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Rockstar has been “working 100-hour weeks” on Red Dead Redemption 2

Studio co-founder Dan Houser details the effort put into the upcoming Wild West epic

One of the famous Houser brothers has offered insight into the making of Red Dead Redemption 2, and the work behind the title sounds intense.

The game has been in development for the best part of seven years, with Dan Houser talking to Rockstar San Diego about how a sequel to Red Dead Redemption might look as far back as early 2011, as revealed in an interview with Vulture.

A broad outline was completed the following summer, with rough scripts for the game's story and missions ready by autumn 2012. But it seems the workload has ramped up significantly this year as Red Dead Redemption 2 finally approaches release.

Dan Houser said that the team has been "working 100-hour weeks" several times in 2018, later adding that compared to previous Rockstar projects, "This was the hardest."

His brother Sam told the site earlier this year: "We've poured everything we have into [Red Dead Redemption 2]. We have really pushed ourselves as hard as we can."

The result is a game that Dan claims is 65 hours long (although five hours of content have actually been cut) and boast 300,000 animations, 500,000 lines of dialogue recorded by 700 voice actors, and even more lines of code.

The level of detail seen in the trailers, and the glowing previews, suggest this work has paid off but it brings to mind the Rockstar Spouse incident around the original Red Dead Redemption.

Back in 2010, just a few months before the game launched, an open letter allegedly written on behalf of the wives of Rockstar San Diego employees claimed the team was expected to work 60-hour weeks - 12-hour days, including Saturdays - or they would face disciplinary action.

Rockstar later attributed this to "people taking the opinions of a few anonymous posters on message boards as fact."

"We're saddened if any former members of any studio did not find their time here enjoyable or creatively fulfilling and wish them well with finding an environment more suitable to their temperaments and needs, but the vast majority of our company are focused solely on delivering cutting edge interactive entertainment," the studio said at the time.

"We've always cared passionately about the people working here, and have always tried to maintain a supportive creative environment. There is simply no way Rockstar could continue to produce such large scale, high quality games without this.

"That being said, making great games is very challenging, which is why we have and will continue to try to keep hold of some of the best talent in the industry and support them in every way we can."

Back in February, we asked Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Rockstar parent company Take-Two Interactive, what the company was doing to ensure that the sequel to Red Dead Redemption did not also produce a sequel to Rockstar Spouse. Zelnick responded that the company is "really proud" of its work practices.

"We have a hard-working company," Zelnick said at the time. "It's a privilege to work at our company and our labels. And I believe that our work practices are sound and appropriate. It is a very busy time, but it's a time that people are anxious to participate in. And I stand behind it."

The Vulture interview also reveals in addition to the 700 voice actors, there are an additional 500 motion-capture actors, making for a cast of 1,200 - all of which are represented by SAG-AFTRA (although there was no word on the impact the 2016 strike had on production).

"We're the biggest employers of actors in terms of numbers of anyone in New York, by miles," said Dan Houser.

Finally, the dispute between the Housers and long-time producer Leslie Benzies was briefly addressed. Benzies is suing Rockstar for $150 million over unpaid royalties, although suffered a setback in his case earlier this year when the courts deemed the royalties agreement too ambigious.

Houser noted that the open court case makes it inappropriate to discuss with the press, although added that: "The team has never worked better together than it's worked on this game."

Red Dead Redemption 2 was originally due for release in autumn 2017, but saw several delays. It is now on course for release on October 26th.

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Latest comments (17)

Alex Bullock Content Marketing Manager, Gooey DigitalA month ago
This absurd crunch/churn and burn approach seems to be a recurring theme with intricate open-world games - CDPR do it too, and it was the only way Konami felt they could finish MGS V.

Surely there has to be a more sustainable approach to creating what are ultimately great, innovative games. Charge £10 more for them maybe? I imagine most people would be willing to pay based on these studios' track records.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alex Bullock on 15th October 2018 11:37am

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Here is hoping all these pay offs with the game not only being critically successful but the most successful game for Rockstar Games/Take-Two since GTA V.
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Alan Blighe Research Associate A month ago
I thought we'd moved past the days of people bragging about crunch. Real shame to see it still being pushed by Rockstar.
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Show all comments (17)
Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.A month ago
100 hours is over 14 hours per day for 7 days straight.

