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Why Rockstar Won't Release Red Dead Redemption 3

Red Dead Redemption 2 was a monumental video game. Expectations were sky high for its release, considering the pedigree of developer Rockstar Games and the quality of Red Dead Redemption. Despite the monstrous pressure, Rockstar knocked it out of the park — Red Dead Redemption 2 hovers in the high 90s on Metacritic and has sold millions of copies.

Though the series has proven a smash success, it seems unlikely you will see Red Dead Redemption 3. While it may turn up far down the line, there's a strong possibility Red Dead Redemption 2 was the swan song of the series. Despite the monetary potential of a sequel, several signs indicate the franchise has seen its final sunset. Here are several reasons why Rockstar won't release Red Dead Redemption 3.

Even if Rockstar releases Red Dead Redemption 3, it's going to be awhile

Video game development, especially for projects as huge as Red Dead Redemption 2, keeps getting bigger. Granted, Rockstar released plenty of games between 2010 and 2018, but it was still an eight year wait from one Red Dead Redemption to the next. These games take time, and it seems likely the wait for Red Dead Redemption 3 would be even longer as game design grows increasingly complex.

Rockstar is not the type of developer that releases an unfinished version of its next big game into Early Access while continuing development on the fly. It does tinker with its products once released — as Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption 2 demonstrate — but those games hit the market with a level of polish that's impressive even among AAA titles. That meticulous nature would obviously find its way into the development of Red Dead Redemption 3.

This alone would not be enough to slam the door on the game — plenty of AAA titles have a long development cycle. But, there are more factors in play.

The story is told

This is likely the biggest reason Rockstar would hesitate to release Red Dead Redemption 3: the story of the Van der Linde gang has essentially resolved. In Red Dead Redemption, John Marston nearly made it to the end of the Wild West era, struggling to keep his violent past from catching up with his family. In Red Dead Redemption 2, you traveled back in time to see much of Marston's background, and who mentored him towards becoming the man he did.

If it pursued a third game (Red Dead Revolver not being a part of this discussion), Rockstar would only have two real options. It could delve further into the past, which seems a bit old hat at this point, or it could tell an entirely new story in a different location, mostly involving new people.

While the second track could work, it isn't just "the Van der Linde gang story" that has been told in Red Dead. Based on the psychology these games have explored and narrative arcs they've completed, Rockstar would probably just be rehashing a similar tale if it changed up the setting.

Rockstar has other franchises to attend to

Rockstar has had some amazing writers work on its games, so there's little doubt it could put together an entertaining yarn were it to focus on Red Dead Redemption 3. However, it would probably be better off tending to a few of its other franchises first, as there is a bit more creative room to flourish there.

Rockstar was reportedly working on a sequel to cult favorite Bully for over a year before shelving the project. The game never got off the ground because the team was focused on other projects and were unable to develop a story. Maybe after a bit of time, a return to the schoolyard could be in order.

Max Payne. Manhunt. L.A. Noire. Many of Rockstar's games have been ahead of their time and tended to outpace the technical limitations of their release. Rockstar has enough clout and reputation to do pretty much whatever it likes at this point, so a return to one of those franchises could be a huge success.

Grand Theft Auto 6 takes priority

Yes, Rockstar may want to return to a lesser-known franchise, but it also knows where its bread is buttered: the mean streets of Grand Theft Auto. Though a notoriously secretive company, Rockstar's next big title seems to be Grand Theft Auto 6. There's still no release date in sight, but if it came out in 2021, it would fit neatly into the same timetable as the Red Dead Redemption releases.

There are a lot of rumors flying around about the plot of Grand Theft Auto 6. Some pin it as a spiritual sequel to Vice City featuring the Miami stand in, as well as a new location in South America. Others have claimed that it will be set in Liberty City, or a location very much like it. Regardless, Grand Theft Auto 6 will probably dial back the serious tone a bit and return to the self-aware style that has helped make the games such a big success.

The team is likely focused entirely on Grand Theft Auto 6 and Red Dead Online at the moment — there's no room to even think about Red Dead Redemption 3.

Red Dead Redemption 2 continues to sell well

Red Dead Redemption 2 remains a massive financial success for Rockstar Games. Part of the company's path to power has been its patient development cycle — many series that have annual (or close to it) releases are often derided for being sloppy or lacking features worth the price tag. As such, Rockstar should feel no pressure to start rolling on Red Dead Redemption 3 yet.

According to Venture Beat, Red Dead Redemption 2 had sold over 29 million copies across all platforms by February 2020. On top of that, it sold almost three million copies since the previous financial quarter. That spike was due to the game finally releasing on PC, but selling three million copies during a three month span two years after a game released is a pretty impressive feat.

