Rockstar Games is continuing its efforts to assure that it does not enforce 100-hour weeks on its workers by encouraging its current staff to weigh in on the issue.
The controversy arose from an interview with studio co-founder Dan Houser, claiming people were working 100-hour weeks at various times in 2018. He later issued a statement clarifying that his comments had referred to a small team of senior employees, including himself, and that anyone working this extensively did so voluntarily.
Nevertheless, it has sparked a debate across the industry as to whether such intense working conditions are necessary to create a title as ambitious in scope as Red Dead Redemption 2, with developers earlier this week sharing their own crunch experiences.
Now Rockstar has allows its staff to offer their own thoughts on the matter, giving their perspective on the company's treatment of its staff.
Vivianne Langdon, a tools programmer from Rockstar San Diego with three and a half years at the studio, seems to have been the first to speaking out, saying in a Twitter thread: "Rockstar has granted permission for us to speak frankly about this issue on social media. I want to stress that this is is my uncurated personal opinion, I am not being compensated for this post in any way and am making it voluntarily. I'm only going to speak to my personal experience.
"I have never worked more than maybe 50 hours a week (and that's a rare occurrence), but I generally work about 2-6 hours of paid overtime per week. I'm 'non exempt' so my overtime pay starts at 1.5x salary and scales to 2x after 8 hours of OT in a week or 12 hours in a single day, in accordance with California law. Also, I have only been asked to work on weekends once or twice in my entire time at Rockstar on the Tools team."
Langdon notes that the few occasions where she has worked late are "generally because I'm in the 'zone' and don't want to stop until I finish some tricky problem", stressing it is "not the result of anyone forcing me to stay later or giving me impossible deadlines."
She adds that Rockstar has been "incredibly kind and supportive", and that she as "always felt listened to, valued and respected by the team and this was not changed by my transition."
Finally she reiterated that this Twitter thread was solely to share her personal experience and she doesn't want to "diminish any others' stories should they arise" or "imply that this industry is perfect."
"This project has of course been a lot of work for everyone," she said. "I am extremely proud of the work that I and the rest of the team have done and am incredibly excited for release day."
Elsewhere, Rockstar North environment artist Wesley Mackinder tweeted: "This week my Twitter timeline has been full of guff. I've been at Rockstar for six years and I have never worked, or been asked to work, anywhere remotely close to 100 hours in a week.
"It's been surreal to see people share their crunch stories with the conclusion being, 'Rockstar needs to change'. When I've just been reading them thinking, 'I'm so glad I work at Rockstar and haven't done anything they have'."
Mackinder recalled that he would sometimes work 50-hour weeks during the development of the first Red Dead Redemption, but notes this was "on and off for a few months", with some 40-hour weeks in the mix and "zero issues with me."
"No one is pretending that working extra hours is fun/desirable," he finished. "Everyone tries their very hardest to avoid this. And in my experience it has gotten better over time."
With Rockstar granting permission to employees to have their own say, expect more to discuss the working conditions behind Red Dead Redemption 2. GamesIndustry.biz will endeavour to keep this article updated with their experiences.
UPDATE (11.17am): More Rockstar employees have shared their stories, including Zoë Sams, a tools programmer at Rockstar North. Having worked at the studio for three years, Red Dead Redemption 2 will be her first professional release.
"It's difficult to see people, friends and fellow devs spreading information that either isn't true, has now changed, or are telling people not to buy a product you've worked hard on and you love," she tweeted. "I wanted to clear some things up though from a personal point of view - I can't speak for everyone, I'm not a representative for Rockstar, and I know that things can very per department and per studio.
"I haven't worked a 100-hour week in my life. I'm thanked for any overtime I am asked to do, and it feels like in those circumstances it truly was an unfortunate situation... I adore my team, this crazy family, and the work we put out. I like to think they know I do too, with the work I put in for them. I don't think we're perfect? But I don't think anywhere is, and we're all working to change that internally."
Meanwhile, Twitter user PepsiPunk - who identifies himself as Martin from Rockstar North - said he has been at the studio for nearly five years and has never done a 100-hour week, nor has he been pressured to do so.
"I love working here, otherwise I'd go work somewhere else," he wrote. "My name is on Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2. Lots of hard work and tough days went into both, but that's me pushing myself to do that. If it ever felt forced and expected, i'd just go contracting for one of the banks."
Meanwhile, an anonymous Rockstar employee has reached out to our sister site VG247 to express their frustration at the company being portrayed as a "hellish place to work."
UPDATE (2:41pm): Rockstar developers continue to weigh in, attesting to a range of workloads and overtime expectations at the company, but generally coming out in defense of their employer. Rockstar North engine programmer Timea Tabori said she has "occasionally worked maybe 50 hours a week at most" and said some developers' calls to boycott the game were mostly just "hurting and diminishing the work of your peers."
"A lot of the criticism has been directed at our culture," Tabori said. "We are not a very open studio so it's easy to make us a scapegoat based on some negative stories but there is so much positive change happening behind closed doors. I have always felt supported, cared for and listened to."
Rockstar North senior audio designer Sarah Scott said it had been difficult to see "false or out of date information regarding the working conditions here at Rockstar circulated so widely by media outlets, people and fellow devs," adding that calls to boycott the game were "a misguided attempt to defend the development team."
"The games industry is a tough industry," Scott said. "Many developers know it and there's an ongoing wider discussion on how we change and improve but for me personally, the pressure I feel and the extra hours I work are because of the high bar that I set for myself because I want to make my work the best it can be. I could go home earlier and still hit my deadlines but I wouldn't be happy with the quality of my work and I wouldn't feel fulfilled."
Rockstar North online tools designer Tom Fautley offered his own thoughts on Twitter, saying, "We do crunch. I've not seen anybody forced to work 100 hour weeks, but I've definitely seen friends get closer to that figure than is healthy. I am asked, encouraged and expected to work overtime (both nights and weekends) when coming up to a big deadline. The most I've ever worked in a single week during my nearly-five years here has been 79 hours, but that was not recently."
During crunch periods, it's more common for him to work 45-50 hours, though Fautley said some co-workers surpass that number significantly.
"As someone with health issues linked to stress and anxiety, it's not always great. I do still enjoy my work, and I'm happy enough working here. But I think it should be better."
Rockstar North QA developer James Moorehead also said he was asked to work "a fair bit of overtime," typically several nights a week and coming in for a day on the weekend.
"I never really felt any pressure to do this, never felt bullied or coerced into it. It just was what it was," Moorehead said.
Senior code content developer Phil Beveridge said he can work up to 60 hours a week for a couple weeks to meet a deadline, but chalked it up more to personal perfectionism than external influences.
"I have also never been forced to work overtime, or felt that not doing overtime would in some way impact my career," Beveridge said. "Case in point: I know plenty of people who never do overtime, and leave on time every day to spend time with their family. One of those people has been working here for over 15 years."
He added that work practices at the studio have improved over the years.
"Crunch on Red Dead Redemption 2 has definitely been a lot better that it was on GTA V, where I was pulling a month of 70+ hour weeks (while being told by my boss at the time to go home...)," Beveridge said.