The gargantuan success of Grand Theft Auto 5 is both an achievement standing testament to the skill of the developers at Rockstar Games, and very likely a looming oppressor that instills doubt in the same developers while they work away on Red Dead Redemption 2. Even though these are two separate franchises, the upcoming Western title will inevitably be compared to GTA 5.
The previous Red Dead game, Redemption, released in 2010, has sold approximately 15 million since launch. If we were to compare GTA 5 and GTA 4 (2208), the previous title sold around 25 million units whereas 5 is currently sitting at over 80 millio,n with a good chance of hitting further milestones.
In an interview with Gamesindustry.biz, Strauss Zelnick spoke at length about Take-Two Interactive's vision of the future, and that vision includes no small expectations for Red Dead Redemption 2 . However, even they don't expect similar increases in installment to installment sales, nor do they expect sales to rival that of GTA 5.
Analysts said as much as soon as the game was officially announced. The general consensus is that Red Dead Redemption 2 will be a huge success in its own right, but will not reach the levels of overwhelming mainstream popularity that catapulted GTA 5 to the top of the sales charts.
What the team is doing is trying to make the best possible game they can, and if they succeed... Look, the reason, in my opinion, why GTA V has sold 80m units, and GTA Online had another record year 3-and-a-half years since its release, is because it stands alone in the generation. In every prior generation, there have been other titles that have clustered around GTA from a quality point-of-view. That's clearly not the case now. If you are over 17 and you have a new generation console, you have GTA. Otherwise we wouldn't have shipped 80m units. Can any other title achieve that? It seems unlikely. Do we have incredibly high hopes for Red Dead? We do. But we are not putting it in the context of GTA
That said, the shadow of GTA 5's success looms over the developers of Red Dead Redemption 2, even if it isn't being cast by their superiors. Rather, it's the community they might need to worry about. It's no secret that the gaming populace is, more than occasionally, a toxic bunch of people, and a pervasive and quite harmful misconception that any sequel that doesn't eclipse the predecessor is automatically bad is widespread. Even hitting the same bar isn't good enough, it has to be better.
Even though Red Dead Redemption 2 is a different franchise than GTA, the comparisons to 5 will be inevitable. The similarities between Red Dead Redemption and the typical GTA gameplay formula are so numerous that it's easy to draw parallels, and it has been confirmed that the two share a fictional universe (along with Manhunt).
One recent game that is widely ridiculed and considered a failure by many in spite of being a perfectly functional and highly entertaining game on its own merits is Mass Effect: Andromeda. Anywhere you look, you'll see not only fans, but critics panning the title. It has its flaws, and it is perfectly reasonable to assume some genuinely disliked it on its own merits, but far too much of the hate directed at it stems from not one-upping the original trilogy.
Generally, players and critics all agree that GTA 5 is an absolutely fantastic game with massive entertainment value. If Red Dead Redemption 2 turns out to be a very good, or even "just" a great game, you can bet some will write it off as a disappointment after GTA 5.
Nonetheless, signs are pointing to a better future. In most recent cases, game delays have often characterized titles that ended up being well received - The Witcher 3 pops to mind, which was delayed several times, and ended up grabbing Game of the Year awards across two years. Somehow.
Rockstar's near spotless track recording when it comes to genre and generations defining masterpieces and legendary classics coupled with the general assumption that the delay will result in a more polished title is looking very good for Red Dead Redemption 2. In terms of sales, on the other hand - well, the facts that the game is grabbing so many headlines this far out from launch, even though we only have a handful of screenshots and a cinematic trailer speak for themselves.
That said, some fans are worried about the extent of influence GTA 5's success will have on the structure of the upcoming Western epic. GTA Online, the game's popular multiplayer component, has been getting all the post-launch content, and the microtransaction system has, in the opinions of some, resulted in a grindy gameplay experience. One of Zelnick's comments can sound a tad worrying in this regard.
[...]Obviously we know what Rockstar tends to do. And Rockstar's activities have been transformed by Grand Theft Auto Online
"Transformed" by GTA Online. That's pretty telling what kind of direction the developers are looking at for their future games. It is possible that the delay of Red Dead Redemption 2 could be at least in part attributed to further effort being put into the multiplayer mode, Red Dead Online, which Rockstar announced alongside the main game. The direction they tale is the key here from a fan's perspective.
The Zelnick interview branched out into more general fields regarding Take-Two's plans for doing business. With the new release date for the upcoming Western being somewhere in early 2018, the release schedule for 2017 is sparse. No Rockstar titles and very few 2K releases means this is a quiet year for Take-Two, much more quiet than they would like. The company planned on releasing at least one non-sports AAA title each year. In 2016, they released more than 6, and this year, none.
