Rockstar has decided to let its employees do the talking when it comes to working conditions at the studio, after comments from studio co-founder Dan Houser about working "100-hour weeks (opens in new tab)" on Red Dead Redemption 2 (opens in new tab) stirred up conversations about crunch behind-the-scenes.
With the studio's blessing, Rockstar employees - usually bound by a code of silence about the development process - took to social media to speak for themselves.
I'm "non exempt" so my overtime pay starts at 1.5x salary and scales to 2x after 8 hours of OT in a week or 12 hours in a single day, in accordance with California law. Also, I have only been asked to work on weekends once or twice in my entire time at R* on the Tools team.October 18, 2018
"R* has granted permission for us to speak frankly about this issue on social media. I want to stress that this is is my uncurated personal opinion, I am not being compensated for this post in any way and am making it voluntarily," added Langdon. "I'm only going to speak to my personal experience."
Miriam Bellard, a lead artist at Rockstar North, described the furor over the past week as "heartbreaking."
We do care more about people than we do about horse balls!(Although horse balls are of course extremely important).October 18, 2018
Engine programmer at Rockstar North (and chair of industry body IGDA Scotland) Timea Tabori said she had "occasionally worked maybe 50 hours a week at most and nobody demanded or even expected that."
A conversation about work life balance in the games industry in general *absolutely* needs to happen but please don't forget that we're all just people here who really hope that you like what we make.October 18, 2018
Wesley Mackinder, an environment artist who has been with the company for six years, agreed that working 50 hours a week was rare.
It's been surreal to see people share their crunch stories with the conclusion being, 'Rockstar needs to change'. When I've just been reading them thinking, 'I'm so glad I work at Rockstar and haven't done anything they have'.October 18, 2018
Of course, there are also tweets from ex-employees that shed a more negative light on past working practices. A now-deleted tweet wrote of working 80-hour weeks for fear of being terminated, and former Telltale Games and Rockstar employee Job Stauffer spoke of working seven-day weeks and being reprimanded for tweeting while on sick leave. "I gave them the benefit of the doubt having left nearly ten years ago that they’ve maybe changed," he added. "Yet I’ve heard this from dozens of R* folks in recent years that it continues, and I’m not surprised. It was the most ruthlessly competitive and intense work environment imaginable."
In an interview with The Guardian (opens in new tab), Rockstar North’s co-studio head Rob Nelson told Keza Macdonald "do people work hard and is there overtime and extra effort put in? Yes, there is. Is it something we want happening regularly for long periods of time or as an accepted part of our process or as a 'badge of honor' thing? No, it is not. We are always trying to improve how we are working and balance what we are making with how we make it and we will not stop working to improve in this area."
Rockstar also handed over data to back up its claims, with statistics based on employees’ self-reported hours between January and September of this year. It shows that the average working week was between 42.4 and 45.8 hours. "The longest week - that of July 9 - was 50.1 hours, and during the studio’s busiest week, 20% of employees reported working 60 hours or more, to a maximum of 67.1 hours."
Working conditions, and tales of horrific crunch conditions, have long been a hot topic in the industry. The recent closure of Telltale (opens in new tab), which saw workers left without severance and had previously been accused of toxic working conditions, brought the issue back into sharp focus.
Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar's latest game, will be released on October 26. Nelson pointed out that a key part of its DNA was a development team that worked on the original, implying that burning people out would only hurt Rockstar. "We are not interested in losing people," he said. "We could not have made this game if the same people hadn’t made the other games before it. People need to want to be here and want to work on this stuff together. Everything we do is trying to preserve and grow that, and have more people wanting to come here."
Red Dead Redemption 2 has a unique shooting system, whistle-assisted hunting, and 67 other fast facts. (opens in new tab)