Rockstar Games renewed the ongoing conversation of game industry crunch after co-founder Dan Houser suggested in a New York Magazine interview that the development team worked multiple 100-hour weeks on Red Dead Redemption 2. In response to the backlash, Houser sought to clarify his comments, although those concerned about crunch at the studio may not be satisfied.
New York Magazine’s story about the making of Rockstar’s new Red Dead noted that writing and edits on the game’s script were “immense,” with Houser explaining, “We were working 100-hour weeks” earlier this year.
Houser told the magazine that the entire script of Red Dead Redemption 2, if stacked, “would be eight feet high,” and that the game features 500,000 lines of dialogue. The game’s NPCs have 80-page scripts, said writer Lazlow Jones.
Game developers, writers and others criticized what read as a flippant, even boastful admission of overwork at Rockstar.
“If you are crunching, the people above you are not doing their job correctly or are incapable of doing it correctly at all,” tweeted Adam Orth, who developed the VR game Adrift. “They are the problem, not you. You can usually spot them a mile away, before you even set foot in the studio.”
Dylan Wildman, who worked on Grand Theft Auto 5 before leaving Rockstar Games, wrote, “The only way to fix the problem is from the very top. We need to move away from traditional release calendars and hype.”
Reached for comment, Houser explained that he was only referring to some of the game’s writers when discussing 100-hour weeks. Here’s Houser’s statement:
There seems to be some confusion arising from my interview with Harold Goldberg [in New York Magazine]. After working on the game for seven years, the senior writing team, which consists of four people, Mike Unsworth, Rupert Humphries, Lazlow and myself, had, as we always do, three weeks of intense work when we wrapped everything up. Three weeks, not years. We have all worked together for at least 12 years now, and feel we need this to get everything finished. After so many years of getting things organized and ready on this project, we needed this to check and finalize everything.
More importantly, we obviously don’t expect anyone else to work this way. Across the whole company, we have some senior people who work very hard purely because they’re passionate about a project, or their particular work, and we believe that passion shows in the games we release. But that additional effort is a choice, and we don’t ask or expect anyone to work anything like this. Lots of other senior people work in an entirely different way and are just as productive – I’m just not one of them! No one, senior or junior, is ever forced to work hard. I believe we go to great lengths to run a business that cares about its people, and to make the company a great place for them to work.
Even with that amount of writing, and even if the team did so as “a choice,” working upward of 100 hours a week sure sounds a lot like crunch. And with numerous studios and staff members subjected to tight deadlines, extreme hours and disproportionate pay, that kind of behavior will never be taken lightly by industry members further down the chain of command.
Hearing people in game development talk proudly of the number of hours they averaged a week, as if it was a badge of honor and they were admirable survivors, is not totally uncommon. What it is, though, is dangerous — an implication that spending almost all your waking hours working is something worth bragging about.
As for Red Dead Redemption 2, the game finally ships Oct. 26. Meanwhile, Red Dead Online, its multiplayer mode, remains in the works for a November beta launch.