It’s long been an open secret in the video game industry that the prestigious developer Rockstar embraces overtime, and a new quote from company co-founder Dan Houser about Red Dead Redemption 2 caused controversy this morning by suggesting that it took 100-hour weeks to make. In a new elaboration to Kotaku, however, Houser said the quote had been misinterpreted, saying such a workload is not required at the studio.
In a feature published yesterday by New York Magazine about the making of Rockstar’s ambitious cowboy game, which comes out on 26 October, Houser talked about working “100-hour weeks” en route to completion of Red Dead Redemption 2.
Here’s the full quote:
The polishing, rewrites, and reedits Rockstar does are immense. “We were working 100-hour weeks” several times in 2018, Dan says. The finished game includes 300,000 animations, 500,000 lines of dialogue, and many more lines of code. Even for each RDR2 trailer and TV commercial, “we probably made 70 versions, but the editors may make several hundred. Sam and I will both make both make lots of suggestions, as will other members of the team.”
When asked by Kotaku to elaborate, Rockstar sent over a statement, also attributed to Dan Houser:
There seems to be some confusion arising from my interview with Harold Goldberg. The point I was trying to make in the article was related to how the narrative and dialogue in the game was crafted, which was mostly what we talked about, not about the different processes of the wider team. 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 organised and ready on this project, we needed this to check and finalise 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.
Rockstar consists not just of Houser’s office in New York City, which also houses the rest of the leadership team, but also of several studios in Britain, multiple US states, and elsewhere across the world.
To put things in perspective, an 100-hour week would average out to around 14 hours a day for seven days. The deleterious effects of these kind of hours have been well-documented.
Excessive overtime—or “crunch”—has long been a reality in the video game industry, one we’ve written about extensively. Although some companies have taken strides to reduce or eliminate crunch, many have not, with some top video game creators insisting that the only way to make the best games in the world is to put in extra hours. In fact, some of the world’s top game studios, like Rockstar, Naughty Dog (Uncharted), and CD Projekt Red (The Witcher), are well known for embracing crunch.
In early 2010, as Rockstar was preparing to release the first Red Dead Redemption, a group of spouses of employees at Rockstar’s San Diego studio, which was the lead team on that game and is on this next one, wrote an open letter decrying work conditions at the studio. The claims, which echoed across the video game industry, included 12-hour-average workdays, mandatory Saturdays, and the reduction of benefits.