Pro tip: Hire more people.
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Tommy Millar Company Director, High Tea Frog LtdA month ago
Shame on Rockstar. Honestly, this is odious stuff.

Having personally (completely non-hyperbolically) almost died from conditions which facilitated and actively encouraged absurd hours/overworking in the AAA games industry, this is a scourge and shouldn't be seen as some badge of honour.

This is horrible stuff indeed.
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Tommy Millar Company Director, High Tea Frog LtdA month ago
@Alex Bullock: I've said for a while that AAA games need an RRP rejig. The base price has stagnated for two decades, in spite of inflation and enormous cost spikes.

"But, but, microtransactions!" is normally the counter to that, but realistically, they only exist because your base product is a loss leader product by this point. Selling some of the higher budget games at RRP without merch, MST, 73 super-deluxe tat editions etc is basically like saying "we sell fewer than 3 million units and we can expect zero product viability".

Oh aye and, on topic, TREAT YOUR STAFF PROPERLY, IT'S NOT ROCKET SURGERY.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Tommy Millar on 15th October 2018 2:09pm

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Ursula M. Brand Online Services Administrator, Community, EAA month ago
Wow, he says that as if it's a good thing ...
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Iain McNulty Software / Game Developer, YanxenA month ago
https://ea-spouse.livejournal.com/274.html

It seems that Rockstar may have taken what was described in the infamous EA_Spouse post to be a Business Operating Manual. Disgusting and vile.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Iain McNulty on 15th October 2018 4:26pm

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Andy Cowe Mobile developer, MoonjumpA month ago
Imagine how much sooner it could have been made if they hadn't crunched. All the research shows productivity is higher if you work more sensible hours. Long hours are for a short sprint, you don't complete a marathon faster by sprinting.
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Roland Li Front End Web Developer, New York UniversityA month ago
This is why unions in other industries exist.
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James Berg Games User Researcher, EA CanadaA month ago
This is really unfortunate to hear, but not surprising from Rockstar. I'd hoped they had gotten better in that regard :(
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Tim Abela Corporate Management, Blume IndustriesA month ago
These kind of slave hours are common place in most creative industries. I have witnessed the same in the fashion industry for many years. Until someone speaks out it will continue. Usually due to creative leaders not being able to stop designing until the very last moment meaning hundreds of people have to suffer to realise the 'dream ' pfft. Makes me sick.
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Clifton B Designer / Game Developer, Blume IndustriesA month ago
@AbdulBasit Saliu: Critical success won't improve the quality of life for the people who actually created the game. There's no trickle-down effect that will magically make this pay off for the developers. Here's hoping they can find better employment with studios who care about them. Rockstar can choke.
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Erin Anderson Sr. Technical Developer Relations Manager, EAA month ago
Yes, shame on Rockstar both for their ridiculous behavior, and for continuing to espouse the absurd notion that because, "It's a privilege to work at our company and our labels," this somehow excuses their blatant abuse of their employees.

However, shame on GamesIndustry.biz and Mr. Batchelor for not calling them out on it: "... and the work behind the title sounds intense."

No, this is not intense, this is insane and cruel. By not calling out this egregious behavior, you normalize it. This has been a part of game development culture for far too long, and it absolutely must change. The industry isn't maturing, it's just getting older.
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davidicus UX, NextVRA month ago
"We've always cared passionately about the people working here,"
A raised eyebrow over how 'care' and 'passionately' might be defined.

"working 100-hour weeks,"
OK, that's how.

"this work has paid off,"
The only thing more profitable would be completely unpaid slave labor.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser A month ago
"Dan Houser said that the team has been "working 100-hour weeks" several times in 2018,"

But the real question is: were they paid overtime for this? Here in the US any work hours over 40 in a single week is considered over time and has to paid as such. Otherwise you are liable to be sued for unpaid overtime.
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Eric Byron Consultant, Byron Consulting ServicesA month ago
The Game Outcomes Project is getting ready to launch a new survey to continue our effort to apply real data and analysis to the question of the benefits/harm of crunching. If you are interesting in participating in the survey or being notified of the results, please registry here: http://eepurl.com/dJ9Cck

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Eric Byron on 16th October 2018 3:28am

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