GameTech: Stage-coach robbery with so many micro-transactions

THE old west is dead. Welcome to the new world, writes Ronan Jennings. If you ever wanted an example of modern-day cowboys, then look no further than Red Dead Online, the multiplayer version of Rockstar’s magnum (pistol) opus.

As feared, the beta of Red Dead Online is riddled with as many micro-transactions as it is bullets. We expected nothing less, especially as Red Dead Online is a free expansion to the original game.

However, what we didn’t quite expect was the sheer, farcical cost of those micro-transactions. It’s not just daylight robbery. This is daylight robbery-as-a-service.

First, a little scene-setting. Red Dead Redemption 2, like Grand Theft Auto V before it, has two separate models. The first is the single-player content, which was simply astounding in both games.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of 2018’s best single-player experiences. The second model is the online-only, multi-player mode.

The multi-player mode started as an experiment with Grand Theft Auto V, but has since gone on to become Rockster’s biggest cash cow by far.

GTA Online has made Rockstar more than a billion euros alone in the purchase of microtransactions, extras like cosmetic choices or new vehicles and property.

Which brings us to Red Dead Online, screaming ‘stand and deliver’ on a console near you. Red Dead Online is great fun with or without micro-transactions, but the game is structured to lasso ‘whales’ instead of regular players.

Upgrades like better guns and horses (which have better performance) cost a simply insane amount of ‘cash’, the in-game currency, to unlock.

For example, completing a 20-minute mission might earn you just over a dollar, while buying a new pistol costs $200 in-game cash. It’s not too difficult to figure out that upgrading simple things like guns and horses will take you hundreds of hours of playing time.

That is, of course, unless you choose to pay real money for them. Buying ‘gold’, using real money, allows you to level up your character and buy pretty much anything you want immediately.

It puts those free-spending players at a slight advantage over normal players, but it also makes regular gameplay somewhat dissatisfying. Why grind, when earning upgrades and progressing takes so long?

Red Dead Online is in beta, so we expect those prices to be lowered before official launch. However, they are so extraordinarily high now, that even if the prices were halved, the cost would still be too much.

Some players will argue there’s no harm in expensive micro-transactions in a polished, enjoyable and free online experience. However, the problem lies in how the world is changing and Rockstar’s reflection of the modern gaming landscape. The old west is dead. Long live the new cowboys.


Meanwhile, these days, saloons stream their content, which is exactly what The Game Awards will do tomorrow, from 1.30am. You can catch the Game Awards on YouTube, Twitch, Facebook; basically, anywhere that serves data.

The Game Awards has grown in stature in recent years, helped by the announcement of new games during the show’s stream.

This year, rumours suggest that Dragon Age and Death Stranding will have announcements. One way or another, the show has confirmed that ten new games will be revealed.

The awards themselves rarely gather much attention. The categories range from the obvious (Game of the Year, Best Narrative, Best Art) to more offbeat (Best eSports Coach, Best Content Creator). This year, the nominations for best game are Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Celeste, God of War, Spiderman, Monster Hunter World and Red Dead Redemption 2. While Red Dead is the hot favourite, no-one could argue with God of War edging it out.


Just Cause 4 won’t be winning many awards, but the series has won plenty of fans instead. The fourth entry doesn’t deviate much from tradition, with hero, Rico Rodriguez, fighting yet another dictator on yet another tropical island. Despite the repetition that has set in, no other series gives you the explosions, freedom over chaos, and sheer unscripted, open-world action that Just Cause delivers. You certainly won’t be playing for the story, but if there was an award for airlifting trucks into the sky and slinging them into buildings, well, there’s only one winner.

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