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Rockstar employees past and present offer mixed takes on company's work culture

Extensive report shows uneven experiences across Rockstar studios and departments, including year-long crunch

After a casual mention of "working 100-hour weeks" from Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser and a series of sporadic, conflicting reports on hours worked from past and current Rockstar developers, the answer to "Does Rockstar crunch and if so, how badly?" appears to be, "Yes, and it depends."

An extensive report from Kotaku stemming from interviews with 34 current and 43 past employees paints an uneven picture of Rockstar's work culture, showing strenuous crunch hours lasting over a year on one end, and employees working relatively normal hours with little pressure to crunch on the other. The diversity of experence was notable across departments and studios, with Rockstar Lincoln and Rockstar NYC employees telling the bleakest stories of their time there.

In general, across the numerous anecdotes and shared experiences of the Rockstar employees at its eight studios, there seemed to be a consensus that whatever was happening now was an improvement over the stories that came out of the studio in the early 2010s, from the first Red Dead Redemption to L.A. Noire to Max Payne 3 to Grand Theft Auto V. Employees mentioned everything from confirmations of the Rockstar spouse letter's depiction to multiple work weeks in the vicinity of 70-hours. This crunch was seen as mandatory at the time, with stigma attached to those who departed early or didn't work weekends.

Per the report, numerous employees said crunch on Red Dead Redemption 2 began in fall of 2017, or even as early as 2016 - which meant 50, 60, or even 70-hour work weeks. Many described feeling pressured to stay late or work weekends due to a "culture of fear" whether the company was in crunch or not, though Rockstar maintains the official line that such time has been voluntary.

One fear reported from multiple employees across studios was that of having their name removed from the credits if they left before the game released - a practice exercised dramatically back in 2007 when Rockstar Vienna went uncredited for Manhunt 2 after the studio closed and production moved to Rockstar London.

Rockstar head of publishing Jennifer Kolbe confirmed to Kotaku that this name removal was standard, saying, "That has been a consistent policy because we have always felt that we want the team to get to the finish line. 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."

Rockstar Lincoln's QA department was the source of the worst of the complaints, and has reportedly been in mandatory overtime since August 2017. The tester hours shared by Rockstar and the employees Kotaku spoke to corroborate the hours described by a anonymous Reddit poster last week but contradict the studio's claims of 45-hour average work weeks, with a number of contract employees specifically working such hours quietly in hopes of receiving permanent employment.

Following the recent reports on the company's crunch, Kolbe said Rockstar Lincoln communicated to its team last week that overtime was not mandatory. The company says it is also taking additional steps to offer employees an anonymous feedback submission process.

"Ultimately, the job is a good job," one former Rockstar Lincoln QA tester said of their experience at the company. "And Rockstar is a good company to work for. When it's not crunch, it's not a bad place at all. The money's alright, there's a bonus at the end of the year. It's just that crunch practically kills people."

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Rebekah Valentine avatar
Rebekah Valentine: Rebekah arrived at GamesIndustry in 2018 after four years of freelance writing and editing across multiple gaming and tech sites. When she's not recreating video game foods in a real life kitchen, she's happily imagining herself as an Animal Crossing character.
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