Red Dead Redemption 2 Developers Speak Out After Rockstar Lifts Social Media Ban

Yesterday, Red Dead Redemption developer Rockstar Games lifted its social media policies, telling employees they were no longer banned from speaking about their work experiences on Twitter and Facebook. The move has led to a number of current staff sharing mostly positive stories from their time at the massive game company.

“First off, this was one of the most rewarding and least stressful projects I’ve worked on,” said Keith Thorburn, who works in the music department at Rockstar North in Edinburgh, Scotland. “I know what epic crunch feels like but this was managed in such a way that I felt happy and healthy.”

The social media lift comes in the wake of an industry conversation surrounding excessive overtime, or crunch, that followed Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser’s comment to New York Magazine saying “we were working 100-hour work weeks” in 2018.

On Monday, Rockstar sent further comments to Kotaku, attributed to Houser, saying that he was referring to himself and his writing team, for a three-week period, and that “we don’t ask or expect anyone to work anything like this”.

The comments have triggered a firestorm of controversy over the past few days, as former Rockstar employees spoke up on Twitter about their own crunch experiences at the company — with ex-Rockstar PR man Job Stauffer writing that “during the GTA IV era, it was like working with a gun to your head 7 days a week” — and other observers criticised the company for its overtime practices.

Stories about Rockstar have circulated in the video game industry for years, most notably in 2010 around the release of Red Dead Redemption, when a group of spouses of Rockstar San Diego employees put together a letter excoriating the company.

Typically, Rockstar tells all of its employees to refrain from discussing work-related matters on social media. However, yesterday the company’s HR boss sent out an email to staff at several of the company’s studios saying they acknowledged that some felt frustrated by the narrative that had circulated and that employees would now be allowed to speak up about their experiences, with “no need to sugarcoat anything”.

The move has led current staff to share mostly positive things about their employer.

“In the time that I’ve been at the studio, work practices have definitely improved,” said Phil Beveridge, a coder at Rockstar North. “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...)”

“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,” said Vivianne Langdon, a tools programmer at Rockstar San Diego.

“I have been at Rockstar for two years, and worked on RDR2,” said Danny Bannister, a vehicle artist at Rockstar North. “I have never worked anywhere close to 100 hrs a week. There was some crunch sure but nothing ridiculous. We worked hard on the game but we weren’t being abused. I think the most I did on RDR2 was 60 for one week.”

(Just to conceptualise that, 60 hours would be five 12-hour days or six 10-hour days.)

“As a worker at Rockstar North, I should probably add my voice to the conversation going on around crunch,” wrote tools designer Tom Fautley.

“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.”

(Rockstar lead artist Miriam Bellard has rounded up a number of these stories on her Twitter feed, if you want to see them all.)

We’ve been looking into and reporting on workplace conditions at game studios for years now, and specifically Rockstar for a few months. For that story, we have been granting anonymity to both current and former employees in order to ensure they feel comfortable speaking candidly. We’ve heard a wide range of experiences and will publish the story when it’s ready.


Comments

    If this gets back to the (presumably) US authors working on the followup story on conditions, a timeline of when experiences relate to would be wonderful.

    Rockstar has a bad reputation on this, and it seems deservedly so. On the other hand it seems they've also gotten better over time. Reflecting how that's change over time can serve a very positive purpose.

    Theres no getting away from the fact that crunch time exists in game development, and given the strict release dates they generally have to meet, I doubt you'll ever do away with them.

    So discussion on how best to work with the unfortunate necessity is better than just lambasting them for doing it in the first place. 60-80 hours a week is still going to happen whether people want it to or not so to deny it should ever happen serves little purpose.

    If the staff are comfortable with that though, and its limited, then at least it starts to show how it can be better managed, and perhaps keep improving.

    I'm more curious about people that is speaking up after the social media ban were "briefed" before the ban was lifted.

    Anyone dare to say they work more than 100 hours will be fired straight away anyway.

    Sounds to me like after the massive crunches they've gone through they're gradually getting better and learning from their past mistakes...

    The cynic in me though doubts that and thinks this is just a rosy PR stunt to get people to look the other way till RDR2 releases and we're all distracted by how shiny it is

      I don't think you need to be cynical to believe that posting negative comments publicly about an employer might be hazardous to your career, either at your current job or future ones.

        Which is why people should do it. The criticism needs to be normalised. In this period of history, only public outrage motivates change.

    Self defeating PR rigged nonsense.
    That Rockstar admits that their employees are on a human right free speech ban - Which only Rockstar higher up can open and close, is another despicable violation of human rights.

    Waiting for Jason Schrierer to mention that part. Which he'll never focus on. Since he never has.

      Because that's not how rights work. Companies aren't picking up random people on the street and forcing them to abide by these restrictions unwillingly, they're stating what they want from employees in the offered contract and the employee has the choice whether to accept those terms or not. We all have the right to limit our rights if we so choose.

      The notion that a voluntary non-disclosure agreement infringes human rights is really silly.

      For the record, I don't agree with Rockstar's policy and I'm glad they've lifted it, but let's not sink to hyperbole, it dilutes the message and makes pushing for improved conditions in the industry harder.

        NDA's are fine when they're specifically about sensitive product technical information so don't mark them as bad. Any NDA that prevent whistleblowing, on the other hand, is in-humane and shouldn't be allowed.

    This is just a PR stunt. Ex-employees will give you the real stories (and the Team Bondi stories in particular are terrible, which isn't a surprise to anyone).

    A company telling it's current staff, who have their jobs to worry about, that they can openly talk about their experiences with their current employer, will give you a whole lot of positive comments. Because 1) It's easy for people to feel like they should post something positive now (the same sort of peer pressure they rely on for crunch), and 2) No-one currently working for R* would honestly think there would not be a chance of some repercussions for saying something negative publicly (or at least think it's a chance worth taking).

    Saying that, I don't think R* are completely evil shitebags, because it's pretty tough to churn out quality product when you have a terrible culture, particularly for creative products. But once organisations reach a certain size it's almost a given that they begin to act in unethical ways.

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