No doubt most of us are very excited about the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 by respected studio, Rockstar Games. I know I certainly am. In fact, you can get my full thoughts on Red Dead Redemption 2 in a recent podcast we did.
But this article isn’t really about Red Dead Redemption 2.
In the gaming industry, we hear a lot about crunch, overtime, and rather undesirable working conditions. We’ve heard stories from devs and the effects that crunch has on the human beings at these studios. We’ve heard enough stories from devs about the mental and physical perils of crunch in the gaming industry. Needless to say, it’s not great.
Rockstar’s co-founder, Dan Houser recently sat down for an interview with New York Magazine to discuss the making of Red Dead Redemption 2. In the interview, he describes sometimes working 100 hour weeks in order to finish the game. You can read the full quote below:
The polishing, rewrites, and re-edits 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.”
What’s interesting here is that working 100-hour weeks several times seems to be a bragging point for Dan. You can sense the pride in his creation and the work that had to be put into it in order for it to exist. His confidence actually leads me to believe there’s some miscommunication happening here and when Kotaku reached out for a statement from Rockstar, they responded pretty much confirming my hunch:
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 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.
I know what we were imaging was devs working 100 hours a week for the last 7 years. And after his quote, we’re now imaging a small group of writers putting in a couple weeks of overtime. The question could be asked whether the latter is still acceptable despite the smaller scale. The main issue I have with his quote is that it normalizes putting in overtime, crunch, and 100 hours a week to those who don’t dig deeper into the meaning or reality behind the quote. 100 hours a week is not the norm, nor should it ever be the norm.
North America has this fascination of overworking to achieve everything you’ve ever dreamed of; essentially the American dream. But is it the same to ask other people to overwork to achieve YOUR dream?
I look at this situation from two different perspectives:
As a gamer, I’m conflicted. A lot of these devs suffer to make these creations come to life (If you’ve ever read Jason Schriers Blood, Sweat and Pixels it’s a MUST READ). There’s an appreciation on my part as someone who enjoys these creations knowing that a ton of hard work and late nights went into an Assassin’s Creed or Stardew Valley. While I always want to know that the devs are working hard, I never want them to suffer for someone else’s creation.
As an aspiring game creator, I’m also conflicted. I don’t like to see 100 hours a week and crunch normalized to the point where it’s expected when working in the games industry. On the flip side, I want nothing more than to work on games 100 hours a week. I understand the hard work it takes to make a name for yourself. I understand it can take putting in 100 hour weeks grinding it out to achieve your dream.
I think the main difference is that I’m putting in the work for myself and my dream, not asking others to put in the work for me.
I’ve worked a number of jobs in my lifetime. As a cook at Pizza Hut, as a cashier at a local Metro grocery store, now at a couple of marketing agencies and I have to say, I couldn’t imagine working 100 hours for someone else’s dream. That being said, all I want is to work 100 hours a week to achieve my dream of creating games.
Could you imagine yourself working 100 hours a week? If not, why? And if so, what would you be working towards for 100 hours a week? Comment below!