Has Red Dead Redemption 2 pushed GTA Online into the backseat?

Red Dead Redemption 2 Rockstar
By Arthur Watson

Fans of legendary developer Rockstar Games have been mulling over how the impending launch of Red Dead Redemption 2 will affect the amount of attention being given to Grand Theft Auto Online, the multiplayer component of Grand Theft Auto 5. There are a number of arguments indicating that GTA Online will continue going strong. However, some warning signs are flashing regarding its future.

To get a grip on the issue, we must understand just how massive and profitable GTA Online is. The last time Take-Two Interactive, parent company of Rockstar Games, released any sales info, the title has crossed the 75 million shipped copies mark. It has likely passed 80 million since then. Comparatively, Red Dead Redemption, launched in 2010, has sold just a lick over 10 million copies to date.

GTA Online

GTA Online Sales Are Trending Upward

GTA Online is also one of the most popular multiplayer games of both the previous and current generations. Again, the current metric is likely larger than the last known official statement. (It was at 8 million unique players per week.) Considering the game’s sales are trending upward, we’d guess that right now that’s about 10 million. (GTA 5 sold more copies in 2016 than it did in 2014 or 2015.)

There’s a recurring theme of GTA Online being singled out as a major financial pillar. This is thanks to the immense profits brought in from microtransactions. And we have a pretty clear picture: it’s really really profitable. On the flipside, while the original Red Dead Redemption gained much praise from hardcore gamers, it didn’t cause many ripples in the mainstream world, which is the source of the bulk of GTA Online’s players – and revenue.
All this leads to a simple conclusion: there’s no way Rockstar or Take-Two would put GTA Online out to pasture in favor of a game that lacks the same kind of reach and brand recognition, and has no hope of matching the former’s sales records. And yet, recent shifts in policy and behavior regarding how Rockstar approaches and manages GTA Online are a bit worrying.

DLC Is an Important Factor

The source of GTA Online’s lasting – that’s an important factor – success and popularity is the constant stream of DLC that is being added to the game for free. Some players would eventually grow bored of the game. But by then, Rockstar will have put out a new content pack bringing new things to discover and enjoy. The constant addition of new items also promotes in-game spending. And with cash being relatively hard to earn in GTA Online, microtransactions which give players an in-game boost in exchange for real money (these being called Shark Cards) are highly popular.

Seeing as humanity collectively suffers from a rather embarrassing attention span, Rockstar had to pump out these updates often. However, it’s almost May, and in 2017, there aren’t any major updates. We just received a few cars and a handful of stunt tracks designed with special vehicles in mind. There was no Valentine’s Day DLC either this year, even though we got relatively meaty packs in 2015 and 2016.

Shark Cards and GTA Oline’s Revenue

And then there are the unexplained, random GTA$ 250,000 handouts players are reporting. Some players have received such a handout several times, while others have been awarded varying amounts. Since Shark Cards provide much of GTA Online’s revenue, Rockstar has usually been really strict when it comes to cash. Cheaters were harshly punished (the only “official” cheats for GTA 5 being available in its single player mode), items were priced at a premium and promotions which doubled the rewards of in-game missions were rare.

Add to this a recent announcement that players logging into the game between the 25th and 30th of April are guaranteed to receive GTA$ 425,000 as an unexplained “tax rebate”, and it seems like they’re purposefully pushing down the value of in-game money. This, however, also undoubtedly hurts microtransaction revenue. Rockstar going lax with policies in GTA Online while simultaneously slowing down the stream of DLC is rather puzzling.
It is unlikely that the future of GTA Online will become any clearer before the release of Red Dead Redemption 2. We do know that at least one major update is on its way, but will it be the last?

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