GTA V: Transmedia Phenom


The gaming world was taken by storm this fall with the release of Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto V. Gamers had been left without a new major installment of GTA since 2008 (Grand Theft Auto IV), but we’re pretty confident to say it was worth the wait. And we’re not the only ones: GTA V broke gaming records in its first day alone, selling $800 million worth of units, and going on to earn $1 billion in just the first three days. A billion dollars. In three days.

So, how’d they do it? We took a look and created for your viewing pleasure the “3 Simple Steps to Creating a $1 Billion Masterpiece – GTA V Edition”.

Step 1: Make an awesome game.

This step probably goes without saying but “2 Simple Steps…” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Anyone who’s ever played GTA before knows the basic gist: you’re a bad guy doing bad things, earning some serious cash, crashing your car into various structures and innocent bystanders, whilst frequenting the local area’s hospitals for what would normally be fatal injuries, only to come out fine on the other end and do it all over again. Oh, and prostitutes. But this game does more.

For the first time in the franchise’s history, you are in control of three characters whose paths cross allowing for a great story and an even better play experience. Please welcome: Trevor, the hillbilly meth dealer, Franklin, the novice criminal, and Michael, a former bank robber living under a witness protection service. Finally, protagonists that aren’t super-annoying or one-dimensional. Players can quickly toggle between the three, both in collaborative missions as well as in freeplay. This move was pretty brilliant on Rockstar’s part. Don’t want to have to drive to the complete OPPOSITE side of the map? Switch to the character who’s over there. Don’t want to have to drive AND shoot the bad guys? Switch off between your getaway driver and your gun-slinging passenger. Just plain sick of your character and want someone else? You get the idea. Having three protagonists also allows for missions to feel even more cinematic and just plain awesome(r). In multiple missions, the story automatically switches from character to character, even if they’re in separate locations.

Each character has a “special ability” unique to themselves, which helps you in the game. Though, we personally found that Trevor’s (double damage to enemies) and Franklin’s (slow down time while driving) were the most helpful. The three men are so different from one another it gives the player three unique experiences within the world. While playing as Trevor, you just feel so greasy doing the redneck things you do. As Franklin, you’re stuck dealing with your “friend” Lamar while you’re trying to move up in the crime world. And as Michael, you seem to be living the life with your mansion, fancy suits and nice cars but in reality your whole family hates you and you’re forced into therapy sessions and demeaning yoga. It actually gets a little depressing… but then you just shoot stuff and it’s cool!

Like other GTA games before it, GTA V takes place in an open world map (with almost zero lag), however unlike previous installments, the entire map is available to the player from the start which is a huge plus. No more bridges that are “closed for construction”, forcing you to have to wait to visit the strip club until later in the game – ugh, the worst. Feel free to ride around in your car, truck, dirt bike, 4-wheeler, air force jet, blimp, or submarine anywhere you choose – though don’t expect the handling to be all that great (or the shooting from inside said vehicle – honestly, don’t get us started on the shooting). Supposedly Rockstar did an overhaul on the driving to have it feel more like actual racing games, but we still crashed into cars, signs, buildings and people. A lot of people. Which normally wouldn’t be a huge deal, but you “accidentally” run over a person and someone sees you? Congratulations, you now have a wanted level and the cops are after you. While it’s a significant part of the game (you are a bad guy doing bad things), losing the cops is probably one of the most infuriating parts of the game. Even more infuriating, is when it’s not even your fault, but the mission is written to force you to have to lose the cops before it’s complete. Our suggestion? Either park in a parking garage or ditch the car and crouch in a bush. Honestly, you’d be surprised – try the bush thing.

If you ever get out from hiding in that bush, you’ll notice that GTA V takes every opportunity to utilize social satire, whether through talk-radio stations in the car, billboards throughout Los Santos or even in the missions themselves. Such as an undercover visit to the office of LifeInvader (Facebook) for an assassination attempt, or assisting a paparazzo to obtain pictures of celebs caught in scandalous acts, or even taking out an onslaught of hipsters equipped with automatic weapons at a “unique” coffee shop. Personally, that last one is in the running for our most favorite mission, with its rival involving a pro-marijuana campaign and hallucinogen-induced aliens (we know, it’s a tough call). The writing and humor in GTA V is a large part of its charm, not only in the main storyline but in even the tiniest of details. Such as logos on t-shirts and store fronts to random dialogue spoken by AI characters on the streets (who most of the time seem really angry for no apparent reason). There’s a lot that can be said about GTA V that we can’t fit into this post. The amount of thought given to every single aspect of the game is really impressive.

