How To (Not) Make Money In GTA Online (Without Committing Any Crimes)

GTA Online [official site] wants you to commit crimes – to kill your fellow players, beat them in illegal street races, and team up with them in heists in order to make money. But is it possible to make money without committing crimes?

Spoilers: no. But I tried, and it was the most fun I’ve had in the game’s online modes thus far.

I’ve struggled with GTA Online for a bunch of reasons. One is that its racing and golfing and team deathmatch and other modes are less fun than games which are dedicated solely to those purposes. One is that its co-operative heists are complex and hours-long and so require friends to play with, which I don’t always have available. One is that the free roam mode, in which you are encouraged to create havoc with other players, feels like it is pointlessly destructive – unless, again, you have friends with whom you can orchestrate more interesting tomfoolery.

What I do like is the open world. Los Santos is my favourite thing about Grand Theft Auto V whether in single- or multiplayer, and playing it in Online does add dynamism in the form of other players. I wanted to come up with a set of rules that would let me experience that open world, but which would give more structure to my time there than simply wandering aimlessly.

Rule #1: Start with nothing.

I created a new character. No shirt, no shoes, no money. I named him “NPC”, in respect of my goal of living in Los Santos without criming in Los Santos. As soon as I spawned, I dropped my starting pistol on the ground and left it behind. I was now unarmed and penniless in a town of violent lunatics.

In singleplayer GTAV, you can perform certain legal jobs in exchange for money. I mean, you might need to steal a taxi first, but you can for example pick up fares and drive them around town to make a living.

In GTA Online, it seems that isn’t the case. Or at least stealing a taxi to find out would break my second rule immediately. As stated above:

Rule #2: No crime.

This is tricky. I asked the other players in the server for advice, by typing into the chat. “Is there any way to make money in GTA Online with committing crimes?”

“Races” was the responses, from three or four people. I’ve seen at least 80% of Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift in non-consecutive chunks on BBC2 and I don’t think the kind of racing that tends to come up in GTAV is legal. So that’s out.

Then an idea occurs. Infamously, when pedestrians in GTA get killed, they drop money. I can’t kill the pedestrians myself – a definite misdemeanour – but in walking around the city I’ve already seen a couple fall foul of other players. The players, most of them millionaires, tend not to bother picking up the money that gets dropped. Is it a crime to pick up the loose change dropped by the recently deceased? Yep.

More of a crime than street racing? …Probably.

I check the minimap anyway to see the positions of players nearby, and there’s a white blip two blocks over from where I’m currently standing. I start to run in that direction and, as I move up a pedestrianised shopping street, all of the NPCs in the area start screaming and running towards me.

I’m suddenly excited. They’re running because crime is happening. Where there’s crime, there’s maybe some spilled money. I run in the direction of whatever has everyone so scared. I’m a lot like Batman, I think, if Batman were a mostly naked homeless man instead of Bruce Wayne.

Rounding a corner, there’s a large intersection where a single pedestrian is sprinting across the street at some traffic lights. There is a player-driven car racing towards him. It looks like it is going to hit him, I am willing it to hit him, it hits him. I sprint over to his fallen body. Like Batman.

I pick up the dropped dollars. This is definitely a crime, but it feels less like a crime within the world of GTAV. The money is just floating there. It makes a ‘blip’ sound when I pick it up. I didn’t kill this… person. This sounds worse in the re-telling than it seemed at the time. I run away again, $27 in my pocket, and head back to that pedestrianised shopping street. I’m pretty sure I saw a clothes store back there.

If I can buy an item of clothing, then maybe this whole experiment can be successful. Maybe this will work. I scroll through their different items: shirts, hoodies, trousers. Everything costs hundreds of dollars. I can’t afford any of it. The cheapest item I can find is a plain white tshirt and it’s $45. I need to find more crime scenes.

I head back out into the open world and sprint off towards another set of players. They’re all far away and moving much faster than I am because they’re all in cars while I’m forced to remain on foot. This is clearly demonstrated to me when a player-driven car rounds a corner in the distance and starts to drive towards me. I am momentarily excited at the thought that they might commit a crime and I might be able to hoover up some more money.

