The developer has insisted that buying in-game cash with real money will not 'disrupt the balance of the game'

Video game developers Rockstar has confirmed that the online portion of the recently released Grand Theft Auto V will include micro-transactions allowing players to buy in-game cash with real money.

As with the single-player game mode, in the online world players can spend cash on “cars, clothes, guns, properties and much more” but can choose to avoid the grind if they wish.

“You can quickly accumulate cash through profitable activities like knocking over armored cars, winning street races, doing stick-ups or a host of other cash-making endeavors – or if you’re the completely instant gratification type, you can choose to buy denominations of GTA$,” said Rockstar in a blog post.

The inclusion of in-game payments was first suggested after a Reddit users uncovered images of ‘cash cards’ and description text that read: “Solve your money problems and help get what you want across Los Santos and Blaine County with the purchase of cash packs for Grand Theft Auto Online.”

The cash cards are reportedly available in four denominations:  $100,000, $200,000, $500,000, and $1,250,000 with these costing £1.99, £3.49, £6.99 and £13.49 respectively. Rockstar has not confirmed this, but sources with early access suggest this will be the set-up when the online portion of the game launches on 1 October.

Keen to head off the potential outrage of gamers, Rockstar also stressed that the implementation of micro-transactions will not lead to a ‘pay to win’ system in which users can buy tactical advantages over their online enemies:

“The game and its economy have been designed and balanced for the vast majority of players who will not buy extra cash. There is no in-game paywall and nothing that should disrupt the balance of the game. You don’t have to spend real money to attain the cars, guns, clothes, flash and style of a high-roller in Los Santos, but can if you wish to get them a little quicker. The economy is balanced differently from the single player economy, and cash earned in one cannot be taken over to the other. Most players will earn cash much faster Online than in Story Mode.”

Micro-transactions have a chequered history in video games, with most gamers objecting to the idea of paying for content they feel they have already paid for.

Proponents of the system counter by pointing out that the online portion of games often cost developers millions to maintain over several years, and for older cash-rich, time-poor gamers, the ability to skip the grind needed to earn in-game content is an attractive option.  

And many in the industry believe the move towards in-game purchase is inevitable, especially as developers becomes more focused on blockbusters and each individual project becomes a greater gamble.  Offering alternative or additional revenue streams helps ease the nerves of anxious financers.

If Rockstar, one of the most trusted names in the industry, can pull of a successful, unobtrusive system of micro-transaction payments it will most likely be a watershed moment for the concept. However, as Rockstar’s own, somewhat defensive blogpost illustrates, there’s a lot riding on that ‘if’.