Since its release as a public beta in November 2018, Red Dead Online has been, well, struggling. You’d wonder how it’s possible, especially with Red Dead Redemption 2 selling 44 million copies as of May 2022. Plus, it follows the uber-popular Grand Theft Auto Online. So why is Red Dead Online in trouble? Why did players hold an in-game funeral for it recently and what is Rockstar doing to fix things?
Spoilers on the latter: Not much. Let’s start at the beginning, though. Set one year before Red Dead Redemption 2, Red Dead Online presents many of the same open-world elements as the single-player campaign. After escaping prison to exact revenge for a murder one didn’t commit, players could get into shoot-outs, complete story missions, and even make decisions that affected their honor. There were also free roam activities for those who just wanted to explore the world with their horse. The presentation and overall writing received some praise, but problems began almost immediately.
There are two types of currency – Dollars and Gold Bars – with the latter taking more time to grind due to the low payouts of missions. Players calculated eight hours to farm one but you were charged a whopping 12 just to paint the basic revolver black. Want to upgrade your tent? Cough up 112 Gold Bars. Even amenities like food and bullets were expensive, not that paying with Dollars was any better since they were also doled out at a slow rate. The fact that Rockstar was planning to sell Gold Bars for real money later also didn’t help.
And though Red Dead Online was released in a better state than Grand Theft Auto Online, players were still running into bugs and being kicked from sessions. This doesn’t even cover the sheer amount of griefing present. Eventually, the backlash became strong enough against its economy that Rockstar committed to fixing it.
Of course, whether a live service game has brutally slow progression and excessive monetization or not, it lives or dies based on its post-launch content. After the beta launch in November 2018, Red Dead Online was fully released in May 2019, receiving new activities, story missions, free roam activities and so on. The outlaw life was kind of good, and it seemed like Rockstar would have even more content soon.
In September 2019, roughly four months later, it added the hefty Frontier Pursuits update, which introduced roles. Now you could become a Bounty Hunter and earn rewards from bounties; a Trader who collects and sells items; or a Collector who seeks collectibles. This also marked the addition of the Outlaw Pass which was, you guessed it, a Battle Pass with cosmetics. While it wasn’t necessarily the warmest received new addition, at least there was plenty of new content along with the Battle Pass. Interest in subsequent passes would dull as the content dwindled, however.
The Moonshiner role arrived in December, serving as an offshoot of the Trader, but the update also allowed players to purchase their first property. The next update – which added The Naturalist role – arrived in June 2020. While nice to have another role, especially one focused on tracking and/or hunting animals and even using the new Vitalism Studies to control one for a limited time, the long periods between updates were becoming more pronounced. Grand Theft Auto Online, first released in October 2013 on Xbox 360 and PS3, had a new heist, arcades (with playable arcade games), 20 new vehicles, and a new in-game radio station in December 2019 alone. This was followed by six new co-op missions in April 2020.
By that point, Red Dead Online was found lacking in support and updates compared to its big brother, and Rockstar wasn’t exactly rushing to remedy the situation. Not to say there was no new content in the works. But Dead of the Night, a new mode that sees players hunting zombies a la Undead Nightmare and a new Halloween Pass in October 2020, just weren’t enough. At the very least, it did have new weapon variations so that was nice. Bounty Hunters would receive an update in December 2020, followed by three new solo missions in February 2021 and new horse races in May 2021.
Then, in July 2021, Red Dead Online received perhaps its largest update since Frontier Pursuits with Blood Money. It allowed for taking on various Crimes, whether robbing homesteads in free roam, holding up stagecoaches or extensive robberies with objectives ranging from eavesdropping to kidnapping. It added Capitale, which could be exchanged for different criminal Opportunities, and the Quick Draw Club with four passes. Though each cost 25 Gold Bars, completing 25 Ranks on one pass allows for earning that back. Those who didn’t care about the rewards at least got some fun content. But it felt like the same mistakes were being repeated – very little communication and doubling down on things, like passes, that players had little interest in.
Unbeknownst to players, Blood Money would be the last major update that Red Dead Online would receive. Yes, there was a second Halloween Pass and the Christmas event returned with themed maps but that was it. Players were left in the dark about what was coming next.
Those remaining eventually decided to hold a funeral for the game on July 13th 2022. The idea was to show up in-game with funeral attire and essentially mourn the “death” of Red Dead Online. It was perhaps intended to send a message to Rockstar. But no one could have guessed that the Red Dead Funeral would coincide with the actual death of major support.
Several days prior, Rockstar confirmed that Red Dead Online would no longer receive any “major themed content updates” as it had in previous years. “Over the past few years, we have been steadily moving more development resources towards the next entry in the Grand Theft Auto series – understanding more than ever the need to exceed players’ expectations and for this next entry to be the best it can possibly be.”
It didn’t outright announce the end of support. There would still be events that would highlight “existing content” along with “seasonal special events” (so the return of Halloween and Christmas events, essentially) and new Telegram Missions. But that’s all, folks.
The news was bad enough, especially before the funeral was set to take place. But it was preceded by details of all the new content coming to Grand Theft Auto Online soon. The message was clear – any resources on Red Dead Online, regardless of how meagre they had been since the last major update, were better spent elsewhere.
How did it all go wrong? Was it simply because Grand Theft Auto Online was already so entrenched as Rockstar’s de facto live-service game? Was it due to the lack of content and consistent support for Red Dead Online? Was the developer’s approach to the game, both in terms of its design and monetization, flawed from the outset? We may never really know.
However, as long as Grand Theft Auto Online continues to rake in the revenue for Rockstar and publisher Take-Two Interactive, its support will continue. Heck, as long as Grand Theft Auto 5 continues to sell millions every quarter, both parties will do anything to ensure the next big sequel is a success.
As for the future of Red Dead Online, support may stop altogether in the next year or two, though servers going down may take even longer. Roger Clark, the voice of Arthur Morgan, tweeted in response to the funeral, “Although today it has my sympathies, I know this community will never die. #outlawsforlife.” Unfortunately, if the single-player campaign taught us anything, it’s that one way or another, the Wild West has to end, and no amount of Outlaw Passes or can stop it.
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