The moment passes as soon as I realise that the player might commit that crime against me. They are heading straight for me as I bolt towards a low wall at the edge of the pavement, thinking that I could climb up there and be safe, but the car moves too fast. It looks like it is going to hit me, I am willing it not to hit me, it hits me. I am killed instantly. A moment later, I step out of the hospital and my $27 is gone. I’m penniless again – though in some ways, I realise, a step closer to becoming like the NPCs I’m named after. I hope one of them robbed my body as it lay on the sidewalk.

This happens twice more. I sneak around, stalking players, hiding behind the police that are chasing them, and hoover up whatever is dropped. At one point I get into a car with another player, hopeful that I might find a revenue stream I hadn’t previously considered, only for them to aggro the cops the very next moment. “I’m not party to this,” I type unconvincingly in the chat.

When our car crashes into another and kills the driver, I leap out. The cops stand around, yelling at me to surrender, but I ignore them and run. Despite my best efforts, I have become a criminal. (Like Batman).

Over a further two hours of trying, it becomes clear that this isn’t going to work. The most I ever get at once is around $50, but I’m always killed – with bullets or vehicles – before I can buy anything. I always end up broke again. Even if I did manage to buy that tshirt, getting a car that I can track and insure this way is functionally impossible.

So why is this the most fun I’ve had in the game.

I’m reminded of Watch_Dogs. GTAV is a better game than Ubisoft’s own crack at an urban crim sim, but its multiplayer was surprisingly interesting. In different modes, it challenges you to hack or stalk other players, blending in to the environment sometimes by hiding and sometimes by acting like its NPCs. It created ambiguity, connected you with its environment, and pushed players together in competitive ways more interesting than who can fire first or drive fastest.

In a way, I have been re-creating that experience in GTA Online. I am marked on the minimap at all times, so players know when I am near if they’re paying attention, but I can still hide. I can still try to blend in. I can still surf that ambiguity between friend and foe, by attempting to get close to them but having no method of attacking them.

I will not get rich like this, but I will die trying and have fun doing it.

This post was made possible by the RPS Supporter Program. It was originally published in April. Thanks for your funding!

24 Comments

  1. Sin Vega says:

    I’d love to do this, tried it in GTA 4 but without mods it just wasn’t workable, and with mods it was the crashingest bugfest ever. GTA does such great cities to just wander around in and quietly watch.

  2. OctoStepdad says:

    Glad you to hear your having fun with GTA playing your own way.

    I guess you could go into passive mode and collect money off of dead civilians without being interfered by the other players. But I feel like that would lose some luster and turn into a grind.

  3. Premium User Badge

    keithzg says:

    Interesting; was pondering something akin to this myself, although I was more thinking along the lines of pacifism specifically, so I’d still steal cars for example. Like you, my interest leans more towards the expansive open world than the crime spree fantasies.

    Some of my favourite moments in online gaming have come from playing games by my own (or a thoroughly arbitrary) moral code, and the delightful contrast between my attempts to do so and the apathetic or outright confused interactions then with other players. I remember playing America’s Army as a conscientious objector, which was grand fun especially when playing with a friend on the opposing team, especially the time somehow everyone else killed eachother and we were the only ones left. Oh, the respective teamchats were furious at our “inability” to shoot eachother!

    As a tangent: how weirdly self-critiquing was America’s Army, in that each side literally saw the other as foreign terrorists?

    • metric day says:

      Roleplaying a conscientious objector in team deathmatch? That would be funny for about five minutes.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Where did our little “Supporter” tags go?

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      By which I mean the ones that appear under the avatars. Like that one right there. And yet all the people who posted when this was a supporters-only post don’t have them. Huh?

  5. XxBrentos9xX says:

    Quite a funny read. I would have mowed down sidewalk after sidewalk for you to plunder

  6. Laurentius says:

    Gold medals in Flight Schools nets a lot of cash (relativly speaking of course ), also parachuting.

