Red Dead Redemption II, one of the biggest video games of the year, if not this generation, has just been released and if you haven’t already picked up a copy, you’ve likely heard somebody talking about it in your social circles. The game has been showered with praise by media and consumers alike for its quality. Unfortunately, the considerable interest in the game has brought the studio under scrutiny following an interview with renowned video game producer and writer Dan Houser, who noted that some team members had worked 100-hour weeks to finish the game in time for release. This all led to something of a media storm.
Dan Houser’s comments, whilst somewhat glossed over in the article itself, were scrutinised by media and industry professionals and caused such a considerable PR crisis that developer Rockstar encouraged some of its other employees to comment freely about their work experiences. What followed was a mixture of confusion as some employees noted that excessive overtime, or “crunch” culture is worse than reported, whilst others stated that they had never been asked to work the kind of hours that their colleagues were claiming.
This was not the first time, nor will it likely be the last time, that the issue of game development crunch will be discussed. Developer Telltale recently went through a similar crisis as former employees complained of never-ending crunch. Nor is the video games industry the only one that faces the issue of toxic overwork culture. Speak to any project-based employee, from construction workers through to political campaigners and you’ll likely hear a similar story.
Change the mindset to change the culture
Rockstar must be commended for allowing its employees to discuss their work experiences without fear of losing their jobs. The developer did well to consider its different stakeholder groups and took a risky but brave approach to its crisis management plan by proactively addressing the issue. This transparency helped to provide balance to a story that was at risk of being one-sided. Houser also clarified his comments in a follow-up statement to Kotaku, in which he noted that his comment “was related to how the narrative and dialogue in the game was crafted… not about the different processes of the wider team.”
What is clear from this and the many recent PR crises relating to overwork culture is that it is far too prevalent. In order to tackle this issue, we first have to address the mindset shown by many who take it as a point of pride by using time committed as evidence of going the extra mile. Working 100-hour weeks is not okay. Nor should it be a requirement.
Ubisoft recently stated that the recent Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was built without massive crunch. Businesses should embrace this change of mindset for the sake of their employees. Deadlines should be built with reasonable working hours in mind and messaging should certainly not hero the requirement of extraordinary commitment that risks the health and well-being of their most prized assets; the very people that make up the business.
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“Is it possible to make great art without unreasonable sacrifice? That’s a question that’s haunted the video game industry for decades, and it’s one that remains difficult if not impossible to definitively answer.” – Jason Schreier, Kotaku