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Rockstar Lincoln QA tester: "Overtime is NOT optional, it is expected"

Current employee describes "standard" crunch hours v. "true" crunch hours, new policy change making overtime optional

In the midst of continued discussions surrounding overtime conditions at Rockstar leading up to Red Dead Redemption 2's release, a current QA tester at Rockstar Lincoln has posted to the Red Dead Redemption 2 subreddit about their experience at the studio.

The anonymous QA tester (who was verified by the subreddit's moderation) says they have been authorized to speak about "the hours issue" as his colleagues did earlier this week in the wake of a controversial statement from studio co-founder Dan Houser alleging that people were working 100-hour weeks on Red Dead Redemption 2. Though Houser later clarified that only a few senior narrative designers were working such hours and that overtime was always optional, mixed accounts have popped up across social media since - many confirming Houser's statement and describing overtime voluntarily done in small amounts, though some described stronger pressure to work more hours.

The Rockstar Lincoln QA tester provides a dramatically different account. In their detailed post, they say that while they can only speak for the Lincoln studio (noting that among recent current employee accounts, Lincoln developers had been fairly quiet), their experience has been that "overtime is NOT optional, it is expected."

"If we are not able to work overtime on a certain day without a good reason, you have to make it up on another day," they said. "This usually means that if you want a full weekend off that you will have to work a double weekend to make up for it."

The tester goes on to explain the way such hours are counted, saying that though they and their colleagues are at work for lunch and dinner breaks, those hours are not factored into their paid time. "This means that a standard full day is 7.5 hours paid and 8.5 hours actual, with an overtime day being 10 hours paid and 11.5 hours actual."

The employee describes the way they are required to "opt in" to different amounts of overtime depending on whether the studio is in what they refer to as "standard" crunch hours (with three weekday overtime shifts per week and two weekend overtime shifts per month) or "'true' crunch hours" (five weekday overtime shifts per week, four weekend overtime shifts per month). They say the studio has been in "crunch" (though they do not specify which of the two above types) since October 9, 2017.

In the past year, the poster's typical work week has been just shy of 50 paid hours, but has gone as high as 70.

Finally, they note that while up to this point, such overtime has been mandatory, the recent controversy has had an effect on the company's policy going forward.

"To end this, overtime has changed for us now as of next week," they said. "We had a big meeting today where it was announced that all overtime going forward will be entirely optional, so if we want to work the extra hours and earn the extra money (As well as make yourself look better for progression) then we can do, but there is no longer a rule making us do it. This is huge for us here in Lincoln as many of us haven't been able to take full weekends without paying for it in a long time and it's a giant step forward in making crunch less of a hell to deal with."

Update: A Kotaku report posted shortly after the Reddit thread went live has confirmed the change from mandatory overtime to optional with six additional sources, though Rockstar says the "mandatory" classification was a misunderstanding of a system where managers could request and schedule overtime, but employees had the option of refusing.

"Through the conversations we've been having it is clear to us that the requested scheduled overtime felt like an obligation to some, if not many, of the team," said Jenn Kolbe, Rockstar's head of publishing. "We therefore spoke to them to make sure it is clear that the OT is not mandatory."

Rockstar has additionally shared data with Kotaku indicating that QA testers had been asked to work 52.5/hour weeks since October 9, 2017, increasing to 57.5 hours/week in August this year. However, Rockstar says the average tester only worked 38.4 hours/week after the initial request, up to 45.4/week in May and then 53.1 from August on.

The report does not note if all these employees were full-time, and the numbers appear to reflect paid time rather than time including unpaid lunch and dinner hours.

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Rebekah Valentine

Senior Staff Writer

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.