  7. MultiVaC says:

    Wow, I was actually in that session with you while you were doing this. I remember seeing that exchange in the chat and thinking what an odd thing it was that someone who took issue with virtual crime was spending their time in “Grand Theft Auto”. Makes a lot more sense now.

  8. Pulstar says:

    I got bored of Online after doing Rockstar’s heists. What else to do but roam and being a dick to other players? Meh. Rockshit sending PIs to anyone modding their MP game is also trashy.

  9. Snargelfargen says:

    Playing a pacifist priest in World of Warcraft was pretty fun and totally viable, although the early levels were a bit of a grind.

  10. Cinek says:

    I’ve seen at least 80% of Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift in non-consecutive chunks on BBC2 and I don’t think the kind of racing that tends to come up in GTAV is legal” – First of all – you can pick races on a closed circuits.

    Secondly – you could go for a flight school and earn some money off that one.

    And third – you can pick boat racing and – once you finish the flight school – air racing – these are legal.

  11. mechabuddha says:

    I tried playing GTA Online a few times.

    Try 1: I was driving down the road, and encountered another player in a golf cart. I swerved to avoid hitting him. He shot me with a rocket launcher.

    Try 2: I joined a cooperative mission to get a lowrider. I was headshot by an NPC in the first 15 seconds of a gunfight, and my team lost the mission. I was told to “go sit in the corner if you’re going to be so bad.”

    Try 3: I turned on passive mode and decided to bicycle down the highway. Another player tried to ram me, but passed through me because I was in passive mode. So he started blowing up cars directly in front me, which *could* hurt me in passive mode.

    I haven’t tried a fourth time.

    • Cinek says:

      I for one played it for a few days after work, did… 2 or 3 heists, and eventually got so pissed off by the amount of loading screens that I just rage-quit that crap. I have many other games to play, no reason to waste my life on a loading screen every few moments. Even f*** “do you want to quit” menu takes several seconds to load. On a high-end PCI-E SSD drive. Ridiculous.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      You’re like the kid who signs up for dodgeball and then cries because someone hit them in the leg with a ball.

      • Cederic says:

        No, he’s the guy that signed up for baseball and the opposing team attacked him with their bats.

        Over half the people on the planet have below average intelligence. This is not conducive to a good online gaming experience.

  12. soopytwist says:

    Uh? Why not just order Annis Elegy cars, which are free, and sell them? That’s making money without committing crimes right there.

    • soopytwist says:

      My mistake. It seems you can’t sell the Elegy. I sold the car I was given at the start of Online (not an Elegy) but you can’t “buy” an Elegy for free and sell it. I guess Rockstar thought of that when they gifted it to players signing up on Social Club.

  13. Corwin71 says:

    It may not technically be a crime, but willing someone to be hit and killed by a car seems much worse to me than racing.

    • minijedimaster says:

      right? Street racing=bad. Willing random people on the street get murdered so you can go plunder their lifeless bodies=acceptable. LOL

  14. PLUNDERAAR says:

    You should really watch goldvision pacifist guide to playing Gta link to youtube.com

  15. caff says:

    I still think Watch colon Dogs had better multi-player than GTA online. The game world isn’t as “fun” but in many ways it felt more real than the GTA world.

    In Watch colon Dogs, the cat and mouse element was superb. There were times I felt I could actually read the personality/nationality of my hunter/quarry. I could actually picture them, in their underpants. Their clicking and tapping growing more frustrated as the clock ticked down.

  16. Scratch4416 says:

    I would say the author here clearly doesn’t have a very good grasp on what is actually illegal. There are plenty of things you can do in GTA Online which are not illegal. You can parachute, golf, play tennis, arm wrestle, darts, go to the shooting range…
    I would say probably the best legal way to make money would be street racing. Yes that’s right, street racing is not necessarily illegal. If you turn the traffic off, you are essentially making it a legally sanctioned race.
    Another thing this author might be surprised yo learn is that stopped a crime in progress is not a crime. You can shoot other players and take their money. Just look for the red dots on the map to find people who are causing mayhem, and kill them. Just tell that little voice in your head that you are planning to give that money to the police as evidence. :v