Now that the next generation of games is almost here, it's quite clear that there are few game franchises that have been as prolific or as influential as Grand Theft Auto. No other game has come under public scrutiny as much or as often. Of course, most of the time this scrutiny often amounted to nothing more than a lawyer or politician looking to make a name for themselves. Ironically, GTA’s legacy in the gaming world is much more substantial, or at least more long lasting. GTA V in particular pushed the boundaries of what was possible in games, not just in terms of graphical or gameplay design, but also in terms of writing.
Unfortunately, GTA V is far from perfect. Now that more than enough time has passed, it’s apparent that the game never reached its full potential. Practically speaking, GTA V is a fine, complete product that deserves all the success (and revenue) that it got. On the other hand, the game could’ve been so much more, and in some ways it failed to live up to certain post-release expectations. Indeed, while the Online experience can be fun, it lacks the soul of the campaign. Some blame can be assigned to the hardware that was available at the time of course. Then there’s the fact that Rockstar was working on Red Dead Redemption 2 and a cross-generational port of GTA V basically at the same time. It's a plausible, if highly convenient, explanations as to why GTA V took the mildly disappointing direction that it did.
While the game’s single-player campaign was terrific, virtually everyone expected for there to be some form of single-player DLC. GTA IV’s DLC was universally praised, and it seemed odd, almost incomprehensible at the time that Rockstar wouldn’t build upon GTA V’s world with similar DLC. The demand was certainly there. People loved the characters, people loved the Heists, and people loved the core gameplay. There were even some campaign design decisions that seemed to be purposefully built to accommodate future DLCs, not to mention how the story had a strangely short second act. There’s not a whole lot that you can do with the money that you got from the final Heist, either.
But it wasn't just the gameplay that made GTA V special. Rockstar was never one to shy away from controversial issues, and GTA V's writing is no exception. It can definitely be used as an example of how games have matured over the years. The infamous torture mission likely influenced more people than what any average politician could hope for. Government accountability, the use of private armies, corporate greed, and more were lambasted just as harshly, if a bit more subtly. Modern American society as a whole was turned into one big parody of itself. One can only imagine what Rockstar would have to say about the modern political landscape if given the chance. At best you get some story snippets from the various Online Heists, but it's hardly the same thing.
Alas, we can only imagine what a hypothetical single-player DLC would've been like. The addition of one or two Heists would've been great. There's also plenty of interesting locations in Los Santos that were never explored in detail. The military base for example, the newly added Diamond Casino, the prison, and plenty of other places merely serve as decorations unless you're playing Online. But why limit ourselves to the state of the game today? Perhaps we could've explored Trevor's past before the events of the main game. Or perhaps we could've played as a completely new character and get their perspective of Los Santos. The sky is literally the limit as far as gameplay is concerned. Given that Online admittedly has an amazing diversity of gameplay scenarios that are locked behind having competent teammates, it's not like Rockstar can't give everyone the chance to experience their finest work.
Yet, as time went on, it became abundantly clear that any single-player DLC, if it was ever planned to begin with, would not see the light of day. Of course, there is a third factor in all this, and that would be the fact that GTA Online makes so much money that Rockstar is likely wealthier than some small countries. In 2016, Shark Card yearly revenue apparently exceeded $700 million. Online may be updated regularly, but most of it is locked behind a virtual paywall. It’s probably safe to say that GTA Online currently offers one of the most miserable new player experiences of any modern AAA game. It’s not even pay-to-win at this point, it’s pay to have fun.
When pitted against such numbers, it would be pointless for Rockstar to make single-player DLC. Voice actors alone would take a chunk out of whatever revenue such DLC would make. Then there’s the fact that you can’t exactly milk people for money with single-player DLC. It also takes time to develop DLC, time where staff has to be paid. And why bother paying for writers to make a decent story that touches on relevant and complex socio-economical-political issues when you can reskin a car in a day and make money off it? That none of the Online features made their way to single-player is the greatest sign that GTA V and Online may as well be two separate games. The former has, unfortunately, been left to gather dust in spite of its excellence, while the latter hangs onto relevancy for all the wrong reasons.