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Rockstar devs detail the company's long and troubled relationship with crunch

Rockstar devs detail the company's long and troubled relationship with crunch

October 23, 2018 | By Alissa McAloon

October 23, 2018 | By Alissa McAloon
More: Console/PC, Production

"The temperament from these guys has always been: It should be a privilege to serve in this organization. And if you don’t agree with that, there’s a long line of people waiting to take your place.”

- A former Rockstar Games developer recalls their experience with the company

Kotaku has published a long and in-depth story that collects the experiences of over 70 Rockstar developers, 43 former and 34 current, to dig into the Red Dead Redemption 2 developer’s public and private relationship with crunch culture. 

The company has been under fire once again for the amount of crunch many of its studios seem to either require or heavily encourage employees to take part in. The recently  re-emerged issue stems from a comment casually dropped by Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser earlier this month about cramming in 100-hour work weeks toward the end of Red Dead Redemption 2’s development. 

The company backpedaled that comment later on, saying that those optional 100-hour workweeks only applied to senior writers like Houser himself, and later loosened its social media policies and encouraged developers to publicly share their own stories about working conditions at the company. Kotaku, meanwhile, spoke to a number of developers who, on the condition of anonymity, offered candid takes on crunch at Rockstar Games without the fear of professional retaliation a public post might warrant.

There’s no small summary that could accurately capture the range of opinions, experiences, and stories shared in the full Kotaku write-up, so it is very much worth taking the time to read the full story and hear from the developers themselves how crunch has merged itself with Rockstar Games' development culture throughout the last decade.

One current developer describes regular overtime as the result of unpredictable hiccups in game development and something that’s impossible to plan for, saying “if someone is looking for an absolute 9-5 no surprises type job, then there are plenty of those jobs available in different industries that someone who works in games is more than qualified to do.”

Many note that overtime and crunch policies vary from studio to studio as Rockstar operates several across multiple countries. Another developer, one currently at Rockstar, tells Kotaku that “Rockstar pressures employees to put in overtime in several direct and indirect ways,” explaining that working hard during the week often doesn’t count for much in the eyes of management if you’re not also coming in on weekends to work as well.

Another alarming claim brought up by Kotaku’s Rockstar story deals with how the company sees having a developer’s name in a game's credicts as a privilage afforded only to those who are around when the game ships. It’s not a policy exclusive to Rockstar by any means, but the long dev cycles of the company’s games make the practice especially notable. For instance, Red Dead Redemption 2 has been in the works for around 7 years but any developer who left Rockstar ahead of the game’s upcoming release won’t see their name in the credits, no matter how many years of work they put in.

Rockstar confirmed this policy to Kotaku, and noted that some developers are given an honorary mention on the company’s website if they depart before the game ships, but inclusion in the credits is used as encouragement for devs to stick around to the end.

“That has been a consistent policy because we have always felt that we want the team to get to the finish line,” Jennifer Kolbe told Kotaku. “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.”

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