Hello, and welcome to Gaming Respawn’s regular feature, Primal Screen. Every Friday I’ll take an in-depth look at something in the world of film, TV and video games, ranging from the little details that really make them work to genre-spanning trends. Basically, just whatever’s got me fired up that week. This week, a look at the positive impacts of Rockstar delaying Red Dead Redemption 2.
There wasn’t much competition for this week’s biggest gaming story, with Rockstar Games’ Monday (22nd May) announcement that Red Dead Redemption 2 would be delayed from from fall/autumn 2017 to spring 2018 setting the internet ablaze with reaction, rumour and analysis. It’s a reaction that’s only afforded to a few developers and reflects the fact that whichever year they are released in, Rockstar games transcend the industry, not only dominating the year for hardcore gamers but also reaching the casual buy-a-handful-of-games-a-year types. A Red Dead Redemption sequel has also been a long time coming, the original game released way back in 2010 and, ever since, fans have been clamouring for a return to the lawless Old West and the sharpshooting days of yesteryear. On Twitter at least, the reaction to the delay was largely positive, of course fans, were disappointed, but most noted that the new screenshots released as part of the announcement showed a stunning-looking game, and the majority basically said they trusted Rockstar to make the right decision.
Those looking at the bottom line were less impressed, the stock of parent company Take-Two Interactive falling by 10% in the wake of the delay as investors got jittery about the new Red Dead missing the coveted run-up to the Christmas sales window. On Tuesday (23 May), the release of strong fourth quarter results righted the ship, a year-on-year net income increase from $46.4 million to $99.3 million a timely reminder that the company really knows what it’s doing. As part of the fourth quarter results conference call, we also learnt that a new 2K game is coming this year, and the new Red Dead release date was narrowed to fiscal year 2019 which, rather confusingly, means no later than 1st April 2018 (famous last words). While, on one level, the initial negative investor reaction was understandable, I do think that it underestimates the way that a Rockstar release creates its own momentum, its own unstoppable publicity juggernaut, to the extent that some gamers are probably now awaiting spring 2018 with even greater anticipation than Christmas. It’s possible that a holiday season release would push sales slightly higher, but overall, it’s hard to dispute Take-Two President Strauss Zelnick’s claim that the launch window for Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t really matter.
Behind closed doors, the delay announcement no doubt had practically every single other developer with a game releasing in the fall breathing a sigh of relief or dancing a jig. This is good news for almost everyone else (mega sport franchises are probably not affected one way or the other), Rockstar releasing in the crowded run-up to the holiday season was inevitably going to overshadow everyone else’s efforts, monopolising press coverage, publicity, players’ time and, most importantly, their wallets. We’ve already got Call of Duty going back to World War II, Destiny 2, Star Wars: Battlefront II, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Days Gone and the Uncharted spin-off; all of which are either confirmed or rumoured to be releasing between the end of August and Christmas, and a couple of blockbusters will no doubt be added to the list after E3. Even without Red Dead 2’s shadow looming over the whole thing, it already seems like too many games, too little time, and while it remains to be seen just which titles will suffer the same fate as Titanfall 2 did last year (a great game that was almost ignored in favour of Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare), there will undoubtedly be some high-profile casualties once more.
It seemed like the big beneficiary of the Red Dead 2 delay was going to be Ubisoft, with gamers desperate for wide open spaces and a violent journey in rural America likely to plump for Far Cry 5. However, the reveal trailer released today (26th May) told us two things: That we’ll be fighting against a right-wing militia/cult in the American Midwest, and that Far Cry 5 is releasing on 27th Feb 2018. Given that we know that Red Dead 2 is, currently at least, hitting shelves no later than the beginning of April, it looks like Ubisoft’s latest open-world adventure is going to launch only weeks before Rockstar’s opus. This is a brave strategy for a franchise whose interest levels seem to be on the wane, and it’s fair to say few tears would be shed at Ubi Towers were Red Dead 2 delayed once more.
For their part, retailers seem fairly confident that the sales that would have gone to Red Dead 2 will simply go to other games instead, with GameStop executives recently saying that Call of Duty: WWII or Destiny 2 might benefit from an increase in sales. To me, that doesn’t seem like an obvious overlap, but it’s entirely possible that Red Dead is one of those franchises that transcends genre and setting and is embraced by almost everyone from FPS fans to adventure aficionados. In such a scenario, rather than one game being boosted by the absence of Red Dead 2, the whole industry should get a boost, with various titles competing on a playing field that, while not exactly even, is not entirely dominated by one title.
As well as being good for the industry, the delay should also be good for gamers, it livens up what is often a pretty lacklustre spring schedule and is an important step away from the notion that a big game must be released in that end of August to mid-December period that generally ends up being unbearably congested. Going by previous Rockstar titles, Red Dead Redemption 2 will be an experience you won’t want to rush, you’ll want to check out the side missions, search for collectibles in every nook and cranny, track down every NPC, and just generally check out Rockstar’s latest vision of the Old West in all its epic, blood-soaked glory. It would, of course, be possible to do this if the game released in the fall, but there’d be a million potential distractions being written about and talked about, big hitters and shiny new things all tempting you away from your Western odyssey. Whatever you do, you’ll feel like you’re missing out, either on all the games released while you focus on Red Dead 2, or having to fit your Western sessions in between galactic battles (Destiny 2), military operations (COD: WWII), or Orc-slaying (Shadow of War) and getting a compromised experience as a result. A spring release, on the other hand, gives Rockstar’s creation room to breathe, you can truly dive into the world, safe in the knowledge that, at worst, you’ll only miss out on a couple of big releases at launch.
Of course, most of this is pretty incidental, Rockstar didn’t delay Red Dead Redemption 2 because it wanted to benefit the industry, escape a crowded fall schedule, or give gamers something to really look forward to in traditionally fallow gaming months, it did it because it is absolutely committed to making the best game it possibly can. It’s a decision that should be applauded in an age of spreadsheets, focus groups and rushed releases, a clear signal that Rockstar and Take-Two are committed to fully realising their creative vision and have an uncompromising artistic obsession with the quality of what they produce. Yes, they should arguably stop announcing planned release dates so far in advance, and yes, they have developed a reputation for delaying every single game they make, but few would argue that the sublime experiences that eventually emerge aren’t worth the wait. That is the ultimate reason why this latest Rockstar delay should be celebrated by every true gamer.