Rockstar employees are speaking out against reports that the developer forces its workers into extreme crunch. The company has given its staff permission to share their experiences online, according to dozens of Rockstar developers on Twitter, many of whom say they’ve never endured the harsh work conditions that the company has recently come under fire for.
On October 14th, Vulture published an in-depth piece on the making of Red Dead Redemption 2. One line specifically caught the attention of the game industry: “We were working 100-hour weeks,” Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser told the publication. Backlash hit the studio swiftly, with many developers from other companies speaking out about their own experiences with crunch.
In a statement to The Verge, however, Houser said that the “100-hour weeks” comment was related to specifically crafting the game’s narrative and dialogue over a course of three weeks. “We obviously don’t expect anyone else to work this way,” he said. “Across the whole company, we have some senior people who work very hard purely because they’re passionate about a project, or their particular work, and we believe that passion shows in the games we release.”
Crunch is a well-documented, harmful practice within the game industry, and Rockstar has a spotty history with work conditions. On Twitter, Job Stauffer — a former employee of both Rockstar and Telltale — said that during the studio’s Grand Theft Auto IV era, “it was like working with a gun to your head 7 days a week.” Stauffer further described the studio as “the most ruthlessly competitive and intense work environment imaginable.” A report in 2010 detailed excessive crunch, mounting stress, and deteriorating work conditions at Rockstar San Diego. Many developers speaking out on Twitter, however, say the culture has changed.
Geoffrey Fermin, an animator who’s worked with the company for nine years, says that Rockstar has improved for the better. “Truth be told at the time, we had a lot of growing to do at the company with how we approached hard work and long hours,” Fermin wrote in a thread. “Thankfully, we grew up since then and I am happy to say things have really improved. We have an entire dedicated HR team who really look after us now, and the work environment is as positive and inclusive as it’s ever been... All these stories the past couple of days have really upset me because it feels like a personal attack on my friends and family I work with here.”
Many developers directly refute the idea of 100-hour weeks and say that much of their overtime was the result of their own desire and passion. “I’ve spent nearly five years at Rockstar North,” tweeted one developer. “Number of 100 hour weeks done? Zero. Number of times I’ve been given any pressure for that? Zero ... My name is on Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2. Lots of hard work and tough days went into both, but that’s me pushing myself to do that.”
Tom Fautley, another Scotland-based Rockstar developer, says that while he’s never seen anyone forced into 100-hour weeks, he’s “definitely seen friends get closer to that figure than is healthy.” He adds that a typical week of crunch for him is closer to 45-50 hours. “I am asked, encouraged, and expected to work overtime (both nights and weekends) when coming up to a big deadline. The most I’ve ever worked in a single week during my nearly-five years here has been 79 hours, but that was not recently... I do still enjoy my work, and I’m happy enough working here. But I think it should be better.”
The company has yet to respond to The Verge’s request for comment. Dozens more developers have chimed in on Twitter to share their experiences as current employees of Rockstar. “When you call us a horrible place to work based on false information and without having ever worked here or you call for our games to be boycotted (?!) you’re not part of constructive dialogue,” tweeted Rockstar North engine programmer Timea Tabori. “Mostly what you are achieving is hurting and diminishing the work of your peers.”