Red Dead Online is struggling to gain momentum in spite of the impressible popularity and success of Red Dead Redemption 2's single player portion.
While Arthur's story is both critically acclaimed and popular, Red Dead Online has been facing challenges and criticisms ever since it was launched.
According to analytics site SuperData, Red Dead Online isn't just being outperformed by its cousin Grand Theft Auto Online, it's losing ground.
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The RDR2 multiplayer mode has earned 14% less revenue month-over-month in January, indicating a drop in players and engagement with "recurrent spending opportunities".
It's worth reiterating that Red Dead Online is only in its Beta phase. Over the past few months Rockstar has been accepting player feedback regarding just about every aspect of the game.
However, it seems many players are content with letting others iron out the creases, and are waiting until this Beta phase is over to start playing. While Rockstar initially stated that they reserve the right to wipe progress and characters at the end of the Beta phase, they have since corrected that and indicated that no such wipe is planned. This is reinforced by the fact that microtransactions have been made available, allowing players to spend real money to get gold bars, with which they can purchase items.
Rockstar has also started adding in new content alongside the tweaks and features, however that hasn't gone over too well. Griefing has been, and remains, a problem in Red Dead Online and an effective countermeasure has yet to be developed, which is likely a large factor in players being scared off.
Another factor may be the in-game economy, which remains rather imbalanced. The rate at which players can earn gold nuggets is disproportional to the prices of items which are available. The feeling of being backed into using microtransactions is stronger than in the case of GTA Online, even though many fans of that game would complain about the same thing.
Red Dead Online is a wholly different beast from GTA Online, but the basis of comparison is still there - both are multiplayer components attached to major AAA Rockstar Games releases. Granted, GTA Online has had over 5 years to accrue popularity and a huge player base, but under normal circumstances, a 5-year-old game is already in a downward spiral.
The shoes left by the multiplayer experience set in Los Santos are impossibly big since it is an industry outlier that broke not only records but trends and molds. It has millions upon millions of active players bolstered by over 100 million copies of the game being sold, two decades of brand recognition and even more publicity than Red Dead Redemption 2 had. Grand Theft Auto is also much less mature, and therefore more accessible to a casual audience than Red Dead.
When comparing the two games, it's not just the revenue of the Online mode that shows a gap. In January 2019, Red Dead Redemption 2 was the 8th best selling game on consoles. GTA 5 was 4th. A more than five year old game is moving more copies than one of last year's biggest hits. It was always anticipated that Red Dead Redemption 2 wouldn't match GTA 5's success due to the smaller target audience, and this data proves those anticipations correct.
We'll see if Red Dead Online picks up speed as it exits the Beta phase. Rockstar is still working on fixing issues and adding features, so the game might look a whole lot different half a year down the track than it does now. Hopefully those changes will bring the player base needed to ramp up revenue.