It feels like every single headline I’ve seen recently in a story about Rockstar has included Grand Theft Auto Online somehow. With the massively popular multiplayer component of Grand Theft Auto V releasing as a stand-alone game recently, it’s no surprise that Rockstar is going all-in on it. GTA Online has been around since 2013, when GTA V launched. And it didn’t just retain a player base, but grew it larger and larger.
GTA+ is the be-all and end-all of that, the four-carat diamond ring planted on the online game’s finger that says “you’re my forever.” It offers players (specifically those on Xbox Series X/S or PS5) a ton of free rewards, from $500,000 in GTA bucks in their in-game bank accounts to entire properties needed to take part in certain pieces of content.
But what GTA+ tells me about Rockstar’s future commitments isn’t that it’s all about GTA Online; it’s that Red Dead Online is dead in the dust.
Into the yonder
Red Dead Online‘s decline has been a slow and painful one, like a ship sinking in slow motion. I’ve always been a big fan of the game, mostly thanks to its atmosphere. Whereas GTA V and GTA Online capture Rockstar’s take on the fake people of Los Angeles with plastic visuals, Red Dead Online bleeds realism. From the grizzled faces of the outlaws I gunned down to the gorgeous sunsets I saw, Red Dead Online always had an iron grip on me.
The game’s content, on the other hand, was paper-thin. Sure, you can sign up for different professions (all of which had to be bought with the game’s premium currency, gold bars), but those quickly got repetitive. You can only slowly drive a carriage packed with pelts so many times before it becomes tiring. Even the game’s latest burst of content, which actually rewarded players for being criminals, was a disappointment.
Red Dead Online didn’t let you take part in any bank robberies, it didn’t have unique multiplayer games, and it didn’t have purchasable properties. All of that was saved for GTA Online. RDO simply got the scraps.
The truth of the matter is that RDO‘s decline was a self-perpetuating cycle. As GTA Online grew more popular, Rockstar had more of a reason to invest in it rather than its cowboy counterpart. RDO then had less and less content, driving more players away while GTA Online‘s base continued to grow. See where this is going? In a way, RDO was doomed from the start.
While GTA+ is a huge investment in the future of GTA Online, it’s also the final nail in RDO‘s coffin. The subscription service is the next natural step for GTA Online, one that’s leaps and bounds past where RDO has been for years. While GTA Online was getting new heists, RDO was getting the same job-based bonuses it’s getting to this day. Well, not exactly. Those used to come weekly for RDO. Now they come monthly.
Truth be told, none of this would be as bad if GTA Online were actually radically different from RDO, but they’re largely the same experience. They both have missions (GTA Online has a great many more), they both ask players to transport goods over long distances, they both require a disgusting amount of grinding to reach worthwhile content.
But now, by paying $6 a month, you can slowly get access to GTA Online‘s good content. With just $6, you can get a free car, free clothes, free paint jobs, free buildings — all these free, fun things that RDO could never offer you because Rockstar never really invested in it. Since 2013, Rockstar has known that GTA Online was a winner, and RDO was an experiment to see if lightning could strike twice. It didn’t, and now there’s hardly a reason to play cowboys with your friends in RDO‘s Old West at all.
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