Rockstar Games announced Friday that Grand Theft Auto Online will receive its biggest update ever on December 15. The upcoming Cayo Perico Heist will let players infiltrate and rob a private island off the coast of Los Santos that's home to an infamous drug dealer.
On its face, this massive update to GTA 5 's online multiplayer mode might seem like a sign that Rockstar is prioritizing improving GTA 5 over developing GTA 6, which is reportedly in early development. But the Cayo Perico Heist might actually be a major sign that GTA 6 is just over the horizon.
The theme of the new heist aligns almost perfectly with the unconfirmed-but-widely-circulated "Project Americas" rumors. This batch of alleged leaks claims that GTA 6 would put gamers in the shoes of an up-and-coming drug smuggler that operates in Vice City and other South American-inspired locations. Many fans believe December 15's update is a teaser for an unorthodox GTA 6 reveal, which would in line with how Rockstar has hinted at new games in the past.
"I was thinking that [Rockstar] is using this new update to be like a transition from the plot to GTA VI: Online," writes Redditor u/cajookb. "Imagine if the next generation of GTA:O had Los Santos and possibly Vice City together and we could use airports or long plane trips to reach each city."
While this might not be the GTA 6 unveiling that fans were expecting, adding the GTA 6 map to GTA Online and selling the campaign as a standalone title might be exactly what Rockstar is planning for the next installment of the open-world adventure. Other titles, like Activision's Call of Duty, have adopted a similar release strategy and Rockstar has even hinted that it's planning on restructuring how it launches games moving forward.
By launching the GTA 6 map on GTA Online first, Rockstar developers could focus on creating the world assets and then move to develop the campaign for GTA 6. This "games-as-a-service" model might be an appalling thought for fans of the series, but it might be a viable way Rockstar could offset the "100-hour weeks" crunch that its developers experienced during the end of Red Dead Redemption 2's development cycle.
In fact, Bloomberg's Jason Schreier reported that Rockstar was exploring the idea of piecemeal or episodic game releases.
"One plan that management has laid out for the next game, a new entry in the Grand Theft Auto series, is to start out with a moderately sized release (which, by Rockstar’s standards, would still be a large game),” he tweeted. “That is then expanded with regular updates over time. This may help mitigate stress and crunch."
Rockstar appears to be preparing to turn this idea into a reality. GTA Online will be free on the PlayStation 5 in 2021, which would make it the perfect gateway to get fans interested in GTA 6 by revealing an enormous, multi-city map so they can sell the campaign to them at full price at a later date.
That's exactly what Activision did with the release of the free-to-play, battle royale Call of Duty: Warzone. The title lets anyone get in on the first-person shooter, but buying premium CoD installments, like Black Ops Cold War, gives gamers access to exclusive cosmetics and account flair they can then show off on Warzone.
To top it off, GTA Online microtransactions continue to net Rockstar's parent company, Take-Two Interactive, millions in revenue. Why would the company hit the reset button on its vibrant online community, instead of tacking on more content to attract even more users. They can then use that bustling player base to promote the full GTA 6 campaign in-game.
We'll have to wait for actual concrete information from Rockstar to be sure about this shift in business strategy. But the Cayo Perico Heist appears to be the biggest hint at not only GTA 6 but a completely new approach to the 23-year-old series.
GTA 6 online is reportedly in early development.