online casino games, perhaps even collaborating with an existing provider such as Playtech or Netent to develop the games. If this happens, GTA enthusiasts who want to gain an advantage may want to start brushing up on their skills by downloading this free online slots ebook courtesy of Netentcasino.
Whether Rockstar does one day go ahead with a casino DLC seems to depend on the outcome of its ongoing feud with hackers. However, given the demographics of existing players and the already edgy, adult theme of the game, then it seems that casino play and GTA are the perfect fit, and Rockstar would be crazy to miss out on the revenue. Let’s look forward to putting on a tux, striding into the Vinewood and playing a hand of Texas Hold ‘Em one day soon.
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