As Rockstar Games’ highly-anticipated sequel Red Dead Redemption 2 nears its October 26th release date, the developers may be entering “crunch time,” the should-be-avoidable time when everyone’s work/life balance goes haywire in a rush to finish the game. The ill effects of game developer “crunch” are well-documented (PAYWALL), and a new interview with Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser has renewed the conversation about working conditions in game development.
Houser told Vulture, “We were working 100-hour weeks” on the 300,000 animations and 500,000 lines of dialogue in the game. The response online was immediate, with people decrying 100-hour work weeks, encouraging the formation of unions, and in essence telling workers to “run and don’t look back.”
Houser quickly issued a clarification to Kotaku, writing that it was only himself and three other people in the senior writing team who were working those hours, and only for three weeks. “More importantly,” he added, “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.”
By the time he’d clarified, however, people had already assumed the infamous “crunch” was affecting a much larger number of employees, or that it isn’t as much of a choice as he says it is, and Twitter users responded by making jokes, lobbing criticisms, and sharing stories of their own experiences in jobs with a poor work/life balance. It’s an odd situation, with an interview making it seem like employees were pulling 100-hour weeks possibly without overtime pay, only to have the interviewee say, no, I meant my work week was 100 hours. It’s a kerfuffle perhaps best summed up with this GIF:
Nonetheless, this being the internet, not everyone believed him, with some pointing out the time spouses of employees penned an open letter about long working hours, or the time Rockstar settled out of court with 100+ employees over unpaid overtime. On Twitter, game designer Jen Sandercock spoke about the pressure of crunch while working on L.A. Noire.
The interview also sparked a conversation about crunch in the games industry in general and how unhealthy it is. Jan Willem Nijman of Vlambeer asked people to reply to this tweet with stories about working on games that didn’t require a crunch. Games that were completed without putting workers through a crunch reportedly include Cultist Simulator, Guacamelee!, Lieve Oma, Loot Rascals, Minit, Regency Solitaire, Sunless Sea, Wandersong, and more.
People on Twitter had a lot to say about crunch:
And people also made jokes: