By all accounts, Rockstar Games hit another home run with Red Dead Redemption II, their Old West epic about a gang of bandits on the run from the inevitable march of progress. Earning strong praise across the board, RDRII, along with titles like God of War, Spider-Man, and Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, proved that there is still a substantial market for big budget, triple-A single player games. That being said, RDR also contains a multiplayer mode, Red Dead Online.
Like Grand Theft Auto Online before it, Red Dead Online entered beta after the initial launch of the main game, and functions as a whole other beast from the single player experience. Players can posse up with their friends and tackle cooperative and competitive modes, explore the massive open world as a team, and meet new and returning characters in a brand new narrative, set before the single player story mode.
Red Dead Online is in the earliest stages of release, and is currently classified as being "in beta," so anything and everything in the game, from missions to systems to economy and beyond, are subject to change. Furthermore, as an online experience (essentially an MMO), Red Dead Online is, by nature, prone to sudden changes, so nothing is set in stone... That being said, we have serious concerns about the game's economy, which incentivizes players to purchase microtransactions which ruin the entire experience.
Players Earn Less Money In Red Dead Online
This may sound obvious, but in Red Dead Redemption II, money is valuable. There are a ton of items to purchase, including horses, clothing, hats (so many hats!), and weapons, as well as subsequent cosmetic and practical upgrades for every gun in Arthur Morgan's arsenal. Of course, this all on top of essentials like gun oil, foodstuffs, and ammunition.
There are a ton of ways to earn money in Red Dead Redemption II, from open world emergent events like stagecoach or train robberies, hunting wild animals and selling their hides and meat, tracking down lost treasure with maps, to the tried-and-true practice of anonymous murder and looting, to say nothing of the big payouts from story missions. In Red Dead Online, all of these activities return, but the payouts are nerfed to oblivion. While a bank robbery mission in the single-player mode can award players up to two thousand dollars, the biggest missions currently available in Red Dead Online offer rewards which amount to only a fraction of that amount. Even settling in for a playlist of competitive modes (including the Battle Royale mode, Make It Count) offers paltry financial rewards. Essentially, there's a lot less money to spend in Red Dead Online, a situation which is made worse by the outrageous prices of nearly everything players want to purchase.
Everything Is Insanely Expensive In Red Dead Online
Not only is there less money to go around, but everything is significantly more expensive in the online mode than in single player. The common example that's been making the rounds on the internet is the Mauser pistol; in single player, the gun costs a hefty $250, but in Online, it costs $1000, a whopping four times markup. There are mandatory maintenance fees for camps and horses which eat into players' funds, and that's not even getting into the recent meme of a can of beans being more valuable than a gold wedding ring.
The economy in Red Dead Online is currently broken, and needs to be fixed. Rockstar and publisher Take-Two are being shamelessly transparent in how they're grooming players to purchase gold bars, the game's premium currency, but even rich players indulging in "recurrent consumer spending" won't fix the problem. Gold Bars can be spent on a wide variety of services, and will be available for purchase with real money, though they can also be earned following tedious amounts of level grinding, which means... They're essentially only available for real money. Not only that, but it takes dozens upon dozens of gold bars to fully customize the appearance of weapons and camps.
All of these factors combine to make Red Dead Online one of the most unbalanced video game economies that currently exists. There's almost no progression to speak of, since nearly all the money earned by players will go into maintenance and personal upkeep like medicine and ammunition, which, by the way, is not automatically replenished in multiplayer matches.
Will Red Dead Online Be Broken Like Grand Theft Auto Online?
On one hand, Rockstar is trying to avoid turning Red Dead Online into a pay-to-win economy like Grand Theft Auto Online. That game only featured one type of currency, GTA$, which could be earned in-game, or purchased with real-life money, allowing rich players to have instant access to high-end weaponry, hideouts, and the fastest, most heavily armored cars.
Shark Cards, as they are called, are among the most evil and cynical forms of microtransactions ever devised, and they were incredibly profitable for Take-Two, raking in untold millions for the triple-A publisher.
With Red Dead Online, the two-tiered currency system is theoretically intended to prevent such obvious pay-to-win mechanics, but, in truth, it only serves to highlight how greedy these systems really are. Instead of balancing the playfield and preventing play-to-win mechanics, it blocks off content from everyone while remaining pay-to-win; there are two ways to unlock fast-travel: level up to rank 65, or spend over 100 gold bars, which is an obvious trick to get players to spend money beyond the initial $60 cost of the game.
There are two solutions to this problem: One, Rockstar and Take-Two can lower the prices of items so they are more accessible without ridiculous amounts of banal level grinding, as well as increasing the rewards players earn to be consistent with what can be achieved in single player. Their second option is to introduce even more microtransactions into Red Dead Online, allowing players to spend real money to unlock in-game dollars. The former is the correct option, but knowing the inherent greed of triple-A publishers, they will probably opt for the latter. After all, it's easier to profit off of an imbalanced economy than it is to repair it and make things fair for everyone.
The onus is on Rockstar and Take-Two to make this right. There's tremendous potential in Red Dead Online, just as there was in Grand Theft Auto Online. As GTA Online progressed through its lifespan, it became more and more reliant on microtransactions as the prices of new weapons and vehicles increased astronomically, but there was still plenty of fun to be had for people without compulsive spending issues. Red Dead Online currently does not have that advantage; there are but a handful of activities to play with in the mostly empty open world (a criticism which applies to the multiplayer game, not the single-player mode), and yet there's a nigh-endless supply of items on which to spend real-world money.
As of this writing, the microtransaction store for Red Dead Online has not been yet been unleashed. Rockstar and Take-Two have the chance to fix the damage they're doing to their game and to their reputation. Upon the game's release, Take-Two proudly announced that they achieved $725 million in sell-through revenue from Red Dead Redemption II in the first three days of its release. That's more money than most games (and even blockbuster movies, for that matter) could ever hope to earn, but it's still not enough for them. If they attempt to nickel and dime their customers in this way, even after taking in more money than they could possibly hope to spend, they're going to learn, the hard way, how quickly a fanbase can lose interest in their favorite hobby.