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万字长文回吴绮莉再当小三顾:Kotaku探究Rocksta
来源:http://www.dgbyq.cn  日期:2019-04-09

  万字长文回顾:Kotaku探究Rockstar Games的加班文化

  原作者:Jason Schreier 译者:Willow Wu

  Rockstar《荒野大镖客:救赎2》于2018年10月26日正式发行。在开发的最后一年,这个西部风格游戏的总监决定在所有非交互场景中增加遮幅,让游戏更具有“银幕感”,就像是老式的牛仔电影。大家都认为这是个创意之举,但是有一个问题:这需要很多人额外花上数周的时间才能完成。

  “并不是在各个过场中随手一加就完事了,”其中的一位制作人员说。“你得重新构图,调整镜头角度、改变焦距等等,这样才能让过场动画按照我们想要的方式播放。”

  《荒野大镖客:救赎2》在公开消息之前开发团队就已经忙得焦头烂额了,他们后来又跳票了两次,可以说没有可能对玩家说再次延期了,Rockstar Games的员工无论如何也没办再延长他们的工作日程。 所以他们只能加快工作进度,为了重做这些场景、处理繁重工作,他们不得不在晚上和周末加班。看着因遮幅而增加的一大担子工作,大家就只能期盼它真的物有所值了。

  这种情况在去年Rockstar游戏开发过程中屡见不鲜。行业内的人都知道,Rockstar联合创始人、《荒野大镖客:救赎2》创意总监Dan和Sam Houser喜欢重启、大翻修,也会无情地丢弃游戏中的大量内容。在游戏开发的八年间,Housers兄弟和其他监制对剧情、核心玩法机制、游戏的整体效果做了很多次大改。在一些人看来,这是制作这类游戏的必要过程。但根据对现任和前任员工的采访来看,这也导致了员工连续高强度加班,促成了Rockstar Games加班文化的形成,这是不可否认的。Rockstar的加班并不是集中在几周,员工说这种工作模式已经持续了数月甚至数年。

  两周之前,《纽约杂志》上的一篇关于《荒野大镖客:救赎2》游戏制作的文章引发了争议,起因是文章中引用了一些未经核实、没有做进一步解释的话:Dan Houser说他们要每周工作100个小时才能保证游戏的顺利发行。紧接着周一,Houser在给Kotaku的邮件声明中表示他指的是写作团队,而且加班时间只有三个星期。周三,Rockstar解除了社交媒体禁令,允许与员工在社交媒体上谈论自己的加班经历。

  这篇文章以及所引发的争议在游戏业内掀起了一场围绕着加班问题的热烈讨论,还有对于Rockstar工作条件的诸多质疑:拥有《侠盗猎车手5》这个常青摇钱树的Rockstar究竟有没有压榨员工?《荒野大镖客:救赎2》的开发工作中有多少是无偿加班?像《荒野大镖客》这种规模的游戏加班是不是必须的?Rockstar真正的公司文化是什么样的?

  本篇文章基于对34位现任员工以及43位前任员工的采访(通过电话、电子邮件以及短信)来窥探游戏行业中最神秘的公司之一。上周三,Rockstar告诉现任员工他们可以和记者谈话了(只要提前跟HR说一下),但是几乎所有跟我对话的人都要求匿名。一些人说,他们害怕因为坦诚地说出自己在Rockstar的不愉快经历而遭到报复,还有一些人说,他们担心因为分享正面故事而给人留下不诚实的印象。

