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Rockstar Games Launcher: We install it on Windows so you don’t have to [Updated]

Right now, Rockstar is giving out a free copy of a 2004 game to entice you to install their new Rockstar Games Launcher on Windows PCs. We imagine more fare—including exclusives—will come to this storefront before long. But for now, Rockstar isn't saying.
Enlarge / Right now, Rockstar is giving out a free copy of a 2004 game to entice you to install their new Rockstar Games Launcher on Windows PCs. We imagine more fare—including exclusives—will come to this storefront before long. But for now, Rockstar isn’t saying.

After catching our breath and believing the fractured space of PC game launchers had calmed down for a second, yet another contender arrived on Tuesday: Rockstar Games.

The simply named Rockstar Games Launcher went live worldwide on Tuesday on Windows PCs, and it includes the ability to purchase and install a range of Rockstar-developed games (and their associated microtransactions). This is the first time Rockstar has offered direct purchases of its PC games, as opposed to serving games on services such as Steam. With that in mind, the launcher also lets players find and boot existing Rockstar games’ Steam installations.

Currently, the app includes zero exclusives or apparent discounts compared to other retailers, so why should gamers install it?

For now, there’s one carrot-dangle: a free copy of 2004’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (currently $14.99 on rival services like Steam). Rockstar did not confirm exactly how long this freebie offer will last. For now, once you install the launcher, it immediately advertises your ability to claim a free GTA:SA license. (This only works within the Rockstar launcher, as opposed to providing a code that can be loaded into another service.)

[Update, 3pm ET: Since this article has gone live, we’ve discovered another reason to install RGL, though it’s arguably not a welcome one. Rockstar has now mandated the launcher’s installation in order to boot certain games available on Steam. I uninstalled RGL from my testing rig, then attempted to boot my existing Steam installation of Grand Theft Auto V. At that time, Steam automatically loaded the RGL installation process. Thus, there is currently no way to play GTA V without having Rockstar’s new launcher active. Rockstar isn’t the first to do this, by the way; publishers like Ubisoft mandate similar launcher requirements in their Steam games.]

As far as a good reason for the launcher’s existence, I can’t help but read between the lines. Ever since the launch of Red Dead Redemption II on Xbox One and PS4 consoles last year, rumors and speculation have pointed to an impending PC version of the game. And like Grand Theft Auto V before it, RDR2 includes a massive, microtransaction-fueled online mode. Rockstar may very well believe that a game as big as RDR2 is convincing enough for fans to skip existing launchers and install yet another EXE on their Windows machines to play the company’s most recent open-world adventure.

The below gallery explores exactly how the launcher works as of today’s launch. In terms of native game launching, it includes positives like cloud save support and simple “move files to new directory” options (features that the Epic Games Store is still fumbling). But it has negatives, too, like a lack of an easily selectable “downloads” management tab. The launcher also includes a full-fledged store with a variety of global payment systems, but as of press time, it only offers Rockstar’s catalog of PC games—and it’s missing a significant number of Rockstar classics, including GTA 1, 2, and 4, Midnight Club 2, and Max Payne 1 & 2.

Rockstar Games did not immediately respond to our questions about whether to expect other developers’ games on the service or whether Rockstar will launch any games exclusively on RGL in the future.

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