There’s a fine line between a in-game economy meant to reward intense play and one meant to suction dollars out of your wallet like a hooker at a vacuum salesman convention.

Wait. I didn’t word that correctly. Hope I didn’t offend anyone there.

What I meant to say was that there’s no fine line at all. As gamers, we know when an extra-grindy in-game economy is a ploy to get you to spend real cash for imaginary currency.

That’s why I’m worried about Red Dead Online.

A lot of gamers are concerned that Red Dead Online’s monetization is going to be greedier than Grand Theft Auto Online. If you didn’t know, GTA Online has reportedly made over $6 Billion.

If GTA Online’s profit model is the one Red Dead Online is emulating, than we’re in for the kind of greed that would embarrass a Gilded Age robber baron as he lit a cigar with a hundred dollar bill before knocking up the Irish parlor maid.

Obviously, I have some issues with the in-game economy. But first, let’s get through the necessary disclaimers:

  • Red Dead Redemption 2 is an incredible game. It’s likely to be the Game of the Year for the vast majority of critics, pundits and so-called gaming influencers.
  • If you like every part of the game (including the part I am about to criticize) then good for you. I am happy you love it. I only ask that you contemplate the possibility that not everyone wants to spend hours killing hundreds of bears and selling the pelts like some 1860’s syphilitic French trapper – or is that redundant?
  • Finally, I am going to to be using a lot of exaggeration and hyperbole, so please refrain from to pinging me to death with metrics and your personal facts. Your time would be better spent researching the word “hyperbole.” Or eating ice cream. Or getting on the treadmill to work off that ice cream. Or texting that girl you met last week so that you can find out if she really gave you the number to Sammy’s Sub Shop in Hoboken. In other words, your time would be better spent doing literally anything other than sending nitpicky messages when I already explained that I was exaggerating.

At the time this was written, everything we knew about the monetization was based on a BETA of Red Dead Online. They promised things would change and soon. But regardless of whatever promises and optimistic pronouncements might be out there, it has to be said: the state of the economy in the Red Dead Online beta was insane.

Let’s start by looking at Rockstar and Take Two’s golden goose, GTA Online. GTA online, for all its billions in profits, doesn’t have a two currency system. Red Dead Online does. And that’s where things get hinky.

Two currency systems are pretty much synonymous with mobile and free-to-play games. You know, the games that have a hyper-aggressive monetization tied to a direct cash value currency. Whether it’s diamonds or gems or super-special-vanguard-points … or gold bars, like in Red Dead online, this system sets off alarm bells for experienced gamers.

The problem is that Red Dead Online has a $60 entry fee, e.g. the price of the base game. You have to shell out $60 before you even load up Red Dead Online. My theory is that the Red Dead Online release was staggered so most people would not notice the gatekeeping price tag/

If Red Dead Online was a free-to-play add-on, I would have no issues with the economy. But that’s not the situation here. So defending this game based on how free-to-play games operate is a non-starter.

Of course, some people are compelled to defend poor corporate decisions. I’ve noticed some defenders claim that the two currency system is fine: “It’s easy to make money, all you have to do is hunt.”

For starters, the pricing system in this game is bizarre. Because of the 2 tier currency system – and the fact that no one wants to pay $20 for a shiny buffalo nickel – they’ve ramped up the prices to modern levels.

There’s no way to gloss over that. It’s just plain stupid. Talk about breaking suspension of disbelief, then kicking it in the balls and taking its mom on a date to Hooters. You just came from the story, where you bust your ass for three bucks. Now, you’re expected to shell out hundreds of dollars for a shotgun. One minute, you’re hanging out with guys who reuse coffee grounds. The next, Jay-Z just stuck you with the dinner bill.

Online, you can find dozens of memes mocking the exchange rate in the game. For example, a Golden Wedding band is worth less than a Can of Beans.

Yes, this is a video game and no one is expecting it to be hyper-realistic, but in its current state, Red Dead Online is a massive grind fest. Unless you are a hardcore, unemployed person with tons of free time or an 11-year-old, no one has time for that.

And the advice on how to make money in the game only proves how messed up it is. Said advice boils down to one thing: hunting, hunting and more hunting. Do I really have to be the one to point out that this is not a fun way to spend your time? And that it’s an example of intentionally tedious design meant to prompt you tol buy currency? Even though you’ve already bought the game? Doesn’t that seem a little … well … greedy?

Paul Tassi of Forbes.com said it best in an article titled “‘’Red Dead Online’ Could Cost Rockstar A Billion Dollars If It Doesn’t Fix Its Economy Quickly”:

“The entire economy seems broken to the point where it’s hard to know what Rockstar was thinking releasing it in this state. I mean I know what they were thinking. By making a two-tiered currency with cash and gold bars, the bars will eventually be sold in the store as shortcuts to pretty much everything, including many of the best outfits/horses/weapons in the game.”

This is a simple setup to boost the in-game currency sales. Just cruising Reddit, I found a clear divide between people who think it’s fine and people who don’t.  Look, if you’re fine with it, we’ll give you a cookie or whatever. But be honest. Wouldn’t you rather NOT have the game be a choice between pay-to-win or massive grind? What kind of masochist says, “Oh, I’m totally okay with spending my hours grinding to buy a can of beans. That sounds great. No, no really. It’s super fun. I don’t want you to improve my experience. I enjoy the feeling that my life is being slowly wasted because I don’t like to pay for a game three times in order to really experience it.”

In my opinion, a game with an online multiplayer mode needs several diversified play options for balance. If only one of them is viable, that is simply poor design. And the thinking behind it is short-sighted.

After the first wave of feedback, Rockstar released a statement saying they would be making changes based on the Beta response. But it was vague. It didn’t commit to specific changes. It didn’t go far enough. So I think this is the time to add more constructive criticism. It’s nice seeing Paul Tassi, SkillUp and Jim Sterling also challenging this design.

Let’s not be complacent. Let Rockstar and Take Two know that we’re not okay with this system.

Because if we learned anything from GTA Online, Red Dead Online is going to be around for years to come. If we don’t draw a line in the sand now, we’re going to be stuck hunting bear pelts until we all die of boredom. Or until we get banned from the game for bitching about the pay-to-win assholes who dash by on their Arabian steeds and don’t know the value of sweat, hard work, and 142 days spent hunting goddamn bear pelts.

So please excuse me I need to go hunt for a few hours, cowboy outfits don’t pay for themselves.

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