  另外,Rockstar同意我们通过视频群聊采访12位在职员工以及发行部主管Jennifer Kolbe,她负责管理Rockstar的所有工作室。

  关于《荒野大镖客:救赎2》开发过程的故事比较复杂,有时甚至会产生矛盾。对于Rockstar的某些人来说,这是一个非常具有雄心、令人满意的项目,虽然耗费了非常多的时间,但是加班情况比起Rockstar之前的那些游戏算是轻松很多了。很多现任员工说他们很高兴能在Rockstar工作,能够参与某些世界顶级游戏的开发工作。其他人说开发《荒野大镖客:救赎2》是一个非常艰难的过程,牺牲了陪伴朋友、家人的时间,对精神健康也造成了损害。受采访的所有人都说他们工作时间并没有每周100个小时这么多(也就是每天14个小时),但是很多人说他们平均每周要工作55~60小时(游戏邦注:也就是每天6~10个小时)。多数现任和前任雇员都说他们有被要求在晚上以及周末工作。其中有些人是小时工,有偿加班。但是大部分拿固定工资的人都没有拿到任何补偿。这些还留在公司的人只能期盼《荒野大镖客:救赎2》大卖,这样他们的年终奖金也能丰厚一些,算是一部分补偿。

  无论是现任员工还是前任员工说的故事,这其中有很多涉及到因加班而造成的关系疏远、心理疾病、酗酒,如果公开的话,这些人的身份有可能会暴露。考虑到Rockstar复杂的保密协议,以及违反协议可能带来的后果,我们只能谨慎行事,不得不省去某些不堪的细节。

  Rockstar在五个不同的国家设立了八个分公司,员工总数达到数千人,所以员工经历各有不同也是意料之中的事。上周,Rockstar跟Kotaku以及其它几家不同的媒体公司分享了一组数据,包括从今年1月~9月所有分公司员工的每周平均工作时长。从这些数据来看,从一月到三月Rockstar员工每周平均工作42.4小时。从四月到六月是45.5小时。七月到九月则是45.8小时。这其中囊括了来自各个领域、参与公司所有项目的人员,在一定程度上解释了为什么这个数字与我们之前听到的有如此大的差异。有些人《荒野大镖客:救赎2》的工作结束得早,或者比如说其它项目(比如《侠盗猎车手联机版》)的人今年可能就没有那么疯狂地加班,工作时间就会少很多。参与过《荒野大镖客:救赎2》项目的人说电影团队、设计团队、QA团队都有过最可怕的加班经历,尤其是QA。

  周一,Kolbe在邮件中又做了一次解释:“单独算《大镖客2》的平均工作时长不会有什么本质上的不同,”而且那些平均数据中还包含了休息日,但是长期休假不包括在内。“为什么公司统计数据和个人所说的不一样?是这样的:这些故事都是带有主观选择性的,要么是他们挑选了极端情况,要么是他们本身就对公司的工作模式很有意见,”她说。

  “在不同时期,有些人的工作时间确实相对比较长,这是肯定的,”Kolbe补充说。“但也有些人夸张了实际工作时间,我们已经证实了他们当时自报的工作时间其实比他们在网上说的少,如果他们允许的话,我可以把证据拿给你看。”

  (我们不能跟Rocksta透漏员工的个人故事,因为我们之前已经答应了要保护他们的身份。)

  甚至在那些声称自己为《荒野大镖客:救赎2》疯狂加班的员工中,说法也各不相同。有些人说他们离开或者打算离开是因为觉得太痛苦了,而其他人则表示虽然工作时间长,但是在Rockstar工作确实很开心。几位现任员工说Houser暗示加班是自愿的,这很让人愤怒。“我并不是自愿的,”某位现任开发者说。“我只知道这是我选择在这里工作的代价。”从大家所讲的经历来看,其中有两个分公司的加班情况尤为严重:英国林肯工作室和美国纽约总部。至于其它分公司,我们听到的故事也是有好有坏。(印度分公司反馈的情况并不多,但是据其它分公司的员工说,那里的情况也是一样糟糕。)

  个人经历可能不尽相同,但是我们从现任和前任员工那收集到的信息大体上是一致的:Rockstar Games是一个复杂,有时甚至可以说是环境艰苦的公司。在这里,努力工作等同于尽可能长时间地工作。很多人告诉Kotaku,你想要成功就得在晚上、周末来上班,压力很大。尽管Dan Houser说“无论是新人还是老前辈,我们都没有强迫谁进行高强度工作,”但现任和前任员工都说加班是强制性的。在对话过程中,有几个人用到了“恐惧文化(culture of fear)”这个词,担心会因为公开事实遭到起诉或者是其它报复行为。

