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GTA Online Has an Inflation Problem

Prices are skyrocketing, and it's getting harder and harder for players to keep up.

This article first appeared on USgamer, a partner publication of VG247. Some content, such as this article, has been migrated to VG247 for posterity after USgamer's closure - but it has not been edited or further vetted by the VG247 team.

Grand Theft Auto Online was released back in 2013 and since then has become one of the most popular games on the planet. Millions of players log into GTA Online every month and many share the same desire: to steal, earn, and get lots of money. Money in GTA Online is the most important part of the game. It lets players buy new vehicles, set up heists, customize clothing and cars, buy some beer, or even launch a giant space laser.

This desire for money and a large list of things to spend that money on has created an economy in GTA Online. And like any economy, we can analyze it to find patterns and trends. After spending a week putting together some data about prices for cars and other items in GTA Online I’ve confirmed what many, myself included, have believed for years: GTA Online has an inflation problem. Prices for goods are getting higher and higher, while the best ways to earn cash in GTA Online aren’t increasing to keep up. This has led to dollars in GTA Online having less value today than in 2013, when it first launched.

The Early Days

The easiest example of inflation in GTA Online is found when looking at the first update and comparing it to other updates that followed. The Beach Bum update was released on November 19, 2013, about two months after GTA Online's servers went live. This update added new clothing, cars, and weapons. All of this content was given to players for free, including a van, a boat, and a dune buggy. This would be the first and last time that a GTA Online update would give away all of its new content for free.

The very next update, The Valentine’s Day Massacre, jumped the price up from $0 for a new car to $750k in-game for the one and only new vehicle added in this smaller holiday themed update. At the time I remember being shocked at how expensive the price of that car was. The following three updates would include a better variety of prices, with one plane costing more than $750k and all other vehicles costing less. In total the first five updates to GTA Online added 20 new vehicles, 18 of which were ground-based cars and trucks.

Data from the first five updates to GTA Online: November 2013 - June 2014.

Making Money in 2014

At the time earning that much money in GTA Online wasn’t incredibly hard. The most common method was grinding contact missions, like Violent Duct. Doing the same mission over and over again was usually a fairly easy, though somewhat time consuming, way to buy some of the first big ticket items in GTA Online. Missions like Violent Duct paid out about $9,000 per completion. So if a player wanted to buy the Vestra, the most expensive vehicle added in the early updates, they would need to grind a lot. Players would have to complete Violent Duct 106 times to be able to afford the Vestra.

But soon after launch, Rockstar patched the ability to quickly replay missions over and over again. It was an early example of Rockstar trying to maintain control over its economy.

Besides grinding missions and races, the quickest and easiest way to get money in GTA Online in the early days was buying a Shark Card, a fast way to earning a lot of in-game currency by paying real world money. Of course Shark Cards were and are still a very controversial aspect of GTA Online, with some fans believing they ruin the game entirely. Regardless of the controversy, some players bought these cards to help purchase more expensive items in GTA Online sooner.

To buy the Vestra via Shark Cards, players would need to spend $20 for a Great White Shark Card, which grants players $1.25 million in GTA Online. Shark Card prices and the amount they paid out has never changed in GTA Online, which has become a problem as later updates have added more expensive items.

Rising Prices In 2018

One of the biggest differences between GTA Online a few years ago compared to GTA Online in 2018 is that updates are bigger and last longer. Due to this, my data is only from the two most recent updates of GTA Online. The last two updates alone, The Doomsday Heist and Southern San Andreas Super Sport Series, have added 43 vehicles into the game. Eight of those vehicles are airplanes, helicopters, military vehicles, and a jetpack.

Looking at the data, it's become clear that GTA Online is a more expensive game these days. The average price of a road vehicle, like a car or truck, is much higher. And the most expensive vehicle is nearly 5x as pricey.

The Deluxo flying car is the most expensive vehicle from the past two updates, costing $4,721,500, compared to the cheapest car of the updates: the Cheburek, at $145,000. The average cost for a road vehicle from December 2017 to March 2018 is $1,322,787, while the average cost of a plane, boat, or military vehicle is $3,254,605.

Looking at just the averages and extreme prices it is pretty easy to see that GTA Online prices are moving upwards. But digging into other bits of data really helps illuminate how bad inflation in GTA Online is getting with each passing update. For example, comparing the top five most expensive vehicles from 2014 to the top five from today.

The most expensive vehicle from the early days of GTA Online wouldn’t even make the top five of the priciest vehicles from the most recent updates. I remember in the past when a vehicle costing more than a million dollars was a crazy thing to see. Now, it seems like it’s rare when vehicles are less than a million dollars.

Making Money In 2018

As GTA Online has gotten bigger, it has also become easier to make more money. Players now have businesses they can run, heists they can complete, and weekly events that offer bonuses. One of the most popular ways to earn cash is through the heists and specifically the Pacific Standard Bank heist. While newer, better paying heists have come out in recent updates, the Pacific Standard heist is still popular. Players know exactly how to beat it fast and efficiently.

