Hordes of postmen fill the street, armies of retail staff scurry through their fluorescent aisles, and the world's console-owning population have simultaneously phoned in a variety of minor ailments. Grand Theft Auto V has launched and, by all reports, it's A Big Deal. Unless you own a PC, that is, in which case, it's a Tuesday.
What hope do we have of joining GTA 5's triumvirate of crims and, more importantly, when? Rockstar's sandbox of car chases and petty violence began its life on PC, but without an official announcement, is it safe to assume that we'll ever have a chance to holiday in the latest Los Santos? Let's delve into the murky lake of internet rumour, and fish out any facts we can find.
A publisher can use its own roving bands of guerilla PRs to whip employees into a cowed silence. The same isn't true of external partners and retailers. All sorts of GTA 5 info has oozed from the retail counters, from an early look at the map, to copies of the game itself. That may lend credibility to a number of online retail listings for a PC release.
Amazon France kicked things off at the start of the year, by taking taking pre-orders for a boxed PC copy. Then, in May, German retailers sprang to action, with both Amazon Germany and GamesOnly posting their own speculative PC pre-orders. Interestingly, GamesOnly briefly posted early details of the console versions' special edition. They were right on the money.
Does that validate the listings? Not really. Sometimes it's less about responding to information, as it is about anticipating that information. Yes, retailers will often have forewarning of announcements, but that's not the only reason they'd promote an unannounced game. Right now, Amazon UK has a landing page for Grand Theft Auto 5 PC. It quietly exists on their website, collecting the email addresses of potential customers and soaking up lovely SEO points. The need to be in the best position if/when a PC version is announced skews how much we can extrapolate from their actions.
Here's the most recent piece of 'evidence'. A config file has appeared that, allegedly, was taken from a pirated copy of GTA 5's Xbox 360 version. The XML code makes reference to both PC and Orbis, the PS4's operating system. The full file is up on PasteBin, but here are the relevant PC mentions:
Image source: DualShockers
Config code found within the game? On the surface it seems like a solid lead, but it assumes that every line of every file is created from scratch. It seems more likely that this is a standard template, which would of course contain references to a PC build - along with any other platforms Rockstar might be internally experimenting on. Moreover, the presence of a PC build isn't in and of itself confirmation of a PC release. It's just an indicator that, as with most games, PCs were used as part of the game's development.
That's not to say this discovery is completely without merit. But, as above, there are too many possible caveats for it to be a firm indicator of Rockstar's release strategy.
Last month, Chris Evans, the senior director of investor relations at Nvidia, said the following during an earnings call:
"The PC market is evolving. As entry level laptops face pressure from tablets. Yet sales of specialty PCs like gaming systems and work stations continue to grow. The disparity reflects how consumers use these different classes of PCs. Many consumers look for PC as a general purpose device they can use for browsing, email, social media video. But much of this can be better served by a tablet. In contrast, gamers are preparing their systems for a strong roster of games coming this fall, including blockbuster franchises, such as Call of Duty: Ghosts, Grand Theft Auto V and Assassin’s Creed IV."
The need to prepare driver updates and tailor hardware profiles means that GPU manufacturers like Nvidia can forge strong relationships with developers. If GTA 5 is heading to PC, they'd likely know about it. And here we have a senior director directly linking the game's Autumn release with the need to 'prepare systems'. It seemed like solid intel.
Unfortunately, it wasn't. Nvidia's senior PR manager Bryan Del Rizzo later released a statement, clarifying what Evans said:
“Please note, during our Thursday’s earnings call, our investor relations team provided a list of important games that gamers are looking forward to on PC this fall, and included Grand Theft Auto V on that list. This statement was made with the intent of expressing enthusiasm for the games industry in general, and was not intended to represent specific knowledge possessed by NVIDIA. NVIDIA does not have information on any possible PC version release of Grand Theft Auto or its availability. We deeply regret the error.”
Even if you're the suspicious type, and assume the latter statement was the company covering its tracks, the timetable doesn't make sense. It's too close to today's console release, and too soon for the Rockstar marketing train to leave its station. At best, we can anticipate an announcement before the end of the year. But if the game is coming, it'll be 2014 at the earliest.