  一名现任员工表示“公司最看重的不是你修复了多少bugs,而是你投入了多少时间,这就是Rockstar的整体文化基调”,这与被采访的大多数人的看法一致。

  Kolbe不同意这个说法,但是她承认她团队中的很多人要在晚上以及周末加班以保证《荒野大镖客:救赎2》按时发行。

  “理想来说,我也希望我们能完成所有的工作,这样我们就不用在公司留到那么晚。但同时,我觉得我们真的把自己逼得很紧,”她说。“我认为这并不是少数现象。不仅仅是游戏开发团队,参与项目制作的所有领域人员都会拼尽全力争取达到最好的效果。无论是创意、电视广告、预告还是游戏光盘的包装设计……我们都非常在乎。我认为这有时会导致……就是你会非常执着于某些特定的东西。”

  很多游戏工作室都有加班现象,你很难找到哪个大型游戏是不需要额外付出时间的。但从Rockstar多位现任和前任员工的描述来看,这家公司似乎比其它公司更提倡加班。在这里,不长时间工作你很难取得成功。Rockstar发行了一些闻名世界的顶级游戏。可问题是,代价是什么?

  九年之前,Rockstar加班问题首次被暴露在公众视线中。2010年1月7日,一位匿名作者写了一封公开信,声称她是来自一个名为“Rockstar圣地亚哥工作室员工之妻”的群组。这封广为人知的公开信指责Rockstar加州工作室为了完成《荒野大镖客:救赎》逼迫员工一天工作12小时,一周工作六天。这款游戏最终在四个月之后,也就是2010年五月发行。当时,Rockstar表示“这只是网络上匿名留言”不存在真实性而拒绝做出回应,但是参与过该项目的人都说这封信与他们的经历完全相符。

  “如果你在工作日或者周末早早离开,你会得到一堆人的臭脸,”Rockstar圣地亚哥工作室前员工表示他们为了完成《荒野大镖客:救赎》每周平均工作70小时。“你会感觉到其他人瞪着你,有时会恰好对上他们的可怕目光。这就是Rockstar的文化,如果你不愿意为工作献出你的时间,那么你就不是一个有价值的员工。”

  根据Rockstar圣地亚哥工作室的两名前任员工的说法,由于加班现象严重,公司甚至开始提供洗衣服务。其他人也说到了这件事,他们觉得很不舒服——公司让他们加班到没有时间洗衣服。

  一位前员工说“这些人的心态一直是这样的:能为这个公司工作是你的荣幸,你不认同的话,后面还有一大堆人排队等着接手你的位置。”

  在Rockstar有过不愉快经历的人们都同意这个说法,尤其是那些参与过《荒野大镖客:救赎》项目的。“我通常不会谈论我在Rockstar的时光,这不是我的风格,”另一位参与过这款游戏开发的圣地亚哥员工说道,“但在游戏发行前的六到九个月,我们确实被迫每周工作六天。”

  Rockstar的管理层现在承认那段时间确实是存在问题,尽管他们一开始并不承认那封匿名信中所说的内容。

  “我们当然考虑到了《荒野大镖客1》的情况,绝对不想让这种情景再现,”Jennifer Kolbe说。“我认为,随着团队在工作实践中不断成长,他们的运作方式自然也有了改进。”

  Rockstar在这之后的项目是《黑色洛城》(2011),由澳大利亚开发团队Team Bondi创作,但是制作效果很粗糙。然后是《马克思·佩恩3》(2012),第三人称射击游戏,讲的是一个从警探堕落成酒鬼打手的故事。该项目的工作人员称整个开发过程就像是一场“死亡行军”——每天工作到很晚,公司强迫加班。

  “我跟你说实话,《马克思·佩恩3》时期的很多细节我都不怎么记得,”曾在马萨诸塞州新英格兰工作室参与项目的员工说道。“我印象很深的是我们早上9点、10点到公司,一直到晚上10点、11点才回家。”