Step 2: Work on your social skills.

Rockstar Games launched their online Social Club website in 2008 with the release of Grand Theft Auto IV and has used it since with other popular titles such as LA Noire, Red Dead Redemption, and Max Payne. But what makes it so great with GTA V and worthy to be on this prestigious list? Well for one thing: Snapmatic, a photo sharing service a la Instagram in which players can take pictures (even selfies) during gameplay with their in-game cell phone, and immediately upload them to the Social Club’s site. Each photo on Snapmatic even automatically generates hashtags based on your location in the game – though we don’t really see the need. We’re not sure if Rockstar was planning for this feature to take off like it did, but its popularity seems to be growing by the day. With the ability to share and even “like” photos uploaded by friends, or better yet complete strangers, Snapmatic is able to make your life in the game almost completely mirror your real-life Instagram use. That is, if you tend to post pictures of yourself on the top of a mountain with a plane you just crashed into it on Instagram a lot…

In addition to the photo sharing, Social Club has a fictional game-based stock market (snore), the ability to create and manage crews of friends for use in online play, and general personalized gameplay stats. See information based on your time spent in-game on things such as weapons of choice, money spent and earned, hours played per character, number of deaths, missions and achievements completed, and more. Also, with every friend you add to your profile, you can compare each others stats and general completions allowing for (un)healthy competition.

Step 3: There’s an app for that.

With the release of GTA V also came the iOS and Android iFruit app, based on the iFruit cell phones used in the game. The app itself is designed to look like the home screen of a mobile phone, with each of the in-app services appearing as apps themselves (so meta). With the app, players can use their Social Club log-in to access the same online service as well as general news and video updates on GTA V. Additionally, players can access Los Santos Customs, a detailing auto shop from the game, in which you can customize vehicles and even license plates. Save your creation, and the next time you load GTA V – boom – your pimped out ride is waiting for you.

Another entire section of the app is dedicated to man’s (or Franklin’s) best friend, Chop. Kind of like Tamagotchi, but not at all, you care for and train Chop the Dog to actually earn in-game bonuses. You’ll get to (read as: have to) feed him, play with him, teach him tricks, take him on walks, and best of all, scoop his poops. It’s just so real! Any advancements you make with Chop in the app, will be reflected in gameplay by having Chop help you with secret unlockables, be able to do tricks and a more general attentiveness by your furry friend. Because if you’re anything like us, we’re sure it’s bothering you how inattentive that CG rottweiler was being.

While all of the above may sound super amazing, it’s really “meh”. Personally, we don’t really use the app that much as it sounds a lot better than it is. But, Rockstar’s thinking behind it was pretty smart. They’re able to get their gamers to completely immerse themselves in the game, even when they’re away from home by putting it on a platform they always have with them. Despite the app being, well terrible, it’s an effective use of transmedia to keep the players connected. It’s almost like you can literally live in Los Santos. All day. All the time… Wait, where am I – am I at work? How did I get here…

Overall, GTA V broke boundaries in many ways. They could’ve rehashed the typical GTA formula, but they took a step back and made a really smart game. Having a great story-mode campaign, an online version of console gameplay (which even features micro-transactions, almost unheard of in console gaming), a social web community and a mobile device application which are all inter-connected, creates the ultimate property package. By broadening the GTA V world via multiple platforms, Rockstar created a seamless transmedia approach that successfully built a mini technological empire for themselves. Not many games can say that. Albeit, they’ve had the past 5 years to work on it, but some games have had longer and still completely missed the mark (see Duke Nukem). With media constantly growing and reshaping daily, GTA V was able to hone in on what works and is most popular. Maybe this is the start of a new trend for console gaming moving forward, and competitors will learn to embrace their mobile competition, living in beautiful, technical harmony.