As the Red Dead Redemption II launch approaches a reader wonders why other publishers are so slow to learn the lessons of Rockstars success.
Maybe you already heard, but Red Dead Redemption II is coming out next week. Its probably going to be the biggest game of the year (if you dont count Fortnite) and its impending massiveness is so obvious to even rival publishers that theyve all got out of its way and left the release schedules wide open for it.
This alone shows how much other publishers understand the appeal and inevitable success of Rockstars games, so the question I want to explore for this Readers Feature is why do none of them ever copy the very clear lessons they offer?
Grand Theft Auto has had a huge influence on other games, of course, but we havent really had a direct clone since Watch Dogs and nobody has dared to copy any of the new features from GTA V. Despite it being the best-selling game ever and selling 100 million copies.
This alone is crazy but its actually fairly normal for games publishers. They all copy each other the second they get a good idea but theyre actually surprisingly reticent about copying the real market leaders. The top 20 best-selling games list is almost 50% Nintendo and yet, like Rockstar, its years since there was any kind of rush to clone their games.
You could say the same for Sony, whos hard enormous success with their single-player games this gen but dont seem to have inspired anyone else to pursue a similar path.
The implication seems to be that publishers and developers know theyre not good enough to compete with these gold star companies and so dont even try. That still seems a little odd to me, given how rarely Rockstar and Nintendo actually release a new game, but at least it makes some kind of sense. But what about everything else?
As Ive already mentioned Rockstar, dont release games very often and that means its usually at least five years between major Grand Theft Auto sequels (Nintendo also generally only has one or two sequels per generation in each franchise). This means a real hunger builds up for a new entry, of the sort youd never get for the likes of Call Of Duty or Assassins Creed. So why do other companies make new games so often?
Black Ops 4 seems really good but if that was Epic Games theyd carry on adding content, maps, and extras for as long as it stayed popular. But with Acitvision theyll be promoting the follow-up within six months! The more sequels are spread out the more they tend to sell when they arrive and the less chance there is of a franchise burning out early, but why do so few companies realise this?
Microtransactions and games as a service are the big buzzwords at the moment, with many publishers trying desperately to take advantage of them, but Rockstar has been sitting pretty with GTA Online for years. Its consistently popular because the content is always being updated and the microtransactions are fair, not exactly a complicated formula for success. So why does no one else do it?
Sure, GTA Online must cost a fortune to make and maintain but EA and Activision, to name but two, are bigger companies that Take-Two so they could easily afford it if they had the nerve. And thats probably the answer to a lot of these questions: they dont have the nerve to go all out and so just go for the safe option every time.
Rockstar though isnt afraid to spend money, instead afraid to delay games, and releases them whenever it wants – whether its the Christmas rush or not. If youve got confidence in your game being good that all makes sense, but many publishers seem to act shocked when their games get bad reviews and I genuinely think they have no idea how to judge the quality of what their developers are making.
You ask anyone why they like Rockstar games and theyll say its because theyre good (seems obvious but it doesnt explain the success of things like Assassins Creed), theyre cool and irreverent (Rockstar is not only not political correct but its also highly satirical, and not afraid to feature as much violence and sex as it can legally get away with), and the graphics/production values are excellent.
It takes talent, money, and time to achieve this, but nothing more. Theres no secret recipe beyond treating your customers with respect, instead of cash cows that have to be milked as quickly as possible. If companies havent learnt that by now though I doubt they ever will. Even after Red Dead Redemption II is a huge success…
By reader Terry Gold
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