  这位拿定薪的员工并没有得到加班费。他们只能期盼游戏大卖,给所有工作人员一份应得的补偿。

  在Rockstar Games,奖金是一件非常重要的事。Rockstar员工的标准薪酬还包含年终奖金,公司如果有发行游戏,那么这笔钱会在接下来的几年大幅增长。Rockstar表示这跟多个因素挂钩,包括游戏销量、雇员个人表现。有些前员工表示在《荒野大镖客1》发行后,他们确实收到了可观的奖金,有时候还会达到五位数。但是《马克思·佩恩3》的销量并不如意,因此员工们2012年的奖金比预期的少很多。

  接着就是2013年的《侠盗猎车手5》,为了完成这个游戏,Rockstar多个工作室都出现了加班现象。曾在多伦多工作室工作的开发者跟我们分享了游戏发行前几个月的工作记录文件。那些每周工作少于60小时的人被管理层用红字标上了“表现不佳(Under)”。曾在英国其中一家工作室工作的员工说近十年都没有缓解的连续加班压力也给他们的个人生活带来了伤害——无法维持人际关系、精神健康受损。但他还是坚持说Rockstar是他工作过的最棒的地方之一。“在Rockstar工作是很棒,”他说。“但问题是,对于为他们工作的人来说,这不仅仅是一份工作,还是一种生活方式。”

  我们听到不少Rockstar雇员(无论是现任还是前任)把Rockstar比作一个大家庭,或者用另一个不那么有爱的词:“教团(cult)”。有些人跟我们分享了Rockstar是如何竭尽全力帮助他们度过难关的,比如亲人去世、身患重病的时候。有些人说他们把在Rockstar工作看成是严酷的试炼:在这工作几年,多投入些额外时间,你的简历上就能添上《侠盗猎车手》或者是《荒野大镖客:救赎》这样的顶级作品,以后你要去其它开发公司求职时就有了一个很大的优势。

  《侠盗猎车手5》时期,Rockstar开始正式使用新政策。Rockstar的所有工作室都要合力完成同一个项目,而不是像《荒野大镖客1》和《马克思·佩恩3》那样,由不同的工作室或不同的工作室群体单独负责。对于某些部门来说,这样做的确可以帮助他们减轻工作负担。

  但是有些人说他们依然过得很辛苦。在圣地亚哥工作室工作了五年(2011~2016)的三位员工回忆说有一段时间大家都必须加班,没有选择余地。“几乎所有人都要一周工作80个小时。如果《荒野大镖客2》没有工作要做,那你就去测试《侠盗猎车手5》,再耗上8个小时。”另一个人说:“也许他们没有让我们工作100个小时,但80个小时是肯定有的。概念艺术设计师还要坐在那里充当QA。”

  一位圣地亚哥工作室的现任员工也确认了这个说法,曾经他们被要求一周工作80个小时——也就是一周工作七天,每天平均工作11小时,从早上十点到晚上九点。

  为了记录员工的工作时间,Rockstar要求人们工作时要登录公司内部专用的追踪软件BugStar,然后下班时候再登出。(其它工作室用的可能是不同的软件。)除此之外,员工们还需录入自己的个人工作任务,这么做的目的是方便项目管理,这样公司就能知道修复bug、置入游戏内容要多少时间。这种环境让一些员工觉得自己仿佛一直被监视着。几位现任员工说他们之前还被叫到经理办公室,解释为什么他们一周只工作了40或者45小时。

  “Rockstar是关心员工、在乎他们的健康的,这简直就是个笑话,”一位在《荒野大镖客:救赎2》制作期间离职的圣地亚哥工作室员工说。“我的抑郁症和焦虑症都在那时候加重了不少,身心无比疲惫,感觉生活都被工作填满,没时间跟朋友见面。大多数时间我都处于精神崩溃的状态,我开始酗酒,以前从没有这么糟糕过。现在我听还在那工作的朋友说情况已经有所改善了,但是Dan对外说加班并非强制,这真的是睁眼说瞎话。你可以选择不加班,但你得冒着被炒鱿鱼或者是一辈子不升职的巨大风险。”

