The issue of overtime at Rockstar Games isn’t going away just yet…

[Update: Red Dead Redemption 2 makes over $725 million in 3 days, bigger than any film, music, book, or tv show]

We recently breezed over the fact that 100 hour workweeks had been a bragging point by a small number of top level executives and writers in the Red Dead Redemption 2 team at Rockstar Games. However, major updates have continued to develop with the story. Although we have heard from some of our audience that there is more than one way of looking at this issue, we do want to continue delivering the facts as well for what we feel is an important issue. Regardless of where you land in the debate, the conversations being triggered will affect Rockstar in some way – for better or worse.

So long ago, L.A. Noire was being crunched to completion. At the time of release a small but important scandal erupted. Let’s just take a brief but informative look at what happened before we continue talking about Red Dead Redemption 2’s situation…

Team Bondi was founded in Australia by Brendan McNamara who worked his way up the ladder at Team Soho in London, a subsidiary of Sony, and created The Getaway. Originally, LA Noire was funded by Sony Computer Entertainment Australia in 2004 and announced in 2005 after a year of development, but became transferred to the publishing arm of Rockstar Games. This was due to the millions of dollars being spent on production by Team Bondi scaring off Sony. LA Noire became one of the most talked about titles in the world leading up to its eventual release in May of 2011.

After 7 years of development, the industry exploded. The game released to mostly critical and consumer success, but not quite at the level of hype expected. Reports of the game being rushed in the final days before its release on PS3 and Xbox 360 were enough to hurt early sales as well. LA Noire did eventually go on to sell  almost 6 million units. Rockstar later re-wrote history by re-releasing the title on PS4, Xbox, and Switch last year to higher praise and even lower sales, barely moving 970,000 units.

On one side, employees at Team Bondi (who made the game) were complaining about unpaid overtime, harsh working conditions, and the general health impact of working on the game being quite negative. On the other hand, team leaders at Team Bondi blamed everything on Rockstar Games and made claims that the publisher was pushing them way too hard from overseas.

Back to RDR2. In an interview with Vulture, Dan Houser of Rockstar Games bragged about himself and a small handful of other employees working 100 hour work weeks multiple times to finish the writing of arguably the most anticipated game of 2018. A later update was issued by Dan Houser saying that Rockstar doesn’t force employees to do massive amounts of overtime, known in the industry as “crunch”, and even admitted that other staff members probably get more done than him with less time through efficiency.

The attempts to calm the rage of the internet’s reactions to his original comments were not enough to reverse the effects of the original ‘100 hour’ statement. In a second try at sweeping this under the rug, Rockstar allowed developers to speak on social media about their experience and average weekly work hours. This, of course, was hard to take seriously as there’s clearly pressure to say only nice things about the company you work it – especially so in a company which previously had a ban on all social media posts about work environment experiences until it suited them to do otherwise.

Now, an investigative report has been published by Jason Schreier, who accurately leaked major Fallout 4 and Fallout 76 details with his insider sources. The new report which was developed over the course of many years and involves the testimonials of 90 past and present Rockstar Games staff members. The full read paints a fascinating, complicated, and complex picture. As always in life, things are not so simple as a black and white, on and off light switch.

Employees reporting the following conditions, although varying:

  • Negative impact on family life, mental health, and marriages
  • Almost all employees work 55 – 60 hours a week
  • This is usually manifested as 10 hours a day, one day off a week
  • Some employees reported working mainly 70+ hour weeks
  • Almost all employees have been asked to work additional nights or weekends during the development of Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Only hourly contractors were paid overtime, salary workers are entitled to a bonus if the game meets certain high-end sales goals
  • Mental breakdowns and drinking / substance abuse at work are commonplace in the Rockstar Games environment
  • Rockstar included statistics from team members no longer working on RDR2 to achieve 45.8 hour average in recent PR, and even included time off as zero hour anchors to lower the number
  • There was a whiteboard showing extreme hours worked per week which team members used to brag and pressure each other
  • One current R* dev says ““I didn’t volunteer for it, I just know that’s the cost of working where I’m at.” showing that many have felt they were forced to do overtime even when they did not want to
  • Most overtime took place in Rockstar Lincoln (UK), Rockstar New England (Boston), and Rockstar’s main studio (New York City)
  • It is rumored that Rockstar India suffers from massive unpaid overtime crunch as well, but employees there can’t speak out
  • Dan Houser was quoted saying no one at Rockstar is “forced” to work hard, but current and former Rockstar employees say that “overtime is mandatory”
  • In reaction to this report, Rockstar has emailed employees to tell them that overtime is not mandatory, but their email isn’t being taken as a serious directive rather than covering up liability
  • Some employees felt that no matter what accomplishments they provided to the project, it wasn’t worth as much to management as sheer extreme hours – a demotivating experience
  • Merit-based performance evaluations and even promotions or other job-related perks were given mainly to over-worked staff
  • Due to confidentiality agreements, some testimony can’t be shared, apparently the social media ban wasn’t the only NDA
  • More Info can be found in Jason’s full report

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[Some Info Sourced: IGN, Kotaku]

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