Last night, Red Dead Redemption developer Rockstar Games lifted its social media policies, telling employees they were no longer banned from speaking about their work experiences on Twitter and Facebook. The move has led to a number of current staff sharing mostly positive stories from their time at the massive game company.
“First off, this was one of the most rewarding and least stressful projects I’ve worked on,” said Keith Thorburn, who works in the music department at Rockstar North in Edinburgh, Scotland. “I know what epic crunch feels like but this was managed in such a way that I felt happy and healthy. “
The social media lift comes in the wake of an industry conversation surrounding excessive overtime, or crunch, that followed Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser’s comment to New York Magazine saying “we were working 100-hour work weeks” in 2018. On Monday, Rockstar sent further comments to Kotaku, attributed to Houser, saying that he was referring to himself and his writing team, for a three-week period, and that “we don’t ask or expect anyone to work anything like this.”
The comments have triggered a firestorm of controversy over the past few days, as former Rockstar employees spoke up on Twitter about their own crunch experiences at the company—with ex-Rockstar PR man Job Stauffer writing that “during the GTA IV era, it was like working with a gun to your head 7 days a week”—and other observers criticized the company for its overtime practices. Stories about Rockstar have circulated in the video game industry for years, most notably in 2010 around the release of Red Dead Redemption, when a group of spouses of Rockstar San Diego employees put together a letter excoriating the company.
Typically, Rockstar tells all of its employees to refrain from discussing work-related matters on social media, but last night, the company’s HR boss sent out an e-mail to staff at several of the company’s studios saying they acknowledged that some felt frustrated by the narrative that had circulated and saying that employees would now be allowed to speak up about their experiences, with “no need to sugarcoat anything.” The move has led current staff to share mostly positive things about their employer.
“In the time that I’ve been at the studio, work practices have definitely improved,” said Phil Beveridge, a coder at Rockstar North. “Crunch on Red Dead Redemption 2 has definitely been a lot better that it was on GTA V, where I was pulling a month of 70+ hour weeks (while being told by my boss at the time to go home...)”
“I have never worked more than maybe 50 hours a week (and that’s a rare occurrence), but I generally work about 2-6 hours of paid overtime per week,” said Vivianne Langdon, a tools programmer at Rockstar San Diego.
“I have been at Rockstar for two years, and worked on RDR2,” said Danny Bannister, a vehicle artist at Rockstar North. “I have never worked anywhere close to 100 hrs a week. There was some crunch sure but nothing ridiculous. We worked hard on the game but we weren’t being abused. I think the most I did on RDR2 was 60 for one week.”
(Just to conceptualize that, 60 hours would be five 12-hour days or six 10-hour days.)
“As a worker at Rockstar North, I should probably add my voice to the conversation going on around crunch,” wrote tools designer Tom Fautley. “We do crunch. I’ve not seen anybody forced to work 100 hour weeks, but I’ve definitely seen friends get closer to that figure than is healthy. 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.”
(Rockstar lead artist Miriam Bellard has rounded up a number of these stories on her Twitter feed, if you want to see them all.)
We’ve been looking into and reporting on workplace conditions at game studios for years now, and specifically Rockstar for a few months. For that story, we have been granting anonymity to both current and former employees in order to ensure they feel comfortable speaking candidly. We’ve heard a wide range of experiences and will publish the story when it’s ready.
Clarification (9:02am): This story has been updated to clarify the nature of the e-mail sent to Rockstar employees.