  2010年5月《荒野大镖客:救赎》正式发行,口碑爆棚,商业上也收获了巨大的成功。人们普遍认为这是游戏界最杰出的作品之一,毫不意外,Rockstar决定开发续作。

  《荒野大镖客:救赎2》项目在2016年10月公开,游戏的开发早在2011年就开始了。游戏七年开发历程的参与者无一例外地非常看好这个产品,甚至连那些对Rockstar颇有怨言的人也表示《荒野大镖客》续作的创意确实很让人满意。一位Rockstar前员工说“我做的那一部分是最有趣的,应该是我所有工作中最好玩的了,”除此之外,他对加班、管理乃至整个公司都没好话可说。“我觉得那段时间的欢乐是其它任何任务都无法给的。”

  无论是现任还是前任员工都对《荒野大镖客:救赎2》高度赞扬,说它跟以往的游戏完全不同。它在技术层面是其它游戏无可比拟的。但铸成这一切的是庞大团队的连续加班加点。

  用“加班(crunch)”这个词可能有点不恰当。它指的是项目结束之前的最后冲刺阶段——crunch time也就是开发者完善游戏的最后机会。但是在电子游戏行业,crunch无处不在。可能是因为巨头发行商要迎来里程碑了,可能是因为高层要来视察了或者是创意总监想要一个新的demo等等。很多时候,游戏开发者们为了完成这些困难的任务都要在晚上、周末继续工作。

  部分《荒野大镖客:救赎2》的开发者早在2016年就开始加班了。至于其他Rockstar雇员,他们是在游戏发行的前一年,也就是2017年秋天开始加班。就算是公司还没正式进入全面加班模式,很多人都表示他们不得不因为各种各样的原因工作到很晚。“Rockstar利用不同的方式直接或者间接给员工施加压力,让他们加班,”一位现任开发者说。“周末来上班也许是证明你真的在乎这个职位、愿意奉献的唯一方式。所以即使你平常工作很努力,效率很高,但只要周末不来,公司就会指责你没有完成自己的工作份额,一直找你的茬。”

  在对话和邮件中,有六位前任和现任员工都用了“恐惧文化”这个词来描述他们在Rockstar的经历,主要还是加班所带来的压力。“在Rockstar,你害怕的事情有很多”一位前任雇员说,“害怕你会被开除、害怕上级会觉得你的表现不好、害怕会被大声训斥、害怕游戏效果很差。对一些人来说,恐惧是一个巨大的动力,对另一些人来说,恐惧只会让人产生反抗的欲望。一些现任员工表示他们从未经历过这样的事情,并指出这一切都取决于他们所在的部门和经理。但是曾在多个工作室工作过的员工说他们感觉自己必须尽可能久地留在工作室里,因为他们害怕被批评、害怕奖金被扣、害怕丢掉工作。

  即使是在刚过去的一周中,Rockstar的管理层多次给员工们发通知说他们可以谈论以往的工作经历,但有些人还是不敢开诚布公。上周末,Rockstar北部工作室负责人Rob Nelson给公司所有人发了一封电子邮件,承认公司管理层正寻求改善这种规模的游戏的开发方式,并承诺任何提供反馈的人都不会被当成报复目标。“他重申了很多次:如果我们之中有谁想要跟他谈谈,他乐意之极,”一位现任员工说,“但是跟我聊过的人都表示他们还是害怕暴露自己的身份。”

  大家都顾虑的一件事是如果你在游戏开发中途离开公司,那么制作人员名单中就不会有你的名字,不管你的贡献有多大。对此,几位前员工都觉得很难过,我们在向Rockstar求证这件事时也得到了肯定的回复。“这是我们的一贯政策,因为我们希望团队能够一起到达终点,”Jennifer Kolbe说。“所以很久以前我们就决定了,如果你没办法把这个游戏做完,名单里就不会有你的名字。”

