Ever since Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser’s comments about 100-hour weeks and his subsequent clarifications, the topic of the culture of crunch in video game development, specifically at Rockstar, has been a major point of discussion for many. Not long after Houser’s comments sparked the discussion, a former Rockstar employee talked about his poor experiences at the developer during his tenure there, and not long after that, several current Rockstar employees came forward to talk about their own experiences after being given permission by the publisher to do so.
Now, Kotaku’s Jason Schreier has written an incredibly detailed report about the same, in which he goes over his interviews with numerous Rockstar employees – both current and former – across all 9 Rockstar studios (with the exception of the one in Bangalore)- and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
The pervading theme seems to be that at Rockstar, there is “a culture of fear”, a statement that Schreier reports was independently used by a number of Rockstar employees in their discussions with him. Several sources have told Schreier that overtime is something that is expected of all employees- several claim that overtime is even mandatory. Not abiding by this culture, according to several sources, can result either in employees getting fired, getting their bonuses slashed, or finding themselves in a position where their career cannot be advanced.
The worst offender seems to be Rockstar’s Lincoln studio, which is largely comprised of a quality assurance team, who have uneven and inconsistent wage structures, and have to work extraordinarily long hours. Mandatory overtime seems to be an incessant issue here more than more other studios, according to the report. Rockstar have, according to the report, taken measures to allay these issues (such as doubling the size of Lincoln’s QA team since 2014).
Several employees have even said that their working conditions at Rockstar have affected other parts of their lives, with a few even talking about issues such as depression, alcoholism, and their personal relationships and friendships suffering as a result. On the flipside, there have been a few that have also had nothing but good things to say about their time at Rockstar, with some stating that they’ve faced no issues in their experiences, and others stating that the issues haven’t really been issues for them because of how they like to work. The report points out that working hours and conditions aren’t the same across all studios (or even across separate divisions of studios)- for instance, as mentioned above, quality assurance teams (especially in Rockstar Lincoln) have faced these issues much more frequently.
What about the testimonials by Rockstar employees on Twitter a few days back, though? Several sources told Schreier that even though they were told not to sugarcoat anything and to be completely honest about their experiences, they still feared repercussions if they were too candid, and hence may have left some details out. Similarly, several employees have also talked to Schreier about Dan Houser’s comments that overtime was not mandatory, saying that the statement does not reflect the truth at all.
Several employees also talked about the reasons why they do not choose to leave Rockstar amid such working conditions. One reason is that Rockstar only mentions its employees in its games’ end credits if they were with Rockstar at the time the game’s development was completed. Which means that even if someone worked with Rockstar on a game for years but left shortly before development was finished, their names wouldn’t be in the credits.
“That has been a consistent policy because we have always felt that we want the team to get to the finish line,” Jennifer Kolbe, head of publishing at Rockstar, says about this. “And so a very long time ago, we decided that if you didn’t actually finish the game, then you wouldn’t be in the credits.” Rockstar have recognized all those who made a contribution during the development of Red Dead Redemption 2, but the names in the game’s end credits will only reflect the people who cross the finish line.
“You are hearing individual anecdotes which are usually self-selecting both for the most extreme ends of the scale as well as for people who clearly have issues with our process,” Kolbe says about the reports at large. “There are absolutely people who, at various times, worked really long hours. There are also individuals who are exaggerating what their actual hours were, as we have confirmed their self-reported numbers at the time as substantially lower from what they recall having done in their online postings.”
To me, that seems a bit dismissive- but Rockstar employees have mentioned that even though things at the studios are not exactly acceptable right now, they’re much better than they have been in the past. Several employees have told Schreier in his report that Red Dead Redemption 2 has had the smoothest development of any game made by Rockstar, and that things have improved in recent years.
In the wake of all the reports surrounding the poor culture and working conditions at Rockstar, several prospective purchasers have been considering boycotting Red Dead Redemption 2, due to not wanting to support such practices, and in hopes that reduced sales force Rockstar to change their policies. However, Rockstar employees, even those whose accounts don’t paint a very pretty picture of the culture at the developer, don’t recommend that.
They want their work to pay off and be recognized, which makes sense considering how much they’ve invested, while bonuses are also a factor- Rockstar employees get year end bonuses every year, and how much they receive depends on (other than their performances) how many copies Rockstar sells in that year. Reduced sales, as such, means reduced bonuses for the people who’ve worked on the game.
I heavily recommend reading the entire report on Kotaku. You can find it through the link near the top of this page. Red Dead Redemption 2 launches on PS4 and Xbox One on October 26.