What next for Grand Theft Auto – Scotland’s biggest digital export?

Scottish Games Network founder Brian Baglow was part of the DMA Design (later Rockstar North) team that created the original two games. He tells us his predictions for the future of the series, as well as his experiences behind-the-scenes.

The GTA series is famous for planting subtle references to Scottish culture in its productions. Here, a Los Santos tram is seen painted in colours similar to that of Edinburgh Trams.

“The first game was a textbook example of how not to make a game: the development wasn’t planned very well, it didn’t go smoothly, and for the longest time we had absolutely no idea if it was going to work. It was development by experiment - a lot of people were developing their first game when they made GTA.”

Brian Baglow’s statement comes as a surprise to anyone familiar with the latest iteration’s mammoth success, as to date GTA V has sold over 5 million physical copies in the United Kingdom alone since its September 2013 launch. Despite the changes wrought over the development teams in the last 18 years, the game’s essential focus - the pursuit of the American Dream through criminal means - remains paramount.

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Those who turn 18 on November 27 2015 will finally be of age to play any one of Rockstar North’s controversial creations, following the title’s first PC release on the same day in 1997. But what is there to say about the game’s potential development in future?

Brian Baglow, now founder and director of the Scottish Games Network, wrote the script for the original Grand Theft Auto during his time with Dundee-based DMA Design in the 1990s.

Baglow says: “For the foreseeable future, I think GTA will remain mainly console-based because of the sheer size and scope of the game. You need a huge amount of storage space and processing power for it.

“What we have seen in GTA V, though, is elements of the game spilling over into real life. You can play the game with thousands and thousands of online players, but you can still train your dog, check the game’s stock market and customise your car when you’re not in front of the TV. Though it will primarily stick to console due to its size, I think we’ll see the mobile side get bigger and bigger as time goes on.”

Baglow’s comments refer to the iFruit app, which is a real-life offering through the Google Play and App Store marketplaces that allows GTA V players to join Rockstar Games’s Social Club.

By training their dog via their phone, customising the registration plate of their car or investing in new shares, players get a game-like experience on the move that is designed to engender greater involvement in the development of the game’s three main characters - Franklin, Michael and Trevor. And, of course, Chop the Rottweiler.

It's been 18 years since the first Grand Theft Auto was released, with the original themes of action-adventure, carjacking and gunfights a constant over 14 successive releases. Photo: Sofiane Kennouche

Those who are familiar with the franchise will already know that several GTA games are available as smartphone downloads, though this sector of the market is small compared to the game’s multi-platform console success.

Baglow estimates that many more of the features of subsequent GTA games will be controllable from mobile devices as well as the games console, thus further blurring the lines between console gaming and mobile gaming.

During his time at DMA Design and Rockstar, Baglow was the UK PR Manager for parent company Take 2 Interactive and International PR Manager for Rockstar. From a small, inexperienced team, Baglow created a PR, Marketing and Media department which would give the GTA franchise its often humourous yet controversial image, partnering with PR gurus Max Clifford Associates to promote the original GTA and Mark Borkowski for the second title.

“The challenge was trying to get people to understand what it was all about”, Baglow adds.

“BMG Interactive had clever ideas to market the game - they would take out printed adverts, a lot like secondhand car listings, but with the car missing. You’d get a description of a really nice Porsche or sports car but with only a driveway pictured, because the car had been stolen.

“We had this funny-looking top-down game where you stole cars and ran people over. We weren’t looking for controversy; we were just trying to get across the fun of it.”

The gaming industry ambassador’s involvement in the marketing side of things was far from planned, however. Originally joining the DMA team as a writer - and penning lyrics to some of the songs in the first game in the process - Baglow, in his own words, “found out that I was quite good at standing up in front of large groups of people and being enthusiastic about games, so I fell into the PR and Marketing role as no-one else was doing it.

“I picked it up and ran with it - that experience shaped my career for the next 15 years.”

When asked why he thinks GTA has continued to be an enduring success, Baglow is quick to point out a franchise that rewards creativity and imagination.

“It’s plain, old-fashioned fun and it’s one of those games that rewards you - the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out. The chances are that what you can think up, you can actually do in the game.

“It’s got more open as technology has improved - now you can sell ice-cream from an ice-cream van or even skydive. You get bonuses for unlocking an achievement, so it’s your own world to play in - it’s sandbox gaming where you can do what you wish in it.

“The first two games were great and set the whole franchise up and running. But it was GTA III that took it from quirky cult offering into the stratosphere and created the franchise we know now.”

With his days involved in scripting and publicising GTA behind him, Baglow is the director and founder of the Scottish Games Network as well as being involved in Team Rock. The new Scottish start-up aims to be the global home for rock and metal music across all platforms, with music being used as the focal point of new games.

Baglow’s love of music has informed his career continuously.

“To go back to GTA, one of the most amazing things about the game is the diverse soundtrack. Having different radio stations playing when you got in and out of cars was innovative at the time. I wrote some lyrics for the soundtrack of the first game and it was great fun.”