  Kolbe之后又告诉我他们之前“打算把所有有为《荒野大镖客:救赎2》做贡献的人尽量都写入名单中,包括那些已经离职的,”这份相对完整的名单是放在公司网站上的,而不是游戏中。这是Rockstar第一次以这种方式来给离职人员记功。

  对于其中一些人来说,为《荒野大镖客:救赎2》加班确实是一个自主选择,几位现任开发者告诉我他们选择加班的原因是希望能够尽力把游戏做到最好。许多人对自愿加班的道德问题争论不休,还有它给同事带来的压力,但不少Rockstar员工坚称他们的加班并非强制性的。他们自称是一群工作狂,想为《大镖客2》做更多努力,让它变得更好。

  对于其他人来说,加班还有其它原因。在《荒野大镖客:救赎2》开发期间,有几个不同的消息来源称 Houser兄弟对游戏工作进展很不满意。他们对地图和营地系统做了很大改动,这是游戏的其中一个核心部分。“之前,Houser兄弟对游戏效果非常失望,”一位前雇员说。“他们不喜欢这种玩法设计,觉得不好玩,所以我们修改了游戏中的很多东西。”

  就算是修改城市名字这样简单的变化也需要很多额外的工作。有两个消息来源证实《荒野大镖客:救赎2》里原先有个城市叫做New Bordeaux,但是Rockstar发现开放世界游戏《黑手党3》(由2K公司开发,与Rockstar同样隶属于Take-Two Interactive)已经用了这个名字,所以他们才改成了Saint Denis。这就意味着配音员们必须重录很多台词,相关的工作人员又多了一大堆工作。改个名字都会如此,更不用说改动艺术设计和用户界面了。

  你随便问一个游戏开发者开发过程中最重要的是什么,很可能他们的答案只有一个词:迭代。意思就是你对原先的游戏进行反复测试、制作原型然后不断修改,达到最好的效果。在这个过程中,你会淘汰掉之前的心血之作,这是不可避免的。同样,整个团队也会因此耗费更多时间。很多游戏开发者们都认为这是不得不加班的主要原因之一,尤其是那些处于管线末端的工作团队。就比如配音团队,他们只能等其它部分确定完成后才能开始工作。

  “像《荒野大镖客:救赎2》这样复杂的游戏,你不可能定一个特别精确的计划,”一位现任职员说。“总是会有意外问题出现,还有它所带来的一系列影响会导致开发工作停滞不前——如果某个人不能把问题迅速解决,其他人都无法进行下一步的工作。如果有人正在寻找一份朝九晚五、任务固定的工作,那么你可以去其它行业看看,非常多。游戏行业出身的人完全能够胜任。

  然而Rockstar的加班模式跟其它公司很不一样。多年来,业内一直对《荒野大镖客:救赎2》背后的加班问题议论纷纷,有很多人想倾诉自己的亲身经历。

  在撰写本文的过程中,我听到了各种各样的观点和轶事,但它们之间经常会相互矛盾。甚至在同一间办公室里,一个团队可能是加班加到精神崩溃,而另一个团队可能是比较标准地一天工作九小时。就比如说Rockstar纽约总部的某位现任员工,他告诉我过去两年他们每周都要工作60~70小时,他们没有预料到这种超额工作模式竟然会持续这么久。但是他们也说像《荒野大镖客:救赎2》这样的游戏也想不出还有什么办法可行了。

  “我看到的这些文章、评论,其中有一个很大的误区就是把我们都当成了没有倾注情感的加班机器,”这位员工说。“我们一直想努力创造出一个艺术杰作,而不是单纯地搞定成堆成堆眼花缭乱的代码,赶出一个粗制滥造的产品,不然的话下午五点我就走人了。但是《荒野大镖客:救赎2》是一个前所未有的游戏。”

