GTA Online’s community is in limbo while hype builds for GTA 6

Grand Theft Auto Online started as a mere side attraction in Grand Theft Auto 5 before it expanded into its own colossal beast. GTA Online has since made billions of dollars and is regularly updated with sizable new chapters that include cameos from real-world celebrities like Dr. Dre. The game is now an MMO in its own right, serving as a replacement for the single-player DLC chapters that Rockstar used to release. But with Grand Theft Auto 6 on the distant horizon, GTA Online players are starting to sweat a little.

My friends and I have all sunk over a decade into GTA Online; I’ve personally played on and off since around 2013. We all started as humble drug dealers, picking up packages from the Southside and making a few hundred bucks at a time. Now, we’re all multimillionaires, rolling around in super cars, owning nightclubs, arcades, and luxurious residential suites. If we want a change of pace, we can go pull a heist on a casino or crime lord’s private villa, or pick some missions from our massive underground bunker.

Few live online games have been trucking for this long. For every Warframe or World of Warcraft, there are a dozen games that have either quietly entered maintenance mode or shut down entirely. GTA Online is even still being updated.

However, Rockstar hasn’t come close to announcing any details on an online game mode for the next game, and we’re still a year out from even getting the core campaign of Grand Theft Auto 6. (Polygon has reached out to Rockstar for clarification and will update if we receive a response.) The result is that players of both GTA Online and private role-play servers have to sit, wait, and speculate. In some ways, it’s an exciting proposition — the jump between the physics and graphics of GTA 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2 was huge, and presumably we’ll see even more improvements in the next GTA. But the question remains: What happens to all the progress that players have currently earned in GTA Online?

A GTA Online player lines up their shot on a sniper rifle. In the distance waits their escape vehicle, a red helicopter. Image: Rockstar Games

“I’ve been playing GTA Online for years, and between Prime unlocks and grinding, I’ve gotten most of the good stuff,” says Norrin, a GTA Online fan I spoke to through Discord. “I’m OK with saying goodbye to businesses and cars, but I’ve spent more time with my online guy than I have with Michael or Trevor. I want that to mean something.”

A major difference between GTA Online and its competitors is that everything takes place in the state of San Andreas. It has a large map to explore, from the city of Los Santos up to the quieter communities of Sandy Shores and Paleto Bay. Whereas other games take the player to new fantasy continents or realms, Rockstar unlocks more of the map for the player when they acquire shell corporations, real estate, and criminal enterprises. This is the standard life cycle of a MMO character; you start as a little guy, and eventually become a powerful figure aboard a flying motorcycle with heat-seeking missiles.

Occasionally, an MMO ends due to economic or development factors. But GTA Online, both default and modded, is so wildly popular that the lights are still on and content is still coming.

“I fully expect a wipe, and I don’t really care,” says OneTwoZero, another fan who boasts a playtime of thousands of hours. “I wiped my progress moving between consoles before, I’ve lost progress to bugs and server issues. For me, the technological improvements that we’re going to see with [Grand Theft Auto] 6 outstrip any kind of loss I could take.”

A GTA Online player poses with their neat rifle, standing next to a sunset sky with a palm tree and their expensive super car in the background. Image: Rockstar Games

“I love Rockstar’s map design and world-building, obviously. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in San Andreas,” Artie, another GTA Online role-player, told Polygon. “But for me, the most important thing is the people I play with and the stories we tell. I don’t care what happens with the sequel as long as I can keep using it for role-play.”

The Grand Theft Auto franchise is always subject to leaks — real and imaginary — which helps create an air of uncertainty around the next game. Even the game’s modded community, playing outside Rockstar’s sandbox, has cause for concern. Rockstar Games acquired, the team behind Grand Theft Auto’s most popular mod, in 2023. runs FiveM, a platform that allows players to launch into custom role-play servers that are curated by community teams, both hobbyist and for profit. Rockstar said at the time that the investment would “help them find new ways to support this incredible community and improve the services they provide to their developers and players.”

“I’m excited for the technical upgrades and what that will mean for role-play,” says Artie. “I think it’ll be easier to get people into the hobby, and there’ll be more activities we can set up in game. But I worry that Rockstar will charge for access. Want to play a Motorcycle Club? Pay $15 for the assets. Want to start a detective agency? Pay Rockstar to enable it on your server. We’ll all have to restart our stories for Vice City whenever the FiveM server for that is ready, but I’m afraid that it’ll have a subscription fee or a price tag attached.”

The possibility of restarting fresh isn’t unprecedented; Rockstar has wiped player progress before while migrating between platforms. Other MMORPGs have had to deal with resets. Most famously, Final Fantasy 14 burned the previous version of the game down with a magical apocalypse. But the state of Los Santos is a little more mundane, despite the flying motorcycles and nuclear bunkers, and that kind of magic-bullet solution is a little trickier to pass off. How do you retain the investment, financial or emotional, that players have put into the game while carrying over into a new entry in the franchise? Rockstar will need to thread the needle after Grand Theft Auto 6 is released, and failure to do so could sink an enormously profitable and successful spinoff.

“All I hope is that my guy gets a good send-off,” says Norrin. “After he’s caused so much chaos, he deserves to go down swinging.”