Rockstar Once Considered GTA Unlikely to Be a Success
A former producer at the British games studio DMA Design, now known as Rockstar North, recalled a time during the development of the original Grand Theft Auto when internal confidence in the title was low. Developers initially didn’t think much of Grand Theft Auto because of a number of hiccups, and they certainly wouldn’t have bet on the series’ eventual meteoric rise to prominence.
Colin MacDonald is a seasoned pro in the video game industry. He joined the DMA Design team in 1997, in the run-up to the release of Grand Theft Auto (back when it was still called Vice City). Typical examples of the series’ now-iconic top-down, open-world perspective can be found in the earliest mainline Grand Theft Auto games. This was well before the franchise’s early 2000s peak, when games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and Grand Theft Auto 3 established the premise of the open world action-adventure genre.
After joining the team as a producer on Grand Theft Auto 2, MacDonald saw the series evolve from its earliest days. In a recent interview with BBC, MacDonald mentioned that an informal staff survey was conducted halfway through development of the first game, in which members were asked which of the games in development at the time they thought would be most and least successful. With its massive success in the 25 years since its release, Grand Theft Auto is now instantly recognisable to gamers around the world, but it was voted the least likely to succeed of the seven games in development.
According to Colin MacDonald, it was initially unclear what Grand Theft Auto was supposed to be. The programmer admitted during the interview, “It was also quite buggy – you couldn’t play it for more than a couple of minutes without it crashing, so certainly at grassroots level, there wasn’t a lot of confidence in it.” During its creation, Grand Theft Auto would undergo a number of design changes, including the introduction of series staples like police encounters, vehicle gameplay, and the first in a line of iconic Grand Theft Auto criminal characters. In 1997, when the game first came out, it served as a prototype for the open-world sandbox Grand Theft Auto games that have since become gaming classics.
Despite Grand Theft Auto’s legendary status as a sandbox classic, the series’ earlier entries are noticeably more low-budget than the series’ later blockbuster offerings. As expected, the developers’ efforts to explore various avenues of possibility paid off handsomely, and they eventually found the solution that worked best. The history of modern gaming would have been written very differently if they had abandoned the project midway. With the announcement of Grand Theft Auto 6 in development, the series has cemented its place in gaming history and popular culture and is likely to continue doing so for some time.
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