One of the main drivers of GTA V’s immense popularity has been the concerted efforts of Rockstar to use updates to transform the original offering into a viable MMO game. By most metrics, this has been an unqualified success.
As of summer 2020, there are an estimated 33 million active monthly players of GTA Online, a figure that surpasses the numbers of users of online titans such as Elder Scrolls: Online by a significant amount.
When looking back over the short history of GTA Online, there is one particular development that seems to stand out as a turning point. In the summer of 2019, Rockstar released a new update following a massive publicity blitz: the Diamond Resort & Casino Update.
This update provided players with a new in-game venue in the heart of Los Santos where people could gather to party, fight, and, most importantly, gamble with real money. The Diamond Resort & Casino was constructed in the Vinewood area of the map, replacing the old Vinewood Hills Casino that players could not actually enter in the game.
Upon release, there was some concern that the update would not prove a success, given that the activities it offered, such as playing $5000 a hand blackjack and decorating the casino’s penthouse, represented such a big departure from the rest of GTA Online’s offerings.
However, the naysayers were wrong. The Diamond Resort & Casino has proved to be a smash hit, with the game review site Polygon describing it as “addictive in a positive way”. While players can exchange real money for GTA money, the stakes are always low.
$10 of real money gets you $500,000 of in-game money, which can provide countless hours of gambling entertainment at the casino’s roulette, blackjack, and poker tables. The immense popularity of the Diamond Resort & Casino can perhaps be attributed to other developments that have been occurring elsewhere in the world of online gaming.
Real-money online casino gaming has exploded in popularity over the past few years, with players around the world visiting Live Casino sites where they can play roulette, poker, and blackjack with a real dealer via a live-stream setup.
Many of the features of these live casino sites can be seen in the Diamond Resort & Casino, which suggests that Rockstar has done its homework. Players can adjust their wagering levels at the tables in the Diamond Resort, just as they can increase their buy-in to enter VIP suites and obtain privileged membership status.
While the stakes at the Diamond Resort might be lower, owing to the fact that GTA Online winnings cannot be exchanged for real money, the in-game dynamics that make it so popular have clearly been inspired by real online casinos.
While there have been a few successive updates for the Diamond Resort which mostly include new heist missions, outfits, and encounters with NPCs, it seems that the main draw continues to be the casino gaming, which can make players with a $10 bankroll suddenly feel like the biggest high rollers in the world.