Massive New Report on Rockstar Games Details Red Dead Redemption 2 Crunch, "Culture of Fear"

Massive New Report on Rockstar Games Details Red Dead Redemption 2 Crunch, "Culture of Fear"

Kotaku reports on crunch at Rockstar after speaking with nearly 100 employees.

Kotaku released a bombshell report following-up on weeks of questions regarding Rockstar Games' working conditions, specifically with crunch. Speaking with 90 current and former employees at Rockstar's many different locations there appears to be a few hard details, but no consensus. Rockstar employees tend to work long hours, and that overtime shouldn't be downplayed by Rockstar. There's also a culture of fear that some employees explain is based on looking like you're not working as hard as you should be.

Rockstar's history of long working hours is not new. Talk of Rockstar's working hours have been talked about since the development of the first Red Dead Redemption and similar questions were being asked in the wake of Red Dead Redemption 2. Things came to a head when Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser revealed that Rockstar employees worked 100-hour weeks during development, though later clarified that it was the case only for a select senior employees, and never mandatory.

The explanation that crunch was not mandatory has been refuted by current and former Rockstar employees, and even employees who have positive things to say about Rockstar says that it's unfair for Rockstar to brush aside the overtime they've done at the company. One employee described in the report as "infuriated" said, "I didn't volunteer for [overtime], I just know that's the cost of working where I'm at."

Rockstar's Lincoln office in particular where QA works appears to be one of the hardest hit by crunch with employees said to be working mandatory overtime since August 2017. An anonymous Rockstar QA tester posted on Reddit that overtime would no longer be mandatory at Lincoln, and Rockstar says it was never mandatory there.

Crunch may not be mandatory but it was heavily expected.

However, the low-status of QA testers, low pay, and the contractual nature of the job means that QA testers at Lincoln would work longer for less pay. Here is a selection of quotes from Kotaku's report to paint a broad picture of the details:

“The idea that Rockstar cares about its employees and their health is laughable,” said one former San Diego employee who left during production of Red Dead Redemption 2. “I was pushed further into depression and anxiety than I had ever been while I worked there. My body was exhausted, I did not feel as though I was able to have any friends outside of work, I felt like I was going insane for much of my time there and I started drinking heavily… Now, I have heard from some friends that are still working there that some improvements have been made, but Dan’s statement about crunch being optional is ridiculous. It is optional if you want to lose your job or never move forward in your career.”
"In conversations and e-mails, six current and former employees all independently used the term “culture of fear” to describe their experiences at Rockstar, in large part because of that overtime pressure. “There is a lot of fear at Rockstar,” said a former employee, “fear of getting fired, fear of under-performing, fear of getting yelled at, fear of delivering a shitty game. For some people fear is a great motivator, for others it just incites rebellion.” Some current employees, when asked, said they’d experienced nothing like this, noting that it would all be dependent on their department and individual manager. But those who have worked in several of Rockstar’s offices have described feeling like they had to be in the office as much as possible out of fear of getting yelled at, having their bonuses docked, or losing their jobs."
"One common fear at Rockstar is that if you leave during a game’s production, your name won’t be in the credits, no matter how much work you put in. Several former Rockstar employees lamented this fact, and Rockstar confirmed it when I asked. “That has been a consistent policy because we have always felt that we want the team to get to the finish line,” said Jennifer Kolbe. “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.”
"Kolbe later told me that for Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar was “planning to recognize many people who made a contribution, including many former employees,” which turned out to be a list of their names on the company’s website. That list includes those who worked on Red Dead Redemption 2 for years but left before the game shipped, leading Rockstar to exclude their names from the in-game credits. This appears to be the first time Rockstar has credited former employees in a fashion like this."

We have reached out to Rockstar asking for a comment on the report and will update this story when we hear back. Going forward it will be interesting to see how the reception to the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 later this week will change in light of this new story.

Matt Kim

News Editor

Matt Kim is a former freelance writer who's covered video games and digital media. He likes video games as spectacle and is easily distracted by bright lights or clever bits of dialogue. He also once wrote about personal finance, but that's neither here nor there.

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