Thirty-player deathmatches in GTA Online are a myth. Rockstar needs to fix lobbies, matchmaking and online stability before it releases Heists, says Matt Martin.
Grand Theft Auto: Online on the PS4 and Xbox One has the same problem it did on PS3 and Xbox 360. Matchmaking is a crapshoot and the lobbies are a ghost town.
This new version of the game supposedly supports up to 30 players in select Deathmatch, Last Team Standing and Race modes, but that figure may as well be 300,000 players because it's just as unobtainable. In reality it's a struggle to grab upwards of 8 players for any online game.
This is the problem GTA players have faced for over a year. While the graphics have improved and the game enjoys a second lease of life, a significant portion of online play is still lobby waiting, quit-and-restart, and the feeling you're spending more time looking at a spinning loading bar that running around Los Santos. Add in the year-old habit of kicking players out of games at random and the disastrously long load times and you have a great game riddled with daily frustration.
Run the jewels
Rockstar has promised that the next real update for GTA 5 will be the addition of Heists for all formats. Heists is the fabled mode that will have players take on specialist roles to rob banks, steal high-end jewellery, or otherwise engage in co-op criminal activity with multiple objectives. If you look at Missions already in the online game such as Extradition you'll get an idea of jobs that update and flip goals as you play. Extrapolate that out for an idea of what Heists can be.
If we assume that Heists will require a small band of criminals - say, four Crew members taking on roles such as driver, sniper, pilot and muscle - and at least the same number of players acting as the opposing force (if not more), then we're still going to be facing the same everyday problem. Lobbies are never fully populated in GTA Online. The only time they get close to 16 players is during double RP weekends in a game notoriously tight for handing out upgrades. A lobby doesn't even show the maximum number of invites as being sent out. It's a 30-player match and not even 16 players are invited? As Host, that's soul-crushing.
GTA Online isn't lacking players. The game is one of the biggest sellers of the last generation and is likely to continue to perform well this gen. There's plenty of people playing online, they just all seem to be playing in tiny little pockets of comfort, no doubt put off by a year of endless waiting to play with more than a handful of others.
If Heists require teamwork and planning in the same way Destiny's Strikes do, to expect a smooth, working experience in the current state of GTA Online is a pipe dream. We organised an online session last night that had seven players in it. Could we get player number eight - the minimum required to start a 30-player map? Not on your nelly. Five minutes of waiting for just one player to drop in after invites have been sent to Crew, Friends, randoms, strangers, dogs, tramps and anyone else within a 20 mile radius and we still had no luck.
Play any other online console game in the past year and you'll see there's never a drawn-out struggle to populate lobbies. Destiny, Call of Duty, Titanfall and more all fill lobbies within seconds and well under a minute. It's clearly a priority. In GTA Online we sit watching a half-full list and it feels like a ghost town in comparison.
Get fresh crew
Maybe it's the fact that players need to accept a job invite in order to play unless they're on call for a Random Job. Random Jobs are the quickest, easiest way to play GTA Online with other people. The downside is you're just as likely to end up in a dreadful Creator match as you are a bonafide classic like Salty Snatch.
Rockstar needs a better solution to herd players into lobbies and get them playing together. Crews are a great idea in theory and it's fairly easy to organise four of five of your friends online, but any bigger numbers and you're faced with the same problems as before: the tiresome wait for lobbies to fill, the dashed hopes as players quit out of boredom.
Heists have been promised for 12 months and delayed often. We all want to get involved in the Big Job, snatching huge payouts and RP as a reward for taking massive risks. But as we've seen so many times with many other online games this year, the promise falls flat when the service isn't up to scratch.
Rockstar needs to fix matchmaking and lobbies in GTA Online before it releases more content. We've been struggling through the same threadbare support for the past year. A lot of us have bought the game twice now, and we're staring at the exact same problems we had on day one, 2013. If Rockstar doesn't fix the weak online infrastructure Heists are going to be over before they've even begun.