  他说他们选择接受采访是因为Dan Houser暗示说Rockstar不会强迫员工无限制地加班,大家都是有选择权的——这激怒了工作室的很多人。“我们收到了几封邮件,内容大概是‘大伙们听着,我们需要赶在截止日期前把游戏做完,但是周六我连你们的影子都没看到,’”他们说长期加班无疑对他们的人际关系造成了不小的影响。然而,如果可以的话,他们还是会做同样的选择。“如果我们没有额外投入那么多时间,这个游戏是不可能顺利发行的,”他说。

  第二位纽约总部员工也表示他们愿意发言是因为Houser的话。“虽说我认识的人中没听过有谁是一周工作100小时的,但是很多人去年、前年都一直处于每周工作60~80小时的状态。在我们应该庆祝的时候,听到公司的其中一位领导人竟然公开否认这些事情的发生,这无疑会对士气造成巨大打击。”

  第三位开发者说他们的经历远没有传闻中的那么压抑。“我们的加班时间并没有文章中说的那么多,而且人们也不会腹诽那些早早下班的人,”他说。

  同样也是来自纽约总部的第四位开发者,他说其实他们很怕接受我的采访,在“恐惧文化”压制下他们不得不加班。第五位开发者说过去几年他过得很棒。“我真的很痛恨那些诋毁Rockstar管理方式的文章,这几位管理者的工作都做得十分出色,而且发自内心地关心员工。”他说。

  就和其它大型跨国公司一样,员工们在Rockstar的经历迥然相异。但是我们可以从中找到几个共同点。那些说加班情况没有那么严重的现任员工还表达了另一个观点——在Rockstar,留在公司工作比什么都重要,这得到了很多员工的认同。“Rockstar确实存在着一个普遍问题,他们非常执着于员工的出勤,”员工在邮件中写道。“他们喜欢看到员工坐在电脑前工作(员工不能在家工作,除非是身体状况不允许。即使这样,他们也强烈主张员工用掉PTO[带薪休假])。他们也喜欢看到员工在公司解决晚餐,如果你好几周没有呆到晚餐时段(19:30),你真的会感受其他人的不满。”

  根据这些员工的说法,在2017年秋天,高强度加班阶段公司每周会为员工提供3~4次的晚餐。对于某些团队来说,这是没有选择余地的。Kotaku从一封该时期的邮件中确认了Rockstar硬性要求员工加班,从一周加三个晚上开始。

  上周在推特上,Rockstar员工分享了许多积极的故事,尤其是位于苏格兰爱丁堡的Rockstar北部工作室的员工们。他们说《荒野大镖客:救赎2》的加班是所有经历中最轻松的。虽然Rockstar明确告诉员工不要给实际故事加上糖衣包装,但是我们这些局外人想说的是,真的会有人公开抨击现任雇主吗?当我跟其中一些发推的人交谈时,有人说这些故事都是真实的,但或许不完整。他们希望这个月发生的事能够让那些过得比较辛苦的员工得到改善。

  已经离职的员工也和大众分享了他们之前的艰苦经历。曾在Rockstar PR部门工作的Job Stauffer在推特上说他在周末也要工作。“我离开Rockstar已经快十年了,但是我跟你保证,在《侠盗猎车手4》时期,我们的工作状态就像有人拿枪指着你的脑袋一样,一周7天都在马不停蹄地工作。‘周末两天都要来,以防Houser兄弟来视察。他们想看到大家跟他们一样拼命工作。’我收到了这样的通知。”

  有几位现任员工私下告诉我这种状况其实并没有改变。这些人并不在纽约总部工作,Housers兄弟要来的时候他们就必须加班。那些在总部工作的人也回应了Stauffer的说法。

  “有时候我周六也要去公司,但是无事可做,”其中一个人说。“无聊地坐了6、7、8个小时,就是以防Sam或者Dan进来,让他们看到有人来上班。我的奖金是由别人决定的,这跟工作本身无关,如果你想要拿更多的奖金,你就得让Sam和Dan看到你在办公室。”

  另一个人说:“你之前听到其他人说大家来工作室是为了让Housers兄弟看到有人上班(Dan来的比较频繁),这100%是真的……别人不止一次地告诉我周六的时候你就慢慢绕着走廊走,这样他就可以看到有人来上班了。”