Some might argue Red Dead Redemption 2's PC sales numbers weren't great, but it seems possible this was because so many people already owned it and had seen a lot of what it had to offer. Rockstar doesn't need to rush into development of a sequel when the numbers on its current release are still so solid.

Red Dead Online is still evolving

Right now, all of Rockstar's Red Dead focus seems to be on Red Dead Online. Like GTA Online, the cowboy multiplayer was a bit of a mess when it first kicked off. However, Rockstar has done a great job of mixing up large content updates with consistent, smaller tweaks to make Red Dead Online better and keep it fresh.

Some of the additions have introduced entirely new ways to play the game, like December 2019's Moonshiner Update. It added an entirely new specialization, and let you become your own moonshine baron in the Old West. New cosmetics and quality of life updates are continually added as well, helping to flesh out the ecosystem of Red Dead Online and make players want to stay involved.

GTA Online and Red Dead Online are both still going strong, and Rockstar has surely taken notice. With the focus on multiplayer, a massive, single-player experience may not be a major priority.

The console cycle will be tough to time

This one is a bit speculative, but it makes sense if you follow the timeline of past releases. If Rockstar is hypothetically working on Red Dead Redemption 3, you could safely assume it's a long way off — probably at least seven or eight years, especially with Grand Theft Auto 6 taking priority.

Now, think about the console cycle. That means the expected release date for Red Dead Redemption 3 would probably hit at about the same time the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X would be reaching the end of the line. It's possible Rockstar might want to develop Red Dead Redemption 3 as an early title for the PlayStation 6 and equivalent Xbox console, but the company is a notorious perfectionist, so it would probably want to hold off a bit to get the most out of that console generation.

The console timing for Red Dead Redemption 3 is just unfortunate, giving even more reason to think the project is not anywhere near getting off the ground.

Rockstar has been criticized for its crunch culture

Rockstar certainly isn't going to stop making games anytime soon, but a project like Red Dead Redemption 3 would probably be one of the biggest undertakings it has attempted. Considering some of the bad press the company saw after the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 regarding the "crunch culture" the team was forced to work in, it may want to avoid similar controversies.

A Kotaku piece highlighted some disturbing facts about Red Dead Redemption 2's development. It mentioned the 60-100 hour weeks the team was forced to work, and that this crunch culture wasn't just limited to the last month of development. It seems likely the employees were under this intense pressure for months, even years, during the game's long development cycle.

That type of employee pressure is unsustainable in the long run. Most people would not wish to work under those conditions, especially if they'd been subjected to it before.

Rockstar's focus may shift to multiplayer titles

Rockstar pumped a lot of care and attention into GTA Online, and it paid remarkable dividends. Grand Theft Auto 5 has been around for several years, and it remains extremely popular — as of this writing, it is the sixth most popular game on Steam, behind only Counter-Strike, Dota 2, Rainbow Six Siege, ARK: Survival Evolved, and PUBG. Considering the nature of Red Dead Redemption, it seems unlikely that its counterpart, Red Dead Online, will reach that same level of popularity. That said, it's something Rockstar is trying to make happen.

A Destructoid article from September 2019 claims Rockstar has no single-player DLC planned for Red Dead Redemption 2, and instead is "100% focused on online." It put much of its development muscle into making the single-player experience a fully realized game that wouldn't need much tweaking once released into the wild. Instead, it wants to incorporate the type of storytelling found in the single-player game into the multiplayer aspect.

GTA Online and Red Dead Online may be the true future of Rockstar Games, as they continue to sell copies and breathe new life into the titles as they age.

Dan Houser stepped away from Rockstar after RDR2's release

In February 2020, Rockstar parent company Take-Two Interactive announced Dan Houser, co-founder of Rockstar Games and viewed by many as a central pillar of the company's success, would be stepping down from his position as the lead of Rockstar's creative department. His brother, Sam, who co-founded the company with him in 1998, remains president.

Though Houser isn't as well known in the mainstream as other big names in video games, the impact he has had through Rockstar is undeniable. He was a massive creative force in the company, and oversaw the rise of some of the biggest game franchises of all time during his tenure. With him stepping away from the company, who knows which direction the creative side of Rockstar Games will head?

Filling in for Houser while driving the creative direction of Red Dead Redemption 3 would be a near impossible task. Red Dead Redemption 2 is remarkable in a lot of ways, but its powerful story is perhaps its most impressive facet. Trying to pick up where Houser left off sounds like a massive challenge, one few brave souls are likely willing to attempt.