"Grand Theft Auto Online" will feature a complex virtual economy that allows gamers to spend real-world money to get their hands on in-game cash, Rockstar Games said this week, heralding a rocky start for the new game.
The addition of in-game purchases makes "GTA Online," the first game in Rockstar's wildly popular carjacking series to introduce e-commerce. And for all the hype about the new game, which launches Oct. 1, these microtransactions are the one feature giving even die-hard GTA fans pause. This kind of e-commerce is typically seen in free-to-play games such as the new "Plants Vs. Zombies" mobile game — freemium apps that are heavily criticized for focusing more on hitting players up for cash every few seconds rather than actually giving them something fun to play with. Gamers have already spent upwards of $60 on the new "GTA V," which makes additional costs hard to stomach. The unpopularity of in-game purchases was underlined last week when fewllo game industry giant Activision Blizzard announced that it was removing its own e-commerce solution from "Diablo 3," after a year's worth of headaches and player complaints.
As if in response to gamer concerns, Rockstar said that microtransactions were designed to give players an added convenience if they did not have the time or energy to unlock everything at their own pace.
"The game and its economy have been designed and balanced for the vast majority of players who will not buy extra cash," Rockstar said. "There is no in-game paywall and nothing that should disrupt the balance of the game. You don't have to spend real money to attain the cars, guns, clothes, flash and style of a high-roller in Los Santos, but can if you wish to get them a little quicker. The economy is balanced differently from the single player economy, and cash earned in one cannot be taken over to the other. Most players will earn cash much faster Online than in Story Mode."
It's not clear how much these currency packs will cost, but a report from the British gaming site Eurogamer said they will range from around $3 to $22 and be available in denominations of $100,000, $200,000, $500,000 and $1.25 million.
Rockstar warned of "typical growing pains for an online game, including but not limited to crashes, glitches, crazy bugs, gameplay modes and mechanics that need re-balancing and other surprises!" Still, for fans of "GTA V," there's a lot to be excited about, includeing new vehicles, cooperative heist missions, and competitive sports of all shapes and sizes . The game will even come with a content creator which allows players to make their own in-game levels for racing or good old fashion death-match killing.
To start, "GTA Online" will support up to 16 players in a given game and only be accessible through "GTA V," though Rockstar North president and longtime GTA producer Leslie Benzies has said that the company plans to eventually turn it into its own operation.
"GTA Online" launches through the "online" section of "Grand Theft Auto V" on Oct. 1. "Grand Theft Auto V" was first released to widespread critical acclaim on Sept. 17, setting a new game industry sales records when it earned more than $1 billion in just three days on the market.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: Yannick.LeJacq@nbcuni.com.