Red Dead Clowns: Who are they and why are they here?

Chances are you haven’t been living under a rock these past few months, you’ve just been staying safe at home, bearing witness to the wavering hopes and dreams of a Red Dead Online community. OK, a little bit dramatic, but I’m sure you’ve all seen the recent articles about an Insane Clown Posse invading the community to “protest” against Rockstar. Quite a few major gaming media websites have picked up on events, including Kotaku, IGN, PC Gamer and Polygon, reporting that the lack of communication, updates and bug fixes has lead to groups of players using in-game clown masks and selective clothing in hopes of drawing Rockstar’s attention to their discontent.

So where did they come from and why are they here? It all stems back to some weeks ago during Rockstar’s regular Tuesday bonus schedule; with another week of no news, players would respond with a clown emoji 🤡 under their Newswire tweets. Each week it escalated a little more, with some fans changing their Twitter avatars as well to unite in their frustration, and later it became enough of a meme that some folks even greased up their face for it IRL.

Early on in this clownish campaign, I’ll admit I found it a bit of a cringefest. On the back of all the negativity surrounding the GTA V next-generation announcement, it felt too much like your typical bandwagon, the riders of which were just stuck in the mud from all their unrealistic expectations yet usually quick to change their tune once Rockstar did actually announce something. Let’s face it, a lot of “capital G” Gamers are always going to be like that, but not wanting to focus on the hate lead me to wonder about the potential of the future, and is the reason I wrote my previous article about the top 10 things Red Dead Online needs.

As the movement gained more traction, I could see players suggesting that clowning up needed to go viral; everyone needed to do it, the media needed to report on it, and so on, just so Rockstar would take notice. There was a little bit of tug o’ war amidst all this on who the clown actually represented, however. For some, Rockstar were the clowns, they wouldn’t fix or update their game, so the joke was on them. For the rest, they themselves were the clowns, jokers that made complaints but still continued to play the game everyday.

It was around this time that one of the Event Weeks brought the entire catalogue of previously limited stock clothing back to the game, including Madam Nazar’s mask collection. The clown mask is in fact a variation of the Horror Mask, and is no longer available to purchase after the Event Week expired.

At last, participants found the perfect opportunity to bring the clown movement into the actual game, and a video of an in-game clown flash mob from YouTuber OnlyPVPCat did the rounds in the community. Leaders of the /r/RedDeadOnline and /r/RedDeadFashion subreddits simultaneously launched a circus-themed snap contest to unite players in the protest, and promotion skyrocketed even further after the aforementioned major media outlets caught whiff of the unrest.

There’s still some divide on whether this movement will actually make a difference, despite all the efforts noted above. Many believe that a “controllers down” approach is the only way to really tell their story, make the numbers talk, if you will, but the clowns are convinced that using the community spirit that holds them together is the only way to shed light on the matters they’re putting on the table.

There’s also something very important to bear in mind, however, and that is that GTA Online hasn’t received any news or updates either, so it’s not like Red Dead Online is necessarily being treated any “less” or differently at the moment. Are the clowns simply expecting too much here? Does the wider gaming industry even notice things are kinda quiet on the western front, or is this void something only hardcore fans want filling? Today, this discussion still continues.

Magnar, ringmaster and admin of @RedDeadRDC, the Red Dead Online Community on Twitter, Discord and Reddit, tells me his perspective on events and why the uprising has been so important for the community:

RedDeadRDC: I think the whole clown “thing” has taken off because Red Dead Online has an amazing, passionate community that wants what’s best for the game. Since December, the game has been in a horrid state with hundreds of bugs on all platforms and PC is being plagued by modders, yet even that doesn’t discourage the community. The community enjoy the game when it’s functioning properly, however as mentioned it hasn’t been for almost 8 months. The community knows Rockstar can do better, and the community deserves better than silence from Rockstar. Throughout 2020, even before COVID caused the world to slow down, as a community we constantly reported issues and reached out to Rockstar and were met with silence. Yet as shown with the KKK NPC incident, a bit of media attention causes them to act, I reported that sort of thing as far back as February with no action, yet when I managed to share that issue widely on twitter & via Polygon, Rockstar took action within 3 days. The hope now is that players can have some fun in a game we all love in a harmless, community-spirited way whilst also raising awareness of the sheer neglect Rockstar has demonstrated towards its consumers since December. We’ve done that part as every major outlet has shared a piece on this, some have shared multiple articles. To those who believe it’s pointless, or nothing will change, that’s fine. We’ve done what we set out to, raised awareness. Since this started there have been news articles, streamers, YouTubers, twitter influencers & whole communities talking about it. Now we can have some fun playing the game, enjoying a community event that is accessible to anybody anywhere. I think that’s awesome.

Longtime Red Dead Online player and GTAForums member ALifeOfMisery offered us their rundown on what they see from the sidelines and what changes they hope come about:

ALifeOfMisery: The clown movement, in my opinion, is mainly representative of the frustration a segment of the player base feels towards Rockstar regarding the lack of communication, the lack of new content and also how they feel Rockstar is treating them as customers. I think the clown movement is happening because what else can the player base do? “Gamer boycotts” never really work and Rockstar seem to be impervious to the social media backlash that takes place every week, so something outlandish like this movement brings attention to the issues surrounding the lack of communication, content and support.  I think Rockstar should address the issues players are complaining about even if they don’t address the clown movement directly. Thats all anyone really wants.  Rockstars M.O. of stonewalling until they want to give out information is so old and out of sync with what players want and expect now. Players want communication, road maps, direct interaction with Community Managers and Devs via social media, Reddit, forums etc. As far as the game itself is concerned, a big injection of co-op PvE content is needed. GTAO had Heists by this point in its life, RDO needs an equivalent, especially after 7 months and counting without new content. A couple of new Roles and some cosmetics would inevitably leave players asking “We’ve waited *however long* for this?

Meanwhile, GTAForums members Leftover Pizza and RyuNova question whether there’s any relevance to protesting and if it will even have an impact at all:

Leftover Pizza: The only thing that makes Rockstar think is when the number of logins are declining rapidly. Playing as a clown doesn’t realise that goal. Shareholders will surely have better things to do than checking in on negative feedback on any of their investments, as long as the numbers aren’t declining too much. If the numbers decline too much, shareholders will look for other revenues. They won’t spend much time trying to get an investment up high. It’s all about the hard coin and while that still keeps flowing in from whatever Rockstar game, no one, besides the players, will be bothered with anything related to a specific game.

RyuNova: I wouldn’t say I am against it or that it’s a bad idea. I just think that R* is too blinded by their own arrogance to see it as anything more than publicity. They don’t see the issues, just loads of people saying “Blah blah blah Red Dead Online, Blah bah blah. They only see the words “Red Dead Online” repeated across multiple websites.

On a personal level, I won’t be clowning around on this occasion. I don’t actually have anything to protest because my Red Dead Online character is not the wealthiest and I still have things to achieve. I don’t even own any of Madam Nazar’s masks, because I didn’t think they were worth buying at the time! (maybe Rockstar can offer them as freebies like the alien suits in GTA Online?) The facepainting has given me a good laugh though, bravo to them, and I think the dressing up is pretty creative considering the limited wardrobe; whether you deem it all harmless entertainment or mildly irritating is all down to you.

Communication should be the only goal in this clown revolution, because I’m just not convinced updates are possible during this shamble of a year with working from home conditions. My only wish is for all this to be taken onboard by the people in the position to do so, to see that all players want is some interaction; a warm hug instead of a cold shoulder.

So what next for the Insane Clown Posse? Will this all be forgotten when an update finally drops, or will the Red Dead Clowns keep up the momentum for months to come until they reach the accountability they seek? Drop your thoughts on this whole debacle over here on GTAForums. I’ll be sure to keep my beady eye on how things progress.

P.S. wear a mask if you go outside, otherwise you really are a clown 😷