UK: Rockstar Games improves working conditions following investigation highlighting excessive overtime & temporary contracts

In October 2018, Rockstar North's founder sparked controversy over working conditions, after stating in New York Magazine that staff "were working 100-hour weeks" on Red Dead Redemption 2. It was later clarified that the statement applied to senior staff only, and that no one was expected to work overtime. However, former employees took to social media to highlight their experiences of overtime pressures.

Later that month, Kotaku released an investigation further highlighting conditions workers faced during 'crunch' periods, providing further evidence that workers are often compelled to work overtime, and often without pay. As a result of being on temporary contracts, workers also reported subsequent pressure to work overtime or risk being dismissed at the end of their contract. Rockstar acknowledged that employees had been working overtime, and stated it would "not stop working to improve" working conditions.

In September 2019, Kotaku reported that Rockstar Games had made steps to improve working conditions, including converting contract employees to fulltime and introducing 'flex hours' for workers to have more control over their hours.

Further comments from Rockstar can be found in the articles below.

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Article
6 September 2019

UK: Rockstar improves working conditions following criticism of 'crunch culture’

Author: Patrick Tierney, The Gamer

"Rockstar Games Has Improved Working Conditions After Crunch Controversy", 3 September 2019

“Crunch culture,”...has been a hot topic recently since a report from Kotaku revealed the working conditions in Rockstar Games...

...The conditions at Rockstar affected contract employees the most...Kotaku reported that contractors felt pressured to work “mandatory” overtime or risk being let go at the end of their contracts. Many reported that they had to sleep under their desks to meet work targets and worked up to 100-hour work weeks. Employees were not even allowed to keep their cell phones at their desks...

...Kotaku reports Rockstar is making improvements to the aspects of their workplace policies that contribute to the crunch culture in the studio. Many of these changes affected the heavily crunch-impacted Rockstar Lincoln, which is mostly used for quality assurance.

 One of the most important changes is that the game testers at Rockstar Lincoln are being converted from contract employees to full-time...Rockstar is also experimenting with “flex hours,” which allow employees to have more control over the hours they work. Additionally, the cell phone rule has reportedly been revoked, and employees are allowed access to their phones during the day.

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Article
8 August 2019

UK: Conditions at Rockstar studio allegedly set to improve following report highlighting company’s ‘crunch culture’

Author: Stephen Totilo, Kotaku

"Months After Labor Controversy, Rockstar Converts Game-Testers To Full-Time", 7 August 2019

Workers at Rockstar Lincoln, the British studio that does...testing for the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption games, are being converted from contractors to full-time employees...

...The move will remove the uncertainty of working on temporary contracts...It’s unclear how many people this affects, nor whether it extends to temporary workers at other Rockstar studios...a company rep declined to comment.

This...appears to be an improvement at a studio where full-time and contract workers...felt the brunt of the company’s crunch culture. Last October, a Kotaku report... highlighted Lincoln as one of the toughest places to work. A Lincoln employee had told us that the testing team had been working mandatory overtime...and Rockstar confirmed...testers had been asked to work on evenings and weekends.

...Kotaku had also reported last year that testers...weren’t allowed to keep their cell phones at their desks...This policy, a source now tells us, has been rescinded...Rockstar is also experimenting with “flex-time,” two of the sources said, allowing workers to shift when they do their assigned work hours...

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Article
23 October 2018

UK: Investigation highlights harsh working conditions Rockstar developers faced during 'crunch' periods

Author: Jason Schreier, Kotaku

"Inside Rockstar Games' Culture Of Crunch", 23 October 2018

   For some people at Rockstar, [Red Dead Redemption 2] was a satisfying project…others described Red Dead 2 as a difficult experience…many said their average weekly hours came close to 55 or 60...Most current and former Rockstar employees said they had been asked or felt compelled to work nights and weekends. Some were on hourly contracts and got paid for overtime, but many were salaried and did not receive any compensation for their extra hours...

Rockstar’s Kolbe…acknowledged that many members of her team have worked evenings and weekends... “…We care deeply about the games. I think that can sometimes result in a little bit of— You can become obsessive about certain things.”…

… One common fear...is that if you leave during a game’s production, your name won’t be in the credits,... Rockstar confirmed it when...asked. “...we have always felt that we want the team to get to the finish line,” said Jennifer Kolbe…

…sources say there were many points where the Houser brothers... made major changes to the [game]… that means that an entire team will have to put extra hours into a game. Many game developers see this as one of the reasons that crunch is unavoidable...Some explained that testers were hired on a temporary contract...and...felt compelled to work extra hours...to get permanent jobs...

… Rockstar’s Kolbe…shared... “...we’ve realized [crunch] is not sustainable…no matter who you are, your health is a concern to you…We’re dealing now with the generation after mine. They have very different ideas about work-life balance…and...I think it actually has changed our ideas of how you can work.”…

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Article
18 October 2018

UK: Rockstar Games responds to controversy over working conditions

Author: Keza MacDonald, The Guardian

"Rockstar Games defends itself over working conditions claims", 18 October 2018

Rockstar North’s co-studio head Rob Nelson has defended the video games studio’s working conditions in the wake of a controversy sparked by a New York Magazine profile, in which founder Dan Houser said “we were working 100-hour weeks” on…Red Dead Redemption 2.

Houser later clarified his comments in a statement...saying that it applied only to himself and three other members of the senior writing team over a period of “weeks, not years” – not to all of the developer’s staff. “…that additional effort is a choice, and we don’t ask or expect anyone to work anything like this…”…

…on social media, former employees…countered that they had been expected to work a lot of overtime…One…tweet…read: “I worked 80-hour weeks at Rockstar until I had a breakdown …”…

...Nelson acknowledged that Rockstar’s working culture has been in need of improvement...“…is there overtime…put in? Yes, there is. Is it something we want happening…? No…We…will not stop working to improve...”...

…Statistics provided by Rockstar…show that the average working week was between 42.4 and 45.8 hours…during the studio’s busiest week, 20% of employees reported working 60 hours or more…

…employees working on Red Dead Redemption 2 began sharing…often positive stories of their experiences. “…work practices have definitely improved … Crunch…has definitely been a lot better…” said one…coder…

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