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Developers drag Rockstar over 100-hour weeks on Red Dead Redemption 2

Where studio management sees dedication, creators from across the AAA and indie spectrum see mismanagement, abuse

Sometimes, knowledge of workplace abuse and employee mistreatment come from thoroughly reported exposés, as was the case with Riot Games and Telltale Games scandals from earlier this year. Other times it comes from the people responsible for the problems in the first place.

Such was the case with Rockstar Games yesterday, as a Vulture feature on the making of Red Dead Redemption 2 featured studio co-founder Dan Houser saying that the development team had worked 100-hour weeks several times this year as they hurried to get the game out for its launch later this month. He also compared the effort put into making Red Dead Redemption 2 compared to the studio's previous efforts, which were already known for notoriously harsh work working conditions.

"That was shit," Houser said. "This was the hardest."

Since the publication of that story, scores of developers across Twitter have been criticizing Rockstar and the Housers for their crunch practices. Houser issued a clarification, but one that would only address a fraction of the concerns people expressed. For many of those weighing in, the topic was clearly personal in nature.

Bungie senior PvP designer Andrew Weldon created a thread to talk about some of the absurd lengths he's gone to during his time in development, among them working 36 hours straight over a weekend during a crunch stretch that already saw him pulling 80-hour, seven-day work weeks for several months.

"My sleep schedule didn't recover for 5 years," Weldon said. "One of our teammates who pushed himself further went on 6 months medical leave."

He added, "The most sinister thing about all three of these: it was never asked for or mandated. I did it to myself, because it was my 'dream job' and I was 'just so passionate.'

"I went to a party with some members of one of the studios mentioned above after I no longer worked there, and I met one of their young new hires. We chatted a bit and I remember vividly the look in his eyes when he said, and I quote, 'I can't wait for my first death march!' We have allowed a culture to grow around our work that treats this uncritically as the work of passion and energy and excitement when really it's just people destroying themselves and their families, whether it's mandated, implied via peer pressure, or entirely voluntary.

A number of developers shared similar stories of the medical consequences of over-work. High Tea Frog co-director Tommy Millar said he nearly died, working 13-hour days at a AAA studio until his weight dropped to 84 pounds and his organs began to fail. Death Ray Manta developer Rob Fearon worked 12-to-14-hour days for years before exhaustion and burn out caught up with him, an experience he's still not completely recovered from.

"To have this inflicted upon people as a condition of their employment is cruelty and exploitation - nothing short of that," Fearon said. "For it to be in service of making videogames is a waste."