2K had a really good season this past year, but it was, for the company, still relatively thin. And it didn't help that Battleborn wasn't a big success. So part of it is the level of success, part of it is the schedule, and part of it is finding the human resources to actually take the intellectual property that we own and bring them to market. Those are an array of challenges, juxtaposed against the uncertainty of how long it takes to make a AAA title, which means we can find ourselves in fiscal 2018 with a much thinner schedule than we'd like
Battleborn is Take-Two's entry into a rapidly growing industry segment which marries the genres of MOBAs and team-based shooters. Other examples include Overwatch, Paladins and Paragon. Anyone following gaming news will know that Blizzard's Overwatch has been leading the pack by a massive margin.
2K was really busy with game releases last year, including major titles like XCOM 2, Mafia 3 and Civilisation VI, however their schedule doesn't have anything major lined up for the latter half of 2017. Likely, this is in part a planned move, as Take-Two wanted as little clutter surrounding Red Dead Redemption 2's release as possible, allowing their flagship release to get all the limelight it needs.
However, the delay seemingly messed up that plan, and instead of going strong with a heavy hitter they're now looking at an empty year. Of course, this curse for them comes as a blessing for other publishers. Red Dead Redemption 2 is sure to steal the scene whenever it finally arrives, so from that point of view it isn't an issue for Take-Two, they just like planning other releases accordingly.
obviously fiscal 2019 will look much better with the launch of Red Dead 2 and a huge new title from 2K, as well as the 2K Sports titles, catalogue, recurrent consumer spending, NBA2K Online in China, Social Point and the like. We've already said that fiscal 2019, which isn't that far away, is $2.5bn net sales minimum, £700m cash flow from our operations minimum... that's pretty consequential
Take-Two is looking to expand in the coming years into new market segments. We reported some time ago that many properties were licensed for film production, and that the company acquired established mobile developer Social Point. Additionally, Take-Two is trying to tap the creative resources of the indie sphere through acquisitions (Kerbal Space Program) or by entering joint projects, publishing and funding indie talent to turn their concepts into AAA productions.
The aspect of these plans that will soonest reach fruition is, without a doubt, the mobile segment. Rockstar Games has already been porting old titles such as Bully and 3D era GTA games to mobile devices, however soon we'll be seeing original content as well. Thing is, it likely won't be based on Rockstar IP, but rather franchises from the 2K catalogue. David Ismailer, President of 2K, elaborated on this.
Our focus right now is on our core two brands - NBA and WWE. Once we get those better positioned, I think there might be an opportunity to leverage some of our other brands in the mobile space
This means that getting any new portable GTA titles in the vein of Chinatown Wars, or even a mobile Red Dead game, will likely remain a dream for many years to come. That said, the possibility is greater than it was ever before, so at least we're getting there.
In fact, there are some segments of the community who believe that in spite of expectations, Red Dead Redemption 2 might explode to become something far greater in terms of influence. We've said ourselves that generally speaking, the Red Dead IP speaks to a different market segment as GTA does. GTA is the very embodiment of the mainstream, whereas Red Dead is still mostly a core gaming property with little mainstream reach.
If we assume GTA Online represents the future for that franchise, it means GTA will fully embrace the mainstream direction. In this case, Rockstar might use the Red Dead IP to maintain a hold on the core gaming audience, and use it as a vehicle to offer what GTA 5 didn't - more focus on single player content, by which we mean DLC. If Red Dead takes on the mantle of Rockstar's flagship IP while GTA is repurposed to be their mainstream revenue source, spin-off and branching cross-media products could follow, such as mobile games.
Naturally, all of this is speculation, and unfortunately, some of Zelnick's comments once again seem to speak against it. He is very much aware that Take-Two has shifted priorities from the core gaming segment to a much wider audience.
We have gone from a company that focuses on hardcore gamers, to an entertainment enterprise that is expressed through interactive entertainment primarily, but there may be other areas that has nothing to do with games. I would argue that the league really has nothing to do with interactive entertainment, because it will be linear entertainment for most of the people involved. They're watching it, they're not interacting with it. We're not calling it a different market, but that is what it is
Not only are core gamers no longer the primary audience, but the audience as a whole now includes non-gamers. This is a direction that was made abundantly clear with the way GTA Online evolved over the course of three years, but Red Dead Redemption 2 will be the true indicator of what kind of a company Take-Two has become since then.
At the end of the day though, to the Red Dead fans, all of this means two things: Red Dead Redemption 2 may turn out to be a much more multiplayer and mainstream oriented title than many long-time fans expect, and that Take-Two's desire to release more games more frequently is aimed primarily at 2K and the new mobile market, not Rockstar. Chances are the time between the next Red Dead game after Redemption 2 will be as long, if not longer, as it was between 2010's title and the upcoming one.