Inside Rockstar Games' Culture of Crunch
October 24, 2018 1:26 PM   Subscribe

"The tale of Red Dead Redemption 2’s development is complicated and sometimes contradictory. For some people at Rockstar, it was a satisfying project, an ambitious game that took reasonable hours and far less crunch than the company’s previous games. Many current employees say they’re happy to work at Rockstar and love being able to help make some of the best games in the world. Others described Red Dead 2 as a difficult experience, one that cost them friendships, family time, and mental health. " Kotaku's Jason Schreier publishes a longform investigation of Rockstar Games' working culture and the evergreen controversy over excessive overtime hours in the video game industry.

In advance of the highly-anticipated release of Red Dead Redemption 2, the sequel to one of the most critically and commercially successful video games of all time, a feature article in Vulture on the making of the game contained a sidelong reference by Dan Houser, one of the company's co-founders, to working many "100-hour weeks". This set off a great deal of backlash within the video game industry and community about work culture, overtime, and "crunch", issues which persist many years after a 2004 blog post from "EA_Spouse" (previously) broke open difficult questions about industry work-life balance and mandatory overtime. Amid public responses from Rockstar employees and renewed calls for game industry unionization, Kotaku has published an in-depth look into Rockstar's working environment and the impressions of both current and former employees, many speaking under condition of anonymity.
posted by Errant (26 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
One link I missed and would have added to the original post: a few months before the 2010 release of the original Red Dead Redemption, a group of spouses of Rockstar Employees published an open letter decrying the working conditions at Rockstar San Diego, the development studio responsible for that game. Many of the changes which PR head Jennifer Kolbe refers to positively in the Kotaku investigation were made in response to this outing of the studio's internal culture.
posted by Errant at 1:34 PM on October 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


The video game industry is so much like the movie industry that similar unions & rate standards should be established.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:02 PM on October 24, 2018 [16 favorites]


This was a top post on Reddit last week.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:05 PM on October 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Though it's mentioned in a couple of the articles, I do want to call direct attention to Game Workers Unite, a grassroots organization dedicated to game studio unionization and workers' rights. It's the best thing happening in games right now IMO.
posted by brecc at 2:14 PM on October 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


I've finally transitioned into the "buy it used 9 months later for 20 bucks" phase of gamerdom and it's been a blessing. I was tempted to grab this one this week because I know it'll be good, but I don't think I can justify a retail purchase supporting all this shit.
posted by yellowbinder at 2:15 PM on October 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


Imagine how much better video games could be if veteran game developers didn't get burned out and leave the industry because of these working environments.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 2:21 PM on October 24, 2018 [20 favorites]


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.”

This petty punitive assholery is potentially career-ending, and probably intended to be, on the workers they've used up.
posted by rodlymight at 2:35 PM on October 24, 2018 [19 favorites]


> This petty punitive assholery is potentially career-ending, and probably intended to be, on the workers they've used up.

I built the entire object model/parser and wrote the realtime streaming 3D audio engine for a mid-budget game early on in my career. Sweated buckets, worked through all my holidays but left before the game shipped. Got "additional thanks" in the credits. Nothing has changed two decades, and I figure I worked for a relatively decent gamedev, all things considered.
posted by parm at 3:35 PM on October 24, 2018 [10 favorites]


Fourteen years since EA_Spouse and this is still happening. It will keep on happening as long as there are fresh-faced kids coming out of college who are bursting with excitement to work in *V*I*D*E*O* *G*A*M*E*S*; huge games like this need a zillion people willing to do things like spend an entire month doing nothing but painting textures for shoes in exchange for maybe getting a credit if they're around to advocate for themselves when time comes around to put together the credits. Or until they unionize, and good luck doing that when there's entire generations raised on anti-union propaganda.
posted by egypturnash at 4:25 PM on October 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


And to think, there was a time in my life when I wanted to make games.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:29 PM on October 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


"Hey, did you tune up the graphics on level 3?"
"No, I've been sitting in this chair so long that my hand stopped working. That will have to wait until tomorrow."
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:47 PM on October 24, 2018


I'm starting to think the only way to save the industry might be to burn it all to the ground and start over.
posted by evilangela at 4:55 PM on October 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Another issue would seem to be that we can never re-use things. Every AAA game has to be a bigger and better visual production, regardless of whether the performance is acceptable (see BlOps 4 server crap) or the mechanics of the game are decent (seemingly everything that has a number greater than 3 appended to the title).

We apparently HAD to have Destiny 2, which was shinier and took maaaany steps backwards in comparison to Destiny 1: The Taken King. As opposed to just advancing the story of Destiny in a sensible way using the gobs of lore they had lying around and not just running up their "Chosen One Storyline" tab. Again.

