I love Grand Theft Auto Online. I really do. I've spent a lot of time with it, and I love what Rockstar has set out to do. Sadly, they're also ruining it. The mission system is becoming progressively more broken with each patch. Everything in the game is driven by money, yet missions are little more than a waste of time, for a few reasons.
As someone who's looking for a fun cooperative experience with a few friends, Grand Theft Auto Online can be an exercise in disappointment. Everyone has their preferences. Some like racing, others prefer deathmatches, etc., and they're more-or-less accommodated. If you're the type who likes co-op missions, you'll likely be getting the short end of the stick. This isn't because missions weren't given any attention, because there's plenty of content to keep co-op oriented players happy. No, it's how you access that content that's the problem.
Due to the amount of grinding done by repeating short, high-paying missions, Rockstar has opted to halve the amount of money you make every subsequent time you complete a mission. Isn't it a little unreasonable to do this for every mission? I can understand lowering the payout for missions like Violent Duct, because it's so short, and easily completed. However, halving the payout for harder, more complex missions such as Base Invaders and The Los Santos Connection results in a pitiful payout compared to the amount of work that goes into them. Indiscriminately cutting half of your earnings from every mission forever is a terrible solution, and it has some pretty hefty consequences.
As a result, it's easy to dismiss missions as a waste of time, because they fail to reward and incentive the player for doing them. Completing The Lost Santos Connection now nets less than 10,000, which is terrible for a mission of that difficulty. Compared to racing, which can earn you several thousand in less than a couple minutes, missions are a total waste of time. One game of survival pays out $20,000, which feels like a much better time sink than most of the missions.
This lack of satisfaction extends to other activities as well. Pulling off a liquor store robbery seems like a waste of time when your split of the take is only $500. Attacking an armoured truck together is risky, but the low payout and the inability to share the cash you get trivialises that danger. In-game currency is a great way to pat the player on the back and give difficult missions an extra sense of achievement to them. With no way to gain money in the game, is it any surprise people are resorting to exploits and grinding?
Worse than the poor payouts however, is just how inaccessible the missions are. Instead of something sensible like choosing from a list or going somewhere on the map, you have to call one of your contacts, who pulls a random job out of a hat. If you get a job you don't want, tough. You can ask them again, and they'll eventually pick another random job, but only after the game calls you an idiot a few times. This is especially annoying when you have five or six people in a closed crew or friend session, and you want to find a cooperative activity that you can all do. Even more annoying still, I'm getting jobs that take a maximum of only two people. Who wants to volunteer to sit around in freemode whilst everyone else does the mission?
Here's the thing: these missions are fun. I really like some of them. However, unlike every other activity in the game, I have to pick from a grab bag and hope I get what I want. I want to play The Los Santos Connection and Base Invaders again. I'm in the mood for a specific mission, so what do I do? It's extremely frustrating working with this convoluted system when all I want to do is hop straight into some action with my friends, and I can't.
There are ways around this that don't involve a single blanket pay cut for everyone. Here's a few ideas: instead of calling and getting texted a job, you open up a menu for that character, then pick the job you want to do. To prevent grinding, install a time limit that prevents players from hosting that job repeatedly. Let's just say one hour. If I host Flood in the LS River, I won't be able to host that mission again until that time limit runs out. However, one of my three other friends in the game can host it. Of course, to prevent us from going in a circle, you cut the payout for any player who's played that mission within the time limit. So if my friend hosted Flood on the LS river immediately after I did, we'd both get less money that we did before. If a new guy joined in, he could host as well, but he'd get the normal payout, whereas I would still get the reduced one. As I said, this would only last an hour or so. Hell, even an entire day would be better than what Rockstar has done, which is reduce the payout forever.
However, a 50% cut isn't going to cut it. This needs to vary from mission to mission. If I get less than $10,000 for raiding and robbing a military base, why bother? If I stickup some drug dealers for less than a couple grand, what's the point? That won't buy me much of anything, and robbing a liquor store would be more efficient. Because everything in the game is so expensive, this massive pay cut undercuts the missions by taking away the reward. Honestly, our time is better spent in survival and races, until they make those even harder, to prevent the player from actually moving up in the game.
Balancing and maintaining a massive online experience such as this is difficult. There's going to be holes in the design, and I accept that. To say that Grand Theft Auto Online got off to a rocky start would be a bit of an understatement. Though the game as a whole has been a fantastic blast thus far, and it definitely shows a lot of promise, I'm continuously frustrated by flat-out terrible game design, especially when it comes to cooperative missions. I know a lot of this has been done in the name of balancing, but all it seems to have done so far is undermine the player's efforts. Of course, heists could give us quite a large payout, but I can't shake the feeling this is being done to encourage the purchase of GTA$, before it even releases. Sadly, it's hard, if not impossible, to have a balanced economy in a game such as this when you introduce microtransactions.
Rockstar, your mission system is broken. Please fix it. Don't make them feel like a waste of time, and don't make it a hassle just to find something fun for four or five of my friends to do. Just let me jump in and enjoy your game. A lot of these missions are really cool, it's just a real shame I can't play them.