Rockstar’s Dan Houser talks about the blockbuster GTA series and how his studio has catered to a wider audience
GTA V is now on store shelves, no doubt lighting up the cash registers across the world. Grand Theft Auto as a franchise has evolved quite a bit over the years, but the most important thing to Rockstar Games’ VP of creative Dan Houser is that his team has stayed true to itself the whole time. In a new interview with the [a]list daily, Houser discussed the impact of the Grand Theft Auto series on games and culture in general.
Houser stressed that Rockstar was operating on instinct rather than careful market testing when it brought out GTA 3. “Focus testing in 1999/2000 would never have predicted that a 3D gangster game was going to blow up,” he noted. “Then having done that, no amount of focus testing would say do it in the ’80s. So doing stuff that is true to yourself, as opposed to what the market thinks it wants, that’s definitely something that we’ve always done and hopefully other people have followed suit.”
One of the key elements of the GTA series for Houser has always been the music. “We always thought music should be more than just badly written theme music,” he said. “You began to see that with the birth of Playstation 1 with Wipeout, which was the first game that really pushed top quality pop music in the UK. That was huge. We wanted music that was to our own tastes and to our own style.”
“The games are hopefully getting good enough as pure adventures, and they’re interesting enough to play, that it’s not just about shooting anymore”
The obsession with music can be traced to Sam Houser and Craig Conner, according to Houser. “Sam [is] obsessed with music and lovingly works on every single track that goes in there,” Houser said. “He and Craig Conner, who’s been the GTA music guy since ’97, will bicker about individual tracks on radio stations constantly. They’re both obsessed with it. It’s an enormous labor of love for us to do it. Music helps create this world that people are immersed in.”
While the game industry is continually changing, Houser feels Rockstar is growing with the audience as well. “The audience has been gradually expanding,” Houser commented. “One of the things we wanted to try and do — and we did to some extent – is reach out to some older audience with LA Noire and go, ‘Hey, this game is a little bit slower. It’s definitely historically interesting. It’s more like interactive TV shows. It’s not twitch-based like some of those games. You might have a go with it and see what you think.’ With content like that, you’re always trying to find a way of reaching different audiences.”
He continued, “Even with the action games, we’re trying to constantly make them easier to play, and put different difficulty levels in them so the barely-skilled 18-year-old with very short nerve endings can play at the hardest level possible. And those of us who are more afraid or whatever to begin with can play on the easiest level. The games are hopefully getting good enough as pure adventures, and they’re interesting enough to play, that it’s not just about shooting anymore.”