One of the interesting points in introducing Grand Theft Auto Online is that it really is something new. It does not have the baggage or the relationships and links to virtually ANY of the previous games in the GTA series save for GTA V, and only then due to the fact that it shares some characters with vivid personalities with that game. Well that and GTAO is technically the online modes for GTA V...
Still, GTAO starts out with a figurative clean and blank slate with respect to series canon, mostly because there has never been anything quite like it in the previous games.
While GTA IV did have online modes, they were for the most part restricted to specific activities with a small number of parameters and completely lacked the sort of continuity that is literally a foundation element in this new game. And as it is a new game, lets start with that as our focus by first looking backwards for a bit.
The Clean Slate
The starting CS for the female character is far more interesting than that of the male character
It wasn't long after GTA III was released and got a good solid workout by players that talk and speculation began to make the rounds on chat boards about how cool it would be if there was an online multi-player mode or, even better, the question went: what if GTA received an MMO treatment?
Remember this was 2001 and games like Ultima Online were still going strong so the MMO concept was a proven thing. There was talk at the time of the Gibson Universe being given the MMO treatment, and the argument was made that if they could make a game based on that. . .
That was true as far as it went, and in spite of the silence on the part of Rockstar when questions of that sort were raised both officially and unofficially, it turned out that they were both busy working on the next expansion and the next major title in the series, and they did not really believe that there was as great a demand for an online treatment for GTA as it seemed.
The doubts that Rockstar felt are completely understandable if we think about it for a moment. Remember this was quite a few years ago -- the now standard online player-vs-player mode trend for action-adventure games was still in the distant future, with its proof-in-concept still to be demonstrated by the top two wargame series.
Besides that, who would have believed at the time that the desire for an online PVP version of the game that gave players the ability to kill each other would be desirable? The massively negative reaction that players in popular online games like Ultima Online and Everquest had to that concept had resulted in significant player backlash.
The studios behind both games ended up created special areas specifically for the players who did desire that sort of game play experience -- but those areas saw just a fraction of the use that the non-player-killing areas enjoyed.
With that eye-opening trend present who can blame Rockstar for underestimating the interest?
GTA: Vice City finally came and went, and for a lot of players it was (and still is) the high-water mark for the single player GTA games.
A significant percentage of the GTA fan base viewed Vice City as the perfect manifestation of the GTA spirit in a video game, and felt that with that frontier now clearly mastered, it really was time for an online multi-player GTA to be put on the front burner.
Instead the folks at Rockstar went to work on the next GTA game, and San Andreas was born.
San Andreas had many new features but the bulk of it was the sort of campy over-the-top approach that the community rightly felt that Vice City had mastered -- and where was the multi-player online GTA that the fanbase had been asking for?!
As San Andreas began to age and Rockstar released Liberty City Stories and then Vice City Stories, requests for a multi-player version of the game grew louder until finally Rockstar confirmed that just such a game play mode was to be built into GTA IV.
That was news that the fan base was ready to hear!
GTA IV Compromise?
The closer that IV came to launch the broader the speculation was about how the online side would be handled, The problem was that specific news was not forthcoming.
Rockstar was happy to speak in general terms but it was not until GTA IV was actually released that the players realized that, far from creating a multi-player online game, what they got was a limited scope sort of online cooperative multi-player, and what player-vs-player content it had was very narrow in terms of play that it amounted to just a game of cat-and-mouse between players.
The end result was a system of limited online PVP that substituted the rank that players could unlock in place of the satisfaction of going after each other tooth and claw, and even that began to be criticized heavily, with gamers pointing out that the rank upgrades and clothing rewards were felt to have cheapened the effort that went into obtaining the ranks.
While it was not entirely clear what the majority opinion was with respect to the new online modes of play, the very vocal minority opinion was crystal clear: they felt that it was too little, too late.
That did not entirely jive with the reality of the game though -- because players were playing in record numbers.
When constructive criticism finally did start to come in it dealt with issues such as the broad control that the owner of a game lobby had over the players in it and the game that would be played. The problems players had with the online modes were many and manifest, but it was understood that this was a case of what you saw was pretty much what you got, and any improvement would have to come with the next game in the main series.
While players waited for the next main game they were treated to expansion content for IV in the form of The Lost and the Damned, and The Ballad of Gay Tony -- story content that like the main game in IV was tightly written and executed and a lot of fun to play.
GTA IV may have taken a new gritty and more realistic approach to gaming in the GTA Universe, and perhaps the lack of truly over-the-top death and mayhem were keenly felt, but as a story vehicle there was very little room to complain.
The Launch of GTA V
The starting CS for the male character is more tame in comparison
When the next offering in the main series launched, Grand Theft Auto V offered players far more than they had anticipated both with respect to the size of the world and the variety of activities that could be completed in it.
One of the more startling aspects of its design was the total absence of an online mode. In its place, players were told, there was a new and separate game, called Grand Theft Auto Online -- and while this was not really news since they had been hearing about it for a while before the main game launched -- it was news that GTAO would be "delayed" for several weeks to give players the opportunity to learn how the game was played by completing the main story mode in GTA V.
Forgetting for the moment that there is a significantly large class of players who eschew the story mode in modern games, preferring to just play the online game, and acknowledging that by creating what was stated to be a stand-alone online game that was complimentary to GTA V and intended to BE its online modes as well as a stand-alone title in its own right, that delay did not sit well with a lot of players.
But as a wise man once said: Whatah ya gonna do aboutit?!
When GTAO finally launched it was not a smooth launch -- whether Rockstar grossly underestimated the number of players who would try to play all at the same time, or whether the servers were not robust or numerous enough, or the bandwidth was insufficient, or you could take any one of the dozens of reasons that were being batted about by players.
Either way the bottom line was for the first week-and-a-half most gamers could not get past the character creation screen, and for the first three weeks creating a Crew and accessing the companion app for iOS that was intended to be used with the story mode were simply not happening.
As an optimist you knew that when the wizards at Rockstar got the situation fixed it was going to be awesome... As a pessimist you just knew that in spite of the hard M-rating that the game got when you finally did get into the game world, even if you paid to set the non-agression flag that was made available for gamers who just wanted to explore the game without necessarily doing battle with other players.
You knew that there were going to be legion of teenagers and tweenagers and a fair number whose age was a single digit who both would not care and who would find a way to grief-kill you -- and it turned out that all of that was true in spades.
High and squeeky voiced gits would wait for you to stop at a red light and slip up to your car and plant a bomb on it or simply machinegun you to death in the driver seat once they realized that even with the passive mode set, the second you got into a car you could be attacked.
So gamers who preferred not to have running street battles made sure to get out of their cars -- and once the Squeeky-Voiced-Teen Brigade discovered their bullets did not work on you, used their cars to run you down because that sort of worked and besides, what they considered fun was messing with you! Ruining your game was fun for them.
Maybe they don't know about the anti-griefing system that Rockstar built into the game that would adversely impact the reputation of their character, and maybe they didn't care. Probably the latter.
What was important was not that you had to deal with grief-players, but that the game was (mostly) stable and you could play it! That was most excellent, but even better was its huge variety of missions and quests, a list that seemed to grow larger every few levels in Character Rank you attained.
GTAO has massive possibilities, even with the bugs that have yet to be worked out. All that you need do to enjoy it is create a character, log in, form a Crew or join a Crew and have fun. Remember this is a game -- you are having fun, right?