Why Red Dead Redemption 2 shouldn't be on Switch

Rockstar's latest cowboy opus has no place on Nintendo's handheld-console hybrid.

5 minutes & 58 seconds read time

Not every game should come to Nintendo's Switch platform, especially Rockstar's biggest game yet.

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In a recent interview with Forbes, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime talked about the possibility of RDR2 on the Switch. Fils-Aime said he'd love to see Red Dead Redemption 2 on the Switch, and one of the main reasons it's not on the system is because it was in dev before the Switch itself. This prompted lots of articles divulging somewhat misleading info that RDR2 could've come to the Switch in the first place. But it's very likely the game was never planned for a Switch release. Bringing the Western to the limited handheld-console would be quite an undertaking, so much that it really just doesn't fit the system (both technically and literally).

There's many reasons why big games like Red Dead Redemption 2 shouldn't come to the Switch, but for clarification's sake we'll be talking about why Rockstar likely won't adapt their cowboy adventure to the platform. Let me preface this by saying this is an opinion-style article based around what I know about Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive's business model, and I'm not knocking the Nintendo Switch. Many games have come to the system--and many more will follow--but not every AAA title has a place on the handheld combo.

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First off we have the biggest reason: Red Dead Redemption 2 was built from scratch for the current console generation. This of course includes the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 family of consoles.

The decision to tackle consoles first is a two-fold business opportunity: consoles have a huge install base and represent most of Take-Two Interactive's earnings, and it gives Rockstar a platform to test out its massive Red Dead Online framework. The latter is very, very important for Take-Two and Rockstar, and remains yet another reason why RDR2 probably won't come to Switch (more on that later).

For example, Take-Two made $372,240 million in FY Q2'19 from consoles, or 76% of total platform split earnings. PC pulled in just $120,427 million.

Even if the Switch were in development during RDR2's principal work, it's highly likely the developer would pass on the system. The Switch's limited Tegra X1 hardware simply doesn't have the horsepower required to spin Red Dead Redemption 2's Western magic. The game was built to tap the full brunt of today's console hardware, whether it be a stock PS4 or the beastly Xbox One X, pushing each respective system to its limits to show off the massively detailed world.

Red Dead Redemption 2's world is probably the most incredibly detailed in-game environment that I've ever seen. There's so much emphasis on visuals and realism, from the shadows and lighting to animal behaviors and richly-designed towns and natural landscapes, the game shines with passion and care. All of this was made possible by Rockstar's talented team who built a game specifically for two console platforms.

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Even on more powerful console hardware the game has FPS dips here and there and is capped at 30FPS. How would it even run on the Switch? There'd have to be significant trade-offs and development sorcery to get a huge game like RDR2 running on the Switch platform in a stable way, which could ultimately mar the experience and take away from Rockstar's grand vision.

Switch ports are often compromised in certain ways, whether it be technical, conceptual, or feature-related. There's typically trade-offs involved when a big game is ported to the system, which is to be expected given its hardware power disparity. Because of this alone I think there's a very, very slim chance bigger games like GTA V or Red Dead Redemption 2 will ever come to the system.

What's more is that the Switch runs games at lower performance when on-the-go, which would impact gameplay even more. When docked the Switch's Tegra X1 is amped up to provide more power, sometimes hitting 1080p 60FPS in certain games. While in handheld mode the Switch typically runs games at 720p ~30FPS or thereabouts.

Given the work that'd be involved and the compromises that must be made, bringing Red Dead Redemption 2 to the Switch is simply not worth it.

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Also there's RDR2's huge install size. The game requires two discs to play on PS4 and Xbox One, and takes up a whopping 89GB on PS4. It was so big it took over 90 minutes to install on my console. This simply isn't feasible for a portable console, even if it were scaled back in size. And if it were scaled back in size, that means the content could be cut or the visuals could be downgraded in some way--something that Rockstar really doesn't want to do.

Furthermore, RDR2 is selling quite well on PS4 and Xbox One as it is.

It's already a huge revenue earner in full game sales alone with $725 million earned in just 3 days. The biggest incentive to bring the game to Switch is to sell more units, but the dev and production costs along with the possible performance impact is likely seen as a detrimental trade-off for more sales.

Last but not least we have another huge reason RDR2 doesn't belong on the Switch: the system's online framework simply isn't stable enough for long-term monetization in the scale Rockstar and Take-Two have in mind.

Red Dead Online, RDR2's GTA Online-like multiplayer mode, is perhaps the game's biggest asset insofar as wider revenues. Take-Two has earned over $1 billion from GTA Online's microtransactions since its release, and the publisher obviously wants to try this out in RDR2 (Rockstar is also in favor of RDO because it gets bonuses and makes more money via live services).

Now I have no way of knowing if Nintendo's Switch Online infrastructure could even handle Red Dead Online or not, so when I say the framework isn't stable enough, I mean as a whole and not necessarily technically. We've heard bits and pieces about non-dedicated P2P servers causing lag and some issues in certain games, but then again huge titles like Warframe have crossed over to the Switch.

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Remember the Switch install base, while at a respectable 22.86 million units sold as of September 30, is still eclipsed by the PS4's and Xbox One's. This simply means there's likely to be less people playing Switch games online than there are on Xbox and PS4. And if there's less people playing online, there will be less people playing Red Dead Online, and more importantly, less people to monetize with optional in-game purchases.

It's important to keep all of these things in mind when asking publishers for Switch ports. Gaming is a billion dollar business, but those billions didn't happen by accident, but with careful observation, planning, and maintenance of specific lucrative segments like service games.

Take-Two and Rockstar are masters at their respective crafts (monetization and game development) so if it doesn't make sense to bring a game to a platform in a business frame of mind, it probably won't happen.

From where I sit, RDR2 just has no place on the Nintendo Switch. Maybe when Nintendo grows the install base and beefs up the console's power with a Supplemental Computing Device add-on box or GeForce Now servers we'll see specific demanding games cross over.

Derek joined the TweakTown team in 2015 and has since reviewed and played 1000s of hours of new games. Derek is absorbed with the intersection of technology and gaming, and is always looking forward to new advancements. With over six years in games journalism under his belt, Derek aims to further engage the gaming sector while taking a peek under the tech that powers it. He hopes to one day explore the stars in No Man's Sky with the magic of VR.

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