Eight hours to earn a gold bar. In the real world, where a one-ounce bar of gold will currently set you back around £950, that’s not a bad return. But in multiplayer pretend cowboy simulator Red Dead Online, which launched last week, that seemed like an atrocious deal to most players. As one complained on Reddit, “…if I wanted to deal with a shitty wage/cost-of-living ratio than I’d walk out of my front door.” Rockstar Games, the developer of Red Dead Online, has already acquiesced to players complaints by launching an update that will make it easier to earn in-game cash and gold, while prices for items are slashed.
I can see why Rockstar has been persuaded to implement quantitive easing in its virtual Wild West and enforce deflation into the market for weapons, pelts, skins and… um… horse reviver, but I’m slightly disappointed. If gamers truly want realism, give them a brutal capitalism in Red Dead Online where a can of beans costing more than a gold ring isn’t a mistake, but rather a comment on the wonky realities of supply and demand. When their horse dies, not only don’t allow them to revive it but charge them for corpse removal and burial.
When Rockstar starts allowing players to buy gold with real-world currency and use it to enhance their standing in virtual West, allow things to run so wildly out of control that the top 1% of players quickly end up hoarding more than 50% of the gold. Then go even further and ensure that 85 top players have 65 times of the wealth of the poorest players, who are then forced to rent their in-game houses and pay for their weapons and horses through expensive loan agreements.
Once Rockstar has got the realistic wealth inequality up and running, it needs to segregate the poor players from the rich ones. If it can’t put them on entirely separate servers then virtually gated towns will do just as well. To really ensure that the rich players continue to have advantages in any mission they undertake, the developers should implement an inheritance feature where a big pile of gold drops into a rich player’s virtual wallet without them actually having to do anything in-game to earn it.
Rockstar already allows Red Dead Online players to use gold to reset their morality meter, but why stop there? Make the cost of crimes much lower for rich players and punitively high for the poor ones. Throw poor players into the town jail for much longer even when they commit lesser offences. Allow the richest players to commit a crime with impunity. The richer a nasty cowpoke is in the world of Red Dead Online, the more they should be lauded and rewarded.
But, of course, if Rockstar did all these things, no one would stick with Red Dead Online. Gamers who are indignant about how long it is taking them to earn upgrades for their weapons or insurance for their horses would be outraged by the unfairness. To wipe out inequality in Red Dead Online, it just takes an update. In the real world, that’s how the system works and we’re expected to get on with playing the game.