Approaching five years since its birth, Red Dead Online is dead to many of its original community and Rockstar Games has cut its support so substantially that you can simply view it as keeping the game on life support.

The game that so many enjoyed has been left in an incredibly sorry state and is unlikely to ever reach the potential it could have.  It's time to take a retrospective look at Red Dead Online through the years and try to spot any warning signs that predicted its ultimate failure.  

2018 - Introducing Red Dead Online

Let's get things kicked off with 'the birth' of Red Dead Online - all the way back in November of 2018. Following the highly successful launch of Red Dead Redemption II, fans were eagerly anticipating the online mode's launch, though this excitement would be short-lived. 

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Rockstar Games certainly captured the barren, lonely vibe of the era (perhaps too much) in the early days of Red Dead Online. Similar to GTA Online's launch, there was very little in terms of content; in essence, Online felt like a stripped-down version of Singleplayer, with the only advantage of being able to experience the open world with your friends. 

There was no point worrying this early though; we've seen how Rockstar took GTA Online and transformed it into their most successful product to date. Patience! Let Rockstar take their time to build on this world and deliver a Western experience like no other... 

RDR 2 Artwork RedDeadOnline Logo

2019 - Goodbye Beta, hello Frontier Pursuits

Red Dead Online left beta in May 2019 with its biggest update to date. At the forefront of this DLC were five new missions for the Land of Opportunities storyline - I highlight this because, at the time, the storyline was one of the main features of Online that felt intriguing and unique. Fast forward to today and the eagle-eyed reader will realize these five story missions added all the way back in May 2019 are in fact the final story missions to be added to Red Dead Online... but that's a story for later...

So we've left beta now. Things are looking up. There's a slew of new cosmetics allowing players to customize their characters to wild extents. Friends are enjoying poker games. Life seems relatively good on the frontier. 

RDR 2 Artwork RedDeadOnline Poker

In all honesty, at this stage Red Dead Online is really starting to kick off and pick up steam. Another (smaller) update drops later in May, then it's relatively quiet until Summer which brings the build-up to Red Dead Online's first major DLC.

Frontier Pursuits was released in September and brought with it a huge amount of content (the Collector, Bounty Hunter, and Trader roles). Rockstar has now first introduced the foundation upon which the rest of the game shall be built upon - roles. The update has its issues, but is a massive leap in the right direction - retrospectively this update introduced some of the most valuable content, even after all these years.

RDR 2 Artwork RedDeadOnline Frontier Pursuits Update


2020 - The Naturalist and the Bounty Hunter (again)

This is where things start to get interesting. The year starts off okay; the Moonshiners DLC is just about still providing enough content to keep fans entertained. However moving towards March, April, May and things start to turn sour...

Not only have Rockstar Games not released anything new to Red Dead Online, but they've also said nothing about future plans. Admittedly this has coincided with the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic which sent shockwaves of disruption across much of the gaming community, yet Rockstar chose not to communicate any idea of a delay with the community. Communicate. That's a word that's going to start to crop up a lot...

Week after week Rockstar turned up on Tuesday to announce the weekly event and nothing more. This approach works when fans know what else they've got to look forward to, but with growing frustration at the lack of news, these posts simply fuelled the fire. 

Then all of a sudden on a Friday in late July, Rockstar Games release an announcement for Red Dead Online and GTA Online, revealing the summer DLC to be The Naturalist

RDR 2 Artwork RedDeadOnline Frontier Pursuits TheNaturalist

The Naturalist is by far the most polarising update that Rockstar has released for Red Dead Online: Some love it and enjoy exploring the open world and it's wildlife, whilst others felt it wasn't the high-octane, gunslinging update that many were longing for. Either way, it was a substantial DLC that ended the content drought and somewhat fixed the animal bug that had been plaguing Online. 

On the topic of bugs, here's a date that many will wish to forget: 10th August 2020. The day that Rockstar Games essentially broke Red Dead Online for a number of days by issuing a security update. Again I'll highlight the speed (or lack of ) that Rockstar responded to this issue - it took three days to roll back this patch in order to return Online to a playable state

RedDeadOnline NaturalistUpdate Harriet Davenport

2020 concluded with the release of Bounty Hunters, an expansion of the pre-existing Bounty Hunter role. Again the reception was mixed - it offered a pretty substantial amount of new content, but players wanted something new.  

It also introduced the daily challenge nerf - the first sign of Rockstar Games taking fairly drastic action to resolve the economy and boost gold bar sales. As can be expected, this was received incredibly poorly - personally the nerf to the gold rewarded was a necessary step to take, as gold was becoming too easy to obtain, but removing player's streaks made little sense... why get rid of something that kept players logging into the game daily?

RedDeadOnline Artwork BountyHunters Expansion


2021 - Outlaws at long, long last

A much more positive start to 2021 with Rockstar Games releasing a community announcement that was already teasing a small update early in the year. This turned out to be A New Source of Employment, a series of three telegram missions - their reception was mixed, but it was undeniably nice to see new content being added so early in 2021.

