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Controversy Erupts Over Rockstar San Diego Employee Allegations

Controversy Erupts Over Rockstar San Diego Employee Allegations

January 13, 2010 | By Chris Remo

January 13, 2010 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC

Following an open letter published last week on Gamasutra's blog section, containing numerous allegations of excessive crunch time, mismanagement, and unlawful working conditions, an apparent internal Rockstar email response has surfaced, as has an official response from the International Game Developers Association.

Today, a claimed developer going by "Justwanna makegames" posted an alleged internal email to the thread originating from the Rockstar Games headquarters in New York. "We take issues related to working conditions extremely seriously and will look to address any genuine concerns immediately," the email reads.

"We do not agree with the allegations in the Gamasutra post (e.g. there has been no reduction in health benefits or ancillary benefits and perks (such as free dinners and massages etc), wage increases across the studio have kept track with cost of living increases, and anyone who feels they have been overlooked for a bonus for a game they worked on please contact HR to discuss as soon as possible)," it goes on.

The email urges employees with grievances to contact the publisher's human resources department, adding, "We are committed to working through any issues anyone at the studio may have, and to providing support wherever possible."

Today, the International Game Developers Association issued its own public response, which in part reads, "The IGDA finds the practice of undisclosed and constant overtime to be deceptive, exploitative, and ultimately harmful not only to developers but to their final product and the industry as a whole. While our research shows that many studios have found ways to preserve quality of life for their employees, unhealthy practices are still far too common in our industry."

Collectively attributed to an account named "Rockstar Spouse," the original blog post claims to be on behalf of several wives of studio employees who "have collected themselves to assert their concerns" and are calling for "immediate action to ameliorate conditions of employees."

The post alleges that since roughly March 2009, Rockstar San Diego, the developer of the Midnight Club series and the upcoming Red Dead Redemption, has significantly reduced employee benefits, taken away vacation time, exempted various employees from overtime pay, and undergone frequent and repeated crunch periods, with six-day 12-hour work weeks.

"There are understandably times when crunching in work is needed and extended working time is expected," the post reads, but "there must always be an effort for balance.... If these working conditions stay unchanged in the upcoming weeks, preparation will be made to take legal action against Rockstar San Diego," it concludes. "All that is desired is compensation for health, mental, financial, and damages done to families of employees."

Soon after the article was published, numerous comments were posted in response, many of which were written anonymously with claims of firsthand corroboration.

"Where is the detail about people getting performance warnings for not working 11hrs+ a day?" reads a post by user "Bitter PartyOfMany," which continues, "Donuts were taken away every other week (about $200 in savings per month), yet Rockstar flies in people from all the other studios (Vancouver, Leeds, Toronto, New England, etc..) and puts them up in a luxurious rental home, give them per-diem, and rent cars for them."

Erin Hoffman, a game developer who gained notoriety as "ea_spouse" when she posted anonymously in 2004 criticizing Electronic Arts' employee treatment, responded to the Rockstar San Diego blog post, writing, "This has been a long time coming for Rockstar. Go get 'em, ladies. These problems don't fix themselves," and stressing that change must come from within the organization.

Gamasutra has sent requests for comments on the matter to Rockstar Games.

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