A new Rockstar game launching on Steam is huge news. Or at least, we always thought it was. Times change though; the industry shifts. Red Dead Redemption 2 launched on Steam on Thursday, arriving not so much with a bang but with the rasping noise emitted by a cowpoke who’s spent one too many starry nights living on canned beans. 

On its first night on Steam, Red Dead Redemption 2 peaked at just under 12,000 concurrent players. Fortunately for Rockstar, this number doubled to 24,000 by Friday. Despite this, it still means that fewer people are playing Red Dead Redemption 2 on Steam right now than are playing Civilization VI, Euro Truck Simulator 2, Monster Hunter World, or even Terraria. In fact, it’s less than a quarter of the number of people who are playing Grand Theft Auto V right now, a game which is now almost five years old.

These are absolutely not the figures we expect from a flagship Rockstar release. Compare it, if you will, to GTA 5’s release. Grand Theft Auto 5 hit a peak of 364,548 concurrent players at launch. RDR2's peak player count is just 6.5% of this figure. Look at Halo: Reach, as well. Microsoft’s shooter peaked at 161,024 Steam players despite being available on Game Pass as well. Halo Reach has sold 2 million copies in a week, making it the second biggest Steam launch of the entire year. Either something’s gone very, very wrong for Rockstar here or it speaks to a number of other potential reasons.

The first and most obvious thing is that Red Dead Redemption 2 has already been out a month on PC. You could only buy it through the Rockstar Games Launcher or the Epic Games Store but you could buy it all the same.

Epic Store ‘haters’ are very vocal but there’s been a sneaking suspicion for a while now that they are a minority, and this could lend further credence to that school of thought. The vast majority of gamers don’t frequent Reddit to put developers on blast. In fact, most probably don’t discuss games online at all. They hear about the games they want, they buy them from one of the places available to them, and that’s about it. These folks probably couldn’t help but overheard the news that Red Dead Redemption 2 was coming to PC but could definitely miss the fact it would be coming to Steam a month later. Even armed with that knowledge, the simple fact is most people simply couldn’t care less that the Rockstar Games Launcher doesn’t have community features or user reviews, it’s literally nothing more than a point of sale which sits between them and playing the game they want.

That’s not the only factor at play, of course. Some will have already played Red Dead Redemption 2 on consoles. RDR2 inherently has less mass appeal than GTA 5. Plenty will have been put off by talk of Red Dead’s poor PC performance. 

Then there’s price to consider. Paying $60 for a game on day one is one thing. We all know the feeling of wanting to get in there and play at the earliest possible moment - to ride the wave of hype. The problem is, every day after launch, that $60 price tag begins to look less and less appealing. Hype subsides and sale prices begin to enter our minds. Heck, RDR2 has already been discounted by 20% on the EGS. Not only are you waiting longer to play the game through Steam, you’re also paying more.

The fact it’s got to boot through the Rockstar Games Launcher regardless of where you buy it kind of makes the original storefront moot anyway. Why wait an entire month just add another layer through which Red Dead 2 must boot? It takes a special kind of loyalty to Steam to see it through to the bitter end.

With so many factors at play it's almost impossible to determine exactly what's going on here but this certainly isn't the huge launch we've come to expect from Rockstar. Millions of copies of Red Dead Redemption 2 may have been sold through the Rockstar Launcher and EGS for all we know, or the performance reports could've scared folks off.

Based on the information we do have then, what do you think is to blame for Red Dead's slow start on Steam? And where did you end up buying your copy? Let us know below!

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