If you play on hard with a skilled crew and do it nearly perfect you can walk away with about 300,000 after splitting the haul. That means to buy the most expensive vehicle from the recent updates, the flying Deluxo car, you’ll have to complete the Pacific Standard heist 16 or more times. For those curious, if you wanted to grind the old Violent Duct mission, you would have to complete it approximately 525 times. That’s a lot of grinding.

But as Rockstar has increased the amount of money players can earn, it's also upped the prices on nearly everything. And sometimes players are paying more money for something that in the past wouldn’t have cost as much.

Paying More For Less

Some of the newer vehicles costing a few million dollars makes sense. For example, the Thruster is an armed prototype jetpack, so it having a high price tag feels justifiable. But other things seem ridiculously priced and show how GTA Online’s economy is suffering from inflation.

Back in 2014, Rockstar added the Turismo R, at the time a brand new and fast super car. It cost $500k and could be upgraded into a solid racing car. In 2017, Rockstar added the Retinue, an old sedan from the 1970s. This old jalopy costs $615k—$115k more than the Turismo R, a $500k super car from just three years before.

Other examples of inflation include a wrench added in the Bikers update in 2016 that costs $7,150 and a simple wooden pool cue that costs $6,250. Both of these basic melee weapons cost more than some pistols and SMGs that have been available since launch.

These rising prices have caused some players to spend more money buying Shark Cards. Some GTA Online fans on Reddit shared how much they have spent on the game since it was released. Some have spent over $100 or more in GTA Online.

One Reddit user and GTA Online fan I spoke to, Aleomagic, admitted to spending around $2.5k in real money buying Shark Cards. Aleomagic doesn't believe anyone needs to spend money in GTA Online to play it, but Rockstar is tempting players often to purchase cards. “The game definitely encourages you to buy them,” says Aleomagic. “[Players receive] phone calls, emails, and pop-ups in-game always interrupting you to buy new stuff, which is extremely expensive.” While Aleomagic doesn’t regret spending the money, he does understand he could have spent it on more useful things. He also explains that he too feels GTA Online has an inflation problem. “[In-game] pricing is constantly going up compared to when it first came out,” says Aleomagic. “Things are now very overpriced, but I guess it's a downside to the constant free updates.”

Cheating and Modding

Since many players are tired of grinding or don’t want to play Pacific Standard dozens of times every week to buy the newest cars and upgrades, some players started cheating to get more money. A quick search of YouTube will return hundreds of videos all about different methods for cheating and earning extra cash. But in another example of Rockstar trying to protect and control the economy, these methods are usually patched within a matter of days. Some players feel that Rockstar is over prioritizing these money glitches and ignoring old problems in GTA Online, like long loading times and invincibility and invisibility bugs.

Cover image for YouTube videoGTA V Online Modded Money Lobby!!! - Cash Drop Xbox 360 (GTA 5 Online Gameplay)

Some devious players are even modding GTA Online and dropping millions of dollars in lobbies or selling cash to players at a much lower cost than Shark Cards. These players are predominantly found on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. While it has never been completely confirmed by Rockstar, it is believed that one reason Rockstar removed the ability for players to transfer characters from old consoles to modern consoles is because of these modders. Players could get millions in modded dollars on Xbox 360 and then move their account and their cash to the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. Ending support for transfering accounts is likely another example of Rockstar trying to control and maintain the GTA Online economy.

The Future of GTA Online's Economy

Looking at the data from both the past and the present, it seems clear that GTA Online has an inflation problem. As for why this problem exists, that’s a more complicated answer. If you ask some players, the main reason GTA Online inflation exists is due to Shark Cards. Many believe Rockstar is raising prices to force players to buy more cards. While that could be possible, I don’t think Shark Cards are the main factor or sole reason prices increase.

Part of the reason prices continue to go up is because Rockstar continues to add more activities that players can complete to earn cash. With more ways to earn more money, Rockstar likely raises prices to keep super cars and other valuable items hard to obtain. This in turn makes them more desirable. Another factor is cheating. At this point there is probably millions, maybe billions, of modded GTA money floating around GTA Online. Rockstar has tried to purge some of it, but it is an impossible task to remove it all.

Another reason inflation exists is that Rockstar, outside of temporary sales, almost never changes prices on older items. So what once was pricey and hard to obtain is now cheap and not as valuable. Would Rockstar in the future raise prices on older items? I doubt it. Most fans would see that as a completely greed driven move.

The reality is that as long as GTA Online continues to be popular and have updates, prices will most likely increase with each passing year. If GTA Online is still around in 2025 how much will a super car cost then? $6 million? $10 million? It’s very possible. For now, I recommend buying cars and other items when they go on sale and save up money for the future.

We have reached out to Rockstar for comment on GTA Online's inflation, and will update this article if they respond. In the meantime, check out our GTA Online guide to figure out how to make money fast, in spite of its obvious inflation problem.

All graphics made by Zack Zwiezen.

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Zack Zwiezen