Stats Show Red Dead Redemption 2 Leaves Big Holiday Sequels in the Dust

By Mark Delaney,
The holiday season is famous for bringing a barrage of major AAA titles each and every year. Often these games are sequels, naturally, as they're low-risk projects for studios and publishers looking for a sure thing. 2018 is different, though, and our site stats tell the story. Rockstar Games left a cowboy-shaped crater in this year's holiday calendar, and all other major sequels that released within a few weeks of Red Dead Redemption 2 were in the blast radius. In examining six other big video game sequels launching this holiday, we found that every single one of them suffered early adoption numbers worse than their respective predecessors.

For this exercise, we compared 10-day player counts for all the involved games, and no game was able to overcome the trend. The first game we looked at was Assassin's Creed Odyssey, which came one year after last year's TA Game of the Year, Assassin's Creed Origins. Odyssey was actually the best performer of all the games we looked at for this story, and even then its post-launch trajectory fizzled our quite remarkably. Origins opened with 13,300 players on TA day one and by day 10 it had nearly doubled its player count with 25,500 players. Comparatively, Odyssey debuted higher — the only game in this story to do so — with 16,600 players, but a week and a half later it had only managed to gather another 50% of those players, sitting at 24,000 and falling short of Origins' totals in the same span.

Next we looked at Call of Duty. Last year's Call of Duty: WWII opened at 40,500 and climbed to 67,100 by day 10. This year's Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, launching just a few weeks before RDR2, debuted with just 24,100 players and finished with 45,600 players a week and a half later, a number not much higher than WWII's day one count. It's notable that this is a game that went out of its way to launch before Red Dead. The normal first week of November window occupied by Call of Duty for years and years was vacated so it could launch two weeks before Rockstar's sequel instead. One must imagine how these numbers may have looked if it came out in its usual week.

Following that came four more games which launched after Red Dead Redemption 2, and in each case, these games suffered even worse launches than the two aforementioned juggernauts. First there was HITMAN 2, which debuted with 3,600 and ended with an even 6,000 on day 10. Its predecessor, 2016's simply titled HITMAN, launched with 4,400 players and hit 7,300 players after 10 days. Hitman is a good example of a series with a strong following that would be expected lose out to the even bigger games in the holiday shopping season in any given year. The only difference is now this year the biggest releases also couldn't compete. Rockstar dwarves all competition.

Then came Battlefield V, which started with 17,900 players and crawled to just 24,100 over the next 10 days. Compare those numbers to 2016's Battlefield 1, which opened with 47,200 players and closed with 66,300 players. BFV was delayed to its November 20th launch date, and was originally slated for the week before Red Dead. The delay was announced to be for performance reasons, but one has to wonder whether its original date would've been better or worse.

E3 screenshotsNot even juggernauts like Call of Duty and Battlefield could withstand the Red Dead Effect

Then a sequel few could've expected arrived in the form of Darksiders III. It debuted on site with the quietest launch among games in this data sample with just 1,900 players. By day nine it had trudged its way to another 1,000 players and sat at 2,936 and astoundingly added none over the last day. Those numbers also look really rough when compared to Darksiders II, which started at 4,700 and climbed mightily to 13,300 by the tenth day. It's a bad sign for the series when you consider how much TA has grown since Darksiders II released in 2012. With so many more players on site in the past six years, you'd reasonably expect to see these numbers much closer, if not even higher for the latest game.

By this point, as we were tracking the data day by day, the narrative wrote itself. Games were struggling to stay relevant in the season of Rockstar Games. We decided to wait a few more days just to see if Just Cause 4 could buck the trend and outperform its predecessor as the last major release of the season. It couldn't. In fact, its downward spiral is among the worst in this study. JC4 debuted at 2,400 players and closed out with 3,800 players. Like Odyssey, it managed just another 50% of its players over nine days, only the scale was much smaller in this case. Just Cause 3, meanwhile, opened at 6,900 players in 2015 and nearly doubled that in its 10-day study, finishing with 13,300 players.

Red Dead Redemption 2Rockstar took aim at the entire holiday calendar.

No exceptions, no one bucked the trend. In every case, these major holiday launches failed to perform as well or better than their respective predecessors. Often times the falls were stark. Surely, each case must take into account other extenuating circumstances too. Assassin's Creed Origins came after two years away for the franchise, while Odyssey arrived just a year later, so perhaps some fan anticipation had wavered. Black Ops 4 offers no story mode, and that tends to be an important factor here on TA. Battlefield tends to have a hard enough time stacking up to Call of Duty even without Rockstar's help. But then there are other factors that don't help these games look better. You can get a portion of Hitman 2 for free and thus be counted among the players tracked on site. Darksiders III, as niche as it may seem in comparison to most of the games in this story, was a highly anticipated and once unlikely sequel for series fans.

Along with these hard to measure variables there still remains one constant, and its name is Red Dead Redemption 2. In a world where most players aren't likely to buy several games for full price at launch, it was simply a numbers game. People were overwhelmingly ready to shell out the $60 for Rockstar's western, and that purchase seems to have come at the expense of other games they may have purchased. We knew Red Dead was a pop culture milestone and made for a record-setting launch, but putting these numbers on display highlights just how much of a hit other games take when something this big comes along. There truly is no studio that stops the gaming industry in its tracks the way Rockstar does, and whatever they release next, likely years from now, it'll be interesting to see just how wide a berth every other publisher gives them.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for GameSkinny, Gamesradar and the Official Xbox Magazine. He runs the family-oriented gaming site Game Together.
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