GTA V glitches won't stop move to cloud gaming

A screenshot from Grand Theft Auto online, of three characters in masks holding guns walking across a bridge at night

Grand Theft Auto V is officially the most expensive video game in history. It took five years for 300 developers, coders and artists to finish the game; an investment which has seen a return in first day sales of £500k and after three days it smashed through the £1 billion barrier.

So, given all the above, why have the cloud servers that deliver the online gaming experience of GTA V been crashing? Surely Rockstar Games (or is that Rockstar North, or maybe Take Two Interactive - ownership of video game development is a complex business these days) must have realised that this was going to be one popular title and when the two week wait between the launch of the game and the launch of the online multiplayer functionality within it was up there was going to be massive demand on the cloud?

My sons have experienced the problems with GTA V online first-hand, from the 'Rockstar Cloud Servers Unavailable' error messages to the freezing during loading the first race which gets you into the online multiplayer experience.

Others have reported getting 'Failed to Host a GTA Online Session' errors and the problem with the servers even seems to have leaked out of the online gameplay and into the console play itself as I have been unable to complete a mission which required me to take photographs with my in-game smartphone, courtesy of messages telling me that my photo album from the Rockstar Social Club cannot be loaded.

For such a big game, with such a vast audience and costing such a huge sum of money surely Rockstar could have done better on the server resilience front? Indeed, given that this type of demand dynamism is exactly why the cloud was used in the first place, it's all a bit confusing.

Even before the online side of the game launched, Rockstar was warning players to expect "growing pains" and "crazy bugs", putting this down to the inevitability of crashes and glitches in such a massive open-world game. It even admitted to facing "unanticipated additional pressure on the servers" because sales had been high.

Excuse me? Really, Rockstar, really, really? Quite apart from me not believing that Rockstar or any of the companies further up the ownership food chain thought it would be a big seller (if that was the case, why invest so much?), I am frankly gobsmacked at the apparent poor understanding of gaming in the cloud on display here. The Rockstar blog states that the company is working around the clock "to buy and add more servers", yet such fallback resilience should have been built into the original plans even if it did add to the bottom line cost. If you spend £170 developing and marketing a game, is it really too much to expect a lack of penny-pinching in the cloud-provisioning department?

The problem appears to be, from my outsider perspective at least, that Rockstar simply wasn't prepared to handle a couple of million players logging in to the network during the first day or two. Yet the fact that Rockstar hadn't done this before should not be used as an excuse for not getting the network infrastructure scaling and cloud provisioning right.

The point is, others *have* been there, done that and failed miserably in the past. I seem to recall #error37 trending on Twitter a year or so ago when Diablo 3 fans couldn't get online to play for example, and earlier this year Sim City players had to wait half an hour or so to log on in order to play a very sluggish game because too many people had logged on and then played differently to the people during the testing phase, apparently. Maybe, then, it's the testing that is in need of reworking? After all, the Rockstar excuse of not anticipating demand seems very weak given that 25 million copies of the previous game in the series, GTA IV, were sold. Whatever the precise combination of load-testing resources Rockstar put into place, AI bots and human beta testers alike, it obviously didn't work.

There is, obviously, some truth in the notion that it's impossible to simulate everything to the n'th degree during testing. What's more, even if you could that wouldn't mean you could be 100 per cent sure that no surprises might emerge once the game was rolled out and live.

I appreciate that real players, especially once they become part of the multiplayer 'swarm' for want of a better word, can behave in a totally unpredictable way. If your testing assumed everyone would be playing the game in a certain way - and ensured resource loads were balanced to enable that – only to find that players en masse decided they wanted to spend all their time customising an avatar via under-resourced servers, then the brown stuff would certainly hit the whirly thing.

There is a niggling suspicion, and it's nothing more, that maybe not enough of the record-breaking Rockstar budget went on the relatively boring and totally unglamorous side of multiplayer gaming development today: back end network infrastructure, cloud delivery architectures and network friendly code to avoid latency issues, for example, the fact that different regions connect at different times with different demand loads.

This is not proof that cloud gaming will fail, it's just proof that companies need to understand the cloud side of things better and be realistic in allowing for the dynamic nature of likely demand. And it certainly isn't proof that cloud gaming is not the future.

Actually, it's the present and has been the past as well. Eighteen months ago, right here on Cloud Pro, I stated that "cloud gaming really isn't anything new: I've been doing it for decades. I first started gaming in the cloud way back in 1991 courtesy of a MUD, or Multi User Dungeon game if you prefer. And I was already late to the party, a party which had started in 1974 with Mazewar via the ARPANET and continued with such titles as Zork and Ultima Online."

Now, you may take issue with that those games were not quite the same thing as the direction cloud gaming is taking now, and you would be right, but the principle of server-based online gaming remains the same; the technology delivering it has just changed a bit, that's all. So when I said that Microsoft was on the right track by merging cloud technology into the Xbox One console and users should get used to the idea, I meant it.

Small glitches with GTA V, which have largely been ironed out now truth be told, do not mean that the death tolls are knelling for cloud gaming. Indeed, Microsoft is building its own dedicated cloud gaming service and has already demonstrated its capabilities by streaming Halo 4 to a Windows PC, Xbox and Nokia Lumia Windows Phone

Davey Winder

Davey is a three-decade veteran technology journalist specialising in cybersecurity and privacy matters and has been a Contributing Editor at PC Pro magazine since the first issue was published in 1994. He's also a Senior Contributor at Forbes, and co-founder of the Forbes Straight Talking Cyber video project that won the ‘Most Educational Content’ category at the 2021 European Cybersecurity Blogger Awards.

Davey has also picked up many other awards over the years, including the Security Serious ‘Cyber Writer of the Year’ title in 2020. As well as being the only three-time winner of the BT Security Journalist of the Year award (2006, 2008, 2010) Davey was also named BT Technology Journalist of the Year in 1996 for a forward-looking feature in PC Pro Magazine called ‘Threats to the Internet.’ In 2011 he was honoured with the Enigma Award for a lifetime contribution to IT security journalism which, thankfully, didn’t end his ongoing contributions - or his life for that matter.

You can follow Davey on Twitter @happygeek, or email him at