Red Dead Online Moonshiners

Red Dead Online has a problem

It feels weird complaining about a game I don’t have to pay a subscription for, but Red Dead Online has a problem – and I’m not talking about the “griefers”.

Red Dead Online has a population problem that’s gradually become more annoying as time goes by. I hate wagons, so I’ve stuck to the Collector role, which means I’ve been fairly insulated from this issue, but it seems like, ever since the Frontier Pursuits update (in September last year), Red Dead Online has become more and more empty, for some people. Obviously, it’s not all people, or it would’ve been fixed by now.

Basically, when there’s more than 17 people in a session, all the fun, random events that bring the game’s gorgeous world alive become few and far between. This includes things like random stranger encounters, ambushes, hideouts, and animal spawns.

I’ve noticed the lack of random encounters on my Daily Challenge runs, but I witnessed the animal spawn issue in obvious action, recently, as the, previously barren, bayou suddenly became infested with alligators, and herons, and turtles (oh my). I checked the player count and it had dropped from the average 22-24 players to just 17.  It was a short-lived gatorpocalypse, however, as they all disappeared once the player count went back to normal. I then stood around for over an hour, for the sake of journalism, to see if the gators might return.

Red Dead Gator Watch 2020
Gator Watch 2020

They did not.

Everyone in the region wanted to play Xbox RDO at 2pm on a Monday, apparently. Don’t you people have jobs? Or school? Or lives?

The theory is that, with all the content in the game, consoles and PCs alike are struggling to keep that big ol’ open world going when sessions are full. Why would this even be a thing? Glad you asked.

Rockstar has no dedicated servers for Red Dead Online, other than the server that retains your persistent information like your username, posse, or the amount of gold you’ve accumulated. The game instead relies on a peer-to-peer system, meaning all the players’ consoles/PCs in a session are interconnectedly responsible for keeping track of all the content going on in the game. This is the same system Rockstar uses for Grand Theft Auto Online and that is used by a number of other online multiplayer games.

It’s a pretty good system, generally, but RDO is big and full of complicated AI, tracking, and amongst other things, all the pretty (and currently pointless) wild horses having a frolic.

Why does this even matter? You can still shoot people, even if there aren’t any animals. Yes, and some people do, but advancement in the Trader role, introduced as part of the Frontier Pursuits, relies on animal spawns and a whole lot of people actually like the Trader role (not me, because wagons). Also, all that other random stuff is what makes the game, y’know, fun.

More importantly, though, this is just one in a long list of complaints players have about their experience with Red Dead Online.

Some of the more obnoxious issues:

  • The abundance of hackers and cheaters on PC
  • Frequent disconnects “due to a fault on Rockstar game services”
  • Infinite loading screens
  • Inability to pitch camp and the camp despawning when it does

You can check out the Red Dead Online subreddit for the full list.

If Rockstar doesn’t address these issues soon, or at least communicate the ways in which they are trying to fix things (which they certainly are), the online portion of the game could see mass abandonment, as long-time fans give up and wander over to more dystopian pastures (cough, Cyberpunk 2077, cough).

Which is fine, because that’ll free up space for me to continue moseying around the Heartlands, watching sunsets, and hording antique gin, living my best Disney princess life with all that wildlife scampering at my feet.

A 70ft Charlize Theron stands watch over Warsaw