New York Magazine’s Harold Goldberg had the opportunity to view Red Dead Redemption II promotional material and gameplay at Rockstar Games’ New York offices on several occasions. During a couple of these meetings, Goldberg had the opportunity to interview one of the company’s founders and key writers, Dan Houser. While they were discussing the great lengths that Rockstar Games and its developers have gone to in order to finish the game, Houser was quoted as stating “[w]e were working 100-hour weeks” several times in 2018. This statement has sparked backlash against the Rockstar Games and the greater industry from within and the general public regarding the practice of “crunch.”
“Crunch,” also commonly referred to as overworking, is a common issue within the video games industry. It has become “as routine to game developers’ lives as daily commutes or lunch breaks.”Crunch comes in various forms, from the short burst to the long-haul. It is commonly disliked by developers, but considered necessary for fear that speaking out against the practice or refusal could result in a lack of employment. This feeling is also compounded by the fact that this time is typically unpaid, since most developers are salaried employees. This practice is often cited as being the result of poor time management by the management team, but that is not always the case, as was pointed out by Kotaku in its 2015 “The Horrible World Of Video Game Crunch“. Despite the negatives of the practice, it is not uncommon to see developers themselves boasting about the time that they have spent in “crunch,” considering it a badge of honour or something that builds character. As pointed out by Polygon’s Allegra Frank, this is itself a dangerous implication that the untold overtime is something worth boasting about.
Dan Houser has responded to the criticisms made, stating that there was confusion regarding his response during the interview.
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.
We will have more Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Online coverage shortly.