GTA was once considered the game “most likely not to succeed” by the developers at Rockstar North’s original studio, DMA Design. Now, with the Grand Theft Auto 25th anniversary upon us, and the GTA 6 release date hopefully on the way, it’s hard to believe the sandbox game was ever in doubt, but GTA 3, Vice City, and all our other favourites perhaps owe their existence to a lucky bounce of fate.
Before it became Rockstar North, DMA Design created the first Grand Theft Auto under publisher BMG. The studio was later renamed after various acquisitions from Take-Two Interactive, becoming the flagship developer under Rockstar Games.
With GTA 6 hopefully on the horizon, and GTA 5 and GTA Online still pulling players in by the millions, it’s hard to believe that at one point, Grand Theft Auto was considered doomed to fail. But as the open-world game hits its 25th anniversary, a new interview with one DMA Design producer reveals how GTA was once viewed as a likely bomb.
“In mid-development, there was an informal staff survey on which of the seven titles they [DMA] were working on would be the most successful and least successful,” Colin Macdonald, who joined DMA just prior to Grand Theft Auto’s launch, tells the BBC. “The one voted most likely not to succeed was Grand Theft Auto.
“That’s because, mid-development, the direction of the game wasn’t clear. 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.”
Macdonald also reveals how GTA originally began as a “tech experiment” to create an open-world game where you could crush buildings as a dinosaur. Cars were added to “bring the city to life”, when someone at DMA had the “bright idea” that maybe players would enjoy controlling the cars more than the dinosaurs.
From there, GTA became a more conventional driving game called Race ‘N’ Chase, but a bug overlooked by its programmers meant that opposition cars would spend more time ramming the player than trying to win. It was this unintentional vehicular combat that eventually gave rise to the concept of playing as a criminal. The name Grand Theft Auto was provided by Dan Houser himself and the rest is history.
So, in an alternate universe where the bugs, surveys, and, um, dinosaurs didn’t align right, perhaps there would be no Grand Theft Auto at all. Especially with all my memories of GTA 3, Vice City, and the underloved GTA 4, that sounds like a pretty tragic universe to live in. Let’s hope GTA 6 can keep the sandbox series burning bright as ever.
Take a look at the very best GTA 5 mods if you want to inject some fresh energy into Rockstar’s stalwart crime sim, or perhaps the best GTA RP servers, to play as something other than a crook. Grand Theft Auto got you feeling all nostalgic? The best old games will help scratch that retro itch.