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Saturday, October 12, 2013

How to Fix GTA Online's Free Roam

A core portion of the 5 Huge Problems previously discussed center around one large problem: GTA Online's Free Roam is effectively broken.  Not broken in the sense that it's glitched beyond repair (any more) - but broken in the sense that the game punishes people for running around, shooting each other, and having fun.

Let's take a case in point:  I finished a mission with a fellow criminal.  That mission netted us $5K.  After the mission, we got dropped next to each other.  He shot me, stole my ride.  I spawned around the corner and shot him.  He then proceeded to chase me around Blaine County where I killed him two more times and he kill me one more time.

Thankfully, he had a $5K bounty on his head, so I still ended up ahead.  But he probably didn't.  In a matter of minutes, he probably wiped out all of the money he made during the mission.

Interestingly, the fact that free roam is nothing but a money sink doesn't keep people from playing like it is the new wild west.  This is probably the most telling fact that illustrates the players want GTA Online Free Roam, they want to run around and steal cars and shoot at other players ... even if it means it could be costing them thousands of dollars.

So instead of Free Roam being a huge pain in the ass and drain on the bank account, why not reward players for running around, shooting each other and having fun?

Way back when, I wrote a mod for Unreal Tournament called Bounty War.  The whole idea was to re-balance deathmatch scoring.  Better players got higher bounties associated with them and the goal of the game was to end with the most money in your account.  This meant that lower level players had a chance of catching up by fragging higher level players - which in many ways is more fair, since fragging someone who is better at the game is harder than fragging someone who is not good at the game.  

It effectively solved the noobie vs. veteran problem while keeping it fun for both.  And it could totally work for GTA Online.  Here's how:

Fix Passive Mode

Passive mode should be the real deal - not some odd Venn Diagram of how you might possibly get killed. Instead of making you semi-invulnerable but not really, passive mode should:
  1. Remove the player from the map
  2. Remove other players from the players' map
  3. Remove the name float above players
  4. Make the player bulletproof from other players (always, not just out of cars)
The entire "remove players" mechanic could be also be configurable, similar to how you can lock your car now - so you could remain visible to your friends and crew if you wanted.  This would let players roam around without other players stalking them and basically keep them safe from anything but getting run over and falling.

Change the Free Roam Death Penalty

Update: In the 1.04 patch, the death penalty is getting capped at $500.  Which is a good compromise, though some of the below is still plausible.

The worst part about the current penalty is that it is often not associated with skill, but circumstance.  For instance, if you quit out of a session before it starts, you could get dropped right next to a complete stranger who just did the same thing.  The last time I had this happen the guy instantly pistol whipped me.  Bam, I lose over a $1K.  For literally doing nothing.

And for some reason Free Roam really likes to spawn you next to your killer (not to mention the whole "1 on 1 Deatchmatch").  So now the whole thing might happen again.  This makes death so common in free roam, and potentially costly.

Instead, let's give players options.  On death, a player could:
  1. Wait for ambulance.  If the ambulance is destroyed, or medics shot, player goes to hospital. Medium to Long spawn delay.  Risky.  Free.
  2. Go to Hospital.  Short spawn delay.  Not risky.  $500.
  3. Instant Revive.  No spawn delay.  Risky. $1,000.
This would penalize (more heavily) players who are distinctly trying to stay in the fight, while giving a middle ground to players who just want to either get back in the game or not spend any money.  It also reduces the previous cap from $2K down to 1.  Early players or players low on cash would have an incentive to go the low cash route.

OK, so now we've made Free Roam less of a hassle and less of a penalty in general.  Now let's make it fun.

Add Wanted Rewards

I'd just call this a bounty, but the current bounty system would actually work well as something additional to a more fully fledged mechanic.  So let's add that mechanic and call it a Wanted Reward. It could work like this:
  1. An enemy is defined as someone not on your friends or crew list.
  2. Killing an enemy raises your wanted reward by $500.
  3. Killing an enemy gives you their wanted reward.
  4. Getting killed by an enemy resets your reward back to $0.
  5. Player icons go from white to red slowly (instead of just one or the other) to indicate how high their current reward is.
  6. After $5K (this is 10 kills in a row without being killed by an enemy) - the player becomes Most Wanted and the reward goes up automatically $500 every game hour.
  7. Wanted Rewards max out at $10K.
  8. Players killed by law enforcement have their reward reset to $0.
  9. Players can get their Reward removed by visiting a Police Station and paying a $2500 fine.

Now players who actively running around and causing chaos in Free Roam are slowly becoming more valuable targets.  Players can opt out of the system by dropping into Passive Mode.  More deadly players become more valuable, making it a higher reward to take them out.

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