RedDeadOnline Artwork Telegram Missions

Shortly afterward, in March, we received Outlaw Pass 5 - arguably one of the most controversial pieces of content the game would receive.  The rewards of the pass had been leaked months in advance, but that didn't stop the outburst of negativity from the community when it was released. It was hard to understand the thought process behind the design of many of its cosmetics - if anything, Outlaw Pass 5 was symbolic of the apparent disconnect between the hopes of fans and the direction Rockstar was taking the game.

RedDeadOnline OutlawPass5 Artwork

Compared to previous years, the summer DLC for Red Dead Online in 2021 began being teased significantly earlier and across multiple newswires. After all this time it seemed we were finally about to receive the update the community had been longing for - it was time to become true outlaws (finally... after almost three years... in the online mode of a game about a band of outlaws...).

Rockstar Games even dropped the trailer a week early. Not the usual pattern of pushing a trailer out once the update has dropped.. an entire week early. Building excitement? Well, it worked. The community finally seemed the most positive it had been in years, if ever, and Red Dead Online looked to be finally having its GTA Online-style breakthrough.

Red Dead Online Blood Money Artwork

13th July 2021. The Blood Money DLC drops. Retrospectively it seems strange to think this was the last date the game would ever receive a DLC.  Within hours of its release, there's already a rumbling in the community who are unsatisfied with the update - and rightfully so. 

This outlaw-themed update that has received the most teasing of any DLC across the first half of the year, is little more than a reskin of stranger missions, albeit with a few cool cutscenes and some fairly interesting longer, legendary-bounty style missions. There are no new weapons, horses, and even clothing items (outside of the brand new Quick Draw Club pass system) - why add ways to make money if a large portion of the player base has run out of things to buy?

"Why add ways to make money if a large portion of the player base has ran out of things to buy?"

Perhaps the greatest piece of content to emerge from this DLC was the Call to Arms mode, which was an instant hit upon its release - something Rockstar inevitably decided to recycle for each seasonal event and think of as sufficient, creative content.

Unsurprisingly, the community was once more restless approaching the winter DLC season and things would immediately take a turn for the worse when Rockstar failed to announce a new update, whilst happily pushing GTA Online's shiny new DLC.

Only one DLC in 2021 spelled bad news, though just how bad was yet to be decided. 

rdo guidomartelli bloodmoney


The rest is history

There's little point in having a deep dive into the years that have followed - such a dive would be short-lived.. more like jumping into a shallow puddle. Rockstar Games scrapped the weekly update system for an even lower effort monthly rotation of the same bonuses and same discounts - oh but they started to release a community outfit each month (No - the clothing items weren't new, Yes - they were simply filling the newswire with an outfit randomly selected from Reddit or Youtube).

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The Save Red Dead Online movement kicked off in response to the seeming abandonment - you can read more about that here... and here. Rockstar Games continued to hold strong in their efforts to remain silent about the game's future until July 2022 when they released a community update...

A bittersweet moment unfolded as Rockstar finally confirmed what the community had been speculating of - that Red Dead Online was no longer a priority and was being sidelined for GTA Online and the development of GTA 6; the only relief being that at long last there was no need to hold a shred of optimism and secretly believe an update might still come. 


Was Red Dead Online destined to fail?

Hopefully reading through that year-by-year account of Red Dead Online's update history it has become apparent that the signs were truly there all along. 

For every step forward Rockstar Games took, they took another two backward. Take the Bounty Hunters update for instance: Release a new DLC, but slash daily challenge rewards AND remove streaks (a.k.a remove any incentive to continually log in to the game) - the daily challenge rewards only needed cutting down because - A) Rockstar had lost a grip on the game's economy; and B) there wasn't enough content to warrant spending gold bars on.

Red Dead Online was obviously profitable (and sadly still likely is, despite minimal support) but there comes a point where it's hard to expect players to continue making in-game purchases when content is spread so far apart and is of questionable quality. 

There was obviously a group of incredibly talented and passionate developers who were incredibly keen to see the game succeed, and it is sad to see just how toxic the community became - but when a game you've spent countless hours enjoying is killed off so slowly it is unsurprising such negativity would exist.

RedDeadOnline NaturalistUpdate Horse

Consistent failures to communicate effectively with the community left a divide between Rockstar Games and its player base - to this day it's hard to understand why a studio offering a live service would be so unwilling to maintain favorable relations with its community. Every time the community began to become restless, the negativity would be amplified by radio silence from Rockstar.

Clearly, the hopes of the community never lined up with the vision of Rockstar Games - would Red Dead Online have ever become the game its fans felt it had the potential to be?

Ultimately, the success of Red Dead Online seemed wholly dependent on how soon GTA 6 would release - as development on Rockstar's most anticipated title ramped up, resources dedicated to Red Dead Online started to dry up until providing biannual DLCs became unfeasible. 

Maybe if Rockstar Games had been pushing through consistent, high-quality content in the years leading up to this point, the game being left with minimal support wouldn't have been so negatively received, but the sad reality remains that Red Dead Online has been left as a mere fraction of its true potential and its unlikely another multiplayer western experience will ever reach it...


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