On the next page: promising leads, historical trends, and direct information from Rockstar. Why GTA 5 is almost certainly coming to PC.
One Last Job
Back in July, Rockstar Leeds advertised for a new Graphic Programmer. The job description should be of particular interest:
"Rockstar Leeds are currently looking for a talented graphics programmer to help bring our latest titles to the PC platform. Working together with the other Rockstar studios, you will be responsible for maintaining the studio’s uncompromising quality bar, delivering the highest quality PC experience possible."
The phrase "help bring our latest titles to the PC platform" sounds pretty unambiguous. While there's an outside chance it refers to new games from existing series, Rockstar Leeds have form in taking on porting duties on older games. Their last project was was the PC version of LA Noire.
GTA 4, incidentally, was ported by Rockstar Toronto, who also collaborated with Rockstar Vancouver on Max Payne 3 before the two studios were merged. If this new plus-sized Toronto has shifted towards development of new games, Leeds would be the natural choice for heading up the company's PC porting duties. What "latest title" will they be working on? GTA 5 seems the only sensible choice.
Strength in Numbers
While we're making assumptions about Rockstar's internal workings, let's talk about its history. One of the strongest indicators of a post-console PC version is that the GTA series keeps doing them. As T.J. methodically charted, the gap between the launch console and PC release has stayed relatively stable, hovering at just over the 6 month mark. The gap between announcements is less consistent: in fact, it's growing. GTA is trending towards keeping PC - and potentially next-gen console owners - in the dark for longer. It's almost as if delaying the reveal of a more powerful version is a good way of maximising profits across multiple platforms... is what a cynic might say.
There's a chance you spent the entirety of that last paragraph shouting "RED DEAD REDEMPTION" at the screen. Fair enough, the outstanding recreation of the last days of the wild west is unusual among Rockstar titles of similar scope and scale in that it never came to PC. It is, however, the exception rather than the rule. Both LA Noire and Max Payne 3 found their way to us, proving that despite RDR's absence, there's no institutional shift away from the platform within Rockstar.
During a 2011 community Q&A post on Rockstar's Newswire, they hinted at why that particular game didn't cross over, and also used their subsequent PC ports as evidence that "we can finally put to rest any misconceptions that we’ve ‘abandoned the PC platform'." The post went on to state:
"We do know that, yes, there is just one title absent from our PC release plans – that game of course being Red Dead Redemption, and of course we’re well aware that some fans have been asking for it. All we can say is that whenever it is viable (technically, developmentally and business-wise) for us to release a game for PC (or any other particular platform) – we will and we usually do; unfortunately, that is just not the case 100% of the time for all platforms."
Layers of corporate obfuscation aside, it suggests that RDR was held back because of a specific issue with the Rockstar San Diego game. Whether it was technical, developmental, or business-wise-al, none of those factors are likely to apply to the publisher's most successful series from their flagship development team.
While I'm quoting Rockstar, let's take a look at an understated line from CVG's giant interview with Rockstar North president Leslie Benzies on the subject of GTA Online. When asked if there was a definitive end to the game's online portion, he said, "probably not. Because we want it to last forever."
"We'll stop when we've simulated life - and then that will be the end! No, people have to keep going. There should never be an, "Oh, I've reached the end." We've got to have goals, and we've got to have stepping stones, but there should never really be an end."
GTA Online is a persistent, updating, 16-player version of GTA 5. Given that, and Rockstar's stated commitment to make it a lasting experience, why would you restrict it to the tail-end of a console's life-cycle? It seems natural that Rockstar are going to want it to live on in a more stable, long-term environment. Yes, that could apply to next-gen consoles, too. But it's a description that fits the PC like a glove.
Later on in the interview, Benzies states, "we'll get the current gen version out first and see what happens in the future." Which, if nothing else, proves that you don't get to be the president of a major developer without being able to coyly dodge questions about an unannounced release.
There's the evidence, all that remains is how you interpret it. What do you think of GTA 5's PC release chances?