I don't know how one would do this. It could even be that people enjoy the million different takes on Floor Texture and would be worse off just having a small handful that are recycled endlessly. It just feels like the whole industry re-invents the wheel every year for just miniscule gains in graphics.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:53 PM on October 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


My friend's husband has worked for Rockstar for a long time and the "maybe I worked 60 hours one week" public responses are bullshit. Her parents recently stayed at their house for a week because he was working so much and she can't do her full-time job and essentially be a single parent at the same time. I mean, they figure it out because they have family support nearby and they're used to it because every Crunch is the same. But again, every Crunch is the same.
posted by camyram at 6:55 PM on October 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


So I feel obligated to say that not all videogame studios are like this. I work full time in games, and while earlier my career I engaged in crunch, it was mostly self-inflicted, and my producers tried to persuade me away from it (although in retrospect, not terribly forcefully).

That was nearly a decade ago, and now when I see juniors crunching, I actively dissuade them from it. Most devs I know, including my leads, view crunch as a a failure to scope properly. I'm pretty sure if I pulled an 80-hour week, I would get a reprimand about my lack of efficiency and failure to communicate, not a pat on the back for sinking in lots of raw hours.

My coworkers and I have been tut-tutting these articles as they come out, swapping stories of times we worked for places that were less concerned with our health.

Also, I have seen a *very* positive change and how companies are reacting these articles. There's lots of backpeddling, lots of "oh that's only some people." Which is a welcome first step, even if toxic habits and abusive policies are slower to change.

This is the first I'm hearing of their "credits policy", and that's the pettiest, most shameful nonsense I've heard in awhile.
posted by ®@ at 6:59 PM on October 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


If they rob you of your credit, can you still go to another employer and say "yeah, I designed XXXX for this game and left early," or do employers all buy into this bullshit mentality and think the lack of credit reflects your lack of dedication or some nonsense?

I mean, either way it's massively shitty to erase someone's credit from the game. I'm really just concerned that people's careers aren't able to recover from this.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 7:36 PM on October 24, 2018


As a developer who loves video games, I've often been asked (mostly by non-tech people) why I don't work on video games. This is why. Luckily I heard about this kind of thing early enough in my career (way back in the 90s) that I avoided the games industry entirely.

Of course it's not _just_ game companies, but it seems much more prevalent there. I've heard a couple isolated examples of game companies that avoided this, but not many, whereas there are plenty of non-game tech companies that don't have the insane crunch culture.
posted by thefoxgod at 7:54 PM on October 24, 2018


If they rob you of your credit, can you still go to another employer and say "yeah, I designed XXXX for this game and left early," or do employers all buy into this bullshit mentality and think the lack of credit reflects your lack of dedication or some nonsense?
You totally can. I was involved in the hiring process at a game company for over a decade, and I don't think it ever occurred to me to look at the official in-game credits to double-check that some applicant who put it on their resume actually worked on it.
posted by dfan at 7:54 PM on October 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Red Dead Redemption 2’s horse testicles shrink in the cold

I had no idea this happened but it supposedly does and so for the sake of realism, they had to include it in the game. That means somebody had to spend a considerable amount of time thinking about horse balls and developing a model to simulate weather effects on them.

That person deserves decent working conditions.
posted by adept256 at 1:27 AM on October 25, 2018 [10 favorites]


Wait, so this "Red Dead Redemption" game is about libertarian cowboys, and not about the October Revolution?

They chose the wrong title.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:39 AM on October 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Sincerely hoping that Red Dead Redemption 2 presents a historically accurate and inclusive view of the West, with its diversity of ethnic groups and foreign languages.

The trailer seems to suggest the standard whitewashed portrait of the West--a lotta Caucasian American gents wearing chaps and speaking lightly-accented American English. I'd be a disappointed if the final game didn't include immigrants (from Europe, China, Korea and Japan), African Americans, Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans, and the many groups who contributed to the heady ethnic and linguistic stew that was the West in the late 19th century.

Not for SJW reasons exclusively, but for historical accuracy. Assassin's Creed Origins largely nailed this. Red Dead Dead Redemption 2, you're up at bat.
posted by Gordion Knott at 4:11 AM on October 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


I own my business. I know I do 40 hours a week of the "good stuff", maybe another 15 hours of the "overhead stuff" in a good week, and for the rest of the time I spend at work - fuggedaboutit.

I worked for an exceptional professional and his comment (30 years ago) was "Any major decision after 1pm on Friday afternoon will need Monday and Tuesday to fix." You send people home to recalibrate, reconnect, THINK - and then you get the good stuff.

Who are these people kidding? Who makes good decisions in an intellectual fog?

You are hiring grown up people - the key quality they bring to the job is perspective. Keep them in "Stockholm Syndrome" environments, and what do they lose - perspective.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 12:20 AM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


More importantly, this game is taking fricking ages to install. 49 minutes left on the second disk.
posted by biffa at 12:11 PM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


They've made some bad decisions on the control pad.
posted by biffa at 4:58 PM on October 28, 2018


Sincerely hoping that Red Dead Redemption 2 presents a historically accurate and inclusive view of the West, with its diversity of ethnic groups and foreign languages.

They even included the suffragettes, but you can guess what happened next. FFS.
posted by homunculus at 12:57 PM on November 8, 2018




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