  当我们向Rockstar发行部门主管Jennifer Kolbe求证这个问题时,她表示非常震惊。 “我不知道是哪位经理会说出这样的话,”她说。“我记不清楚上次跟他们去视察是不是在周末了,我们不会凭借这种表面工作给你加奖金,关键是你有没有完成我们指定的任务。”

  Kolbe说她之前周末也会来工作室,直到两年前她有了孩子。周末大家都不会来上班,她可以不用开会,专心完成手头上的工作。“我不知道我这样做是不是不经意给员工传达了一种信息:因为我在这,所以你们也应该在这,”她说。“现在回忆起来,我还是不确定。我希望大家安心待在家里,这样我就能安静地做完我自己的事。”

  那么其它工作室呢?Rockstar北部工作室的某些员工也说了一些愉快的经历(在推特公开或是跟Kotaku人员私下交谈),但他们都不是剧本创作部门或者设计部门的人。一位Rockstar北部工作室的现任员工表示加班阶段的工作时间从每周40小时到每周80小时不等。“我很喜欢在这儿工作,得到了多次晋升,有机会参与优秀游戏的制作,我觉得辛苦一些也是值得的,”他们在邮件中写道。“撇开加班情况说,这份工作真的非常棒。”第二位现任职员说的就没有这么令人向往了:“我从来就没有一周工作100小时,但是我有过强制每周上班50~60小时、持续好几年的情况。”

  (一周工作50小时也就是平均一天工作10小时,从早上10点到下午8点。一周工作60小时就要在周末工作一天。)

  Rockstar新英格兰工作室的两位现任员工跟我们分享了他们的光辉故事。“我真的无法想象在另一家游戏公司工作会怎样,”一个人说。“在一家把游戏质量放在首位的公司中,我与这些才华横溢的人一起用着业内最好的开发工具和管线系统,创造出最好的产品。我的工作时长和很合理,经济上也完全没有问题。管理层很关心我们,这份工作让我觉得很舒适而且很有干劲。”同样来自新英格兰工作室的第三位员工说他们很享受在Rockstar工作,但是去年有被要求加班,每周工作55~60小时。

  在圣地亚哥,有人说现在跟《荒野大镖客1》时期已经很不一样了,不会再有当年开发者妻子匿名信中那样的情况。但是其他人表示他们依然会因要在晚上和周末加班而感到压力重重。有两名现任员工说他们被要求工作更长时间,尽管公司没有下达具体的指令以及明文规定。“这是一个文化问题,”其中一个人说。“你要外出吃午饭,大家都在谈论各自的工作时长——你工作了多少小时,系统记录的时间有多长。公司文化体现了工作狂才是有价值的。”

  有些员工说他们拿的是年薪,加班都没有钱。还有一些人说他们拿的是时薪,尽管有人表示他们的工资和那些拿年薪的同事相比,理论上应该是要加班才能挣到同样的钱。(拿年薪的员工一般都是有一定资历的,工资自然就更高。)

  再来是Rockstar林肯工作室。联系我们的Rockstar员工,其中有十多人是来自林肯工作室的。他们讲述了自己的经历,描绘出一幅压抑的画面。甚至连那些告诉我他们在Rockstar工作很开心的其他工作室员工也承认林肯工作室存在严重的问题。如果说加班现象在Rockstar是个普遍问题,那么在林肯工作室,它就成了一个疫病。

  在很多游戏公司里,有一个部门一直是处于底层位置,得不到多少重视——游戏测试部门,简称QA。人们要用尽可能多的方式玩游戏的各个部分,努力找到所有的bugs。尽管QA对游戏的成功是至关重要的,但他们在很多游戏公司眼中是低技术含量、可有可无的。

  Rockstar有好几个QA部门,但是其中大多数测试员都集中在一个工作室:林肯工作室。现任员工和前任员工都觉得这里的工作环境太艰难了,测试员工作时间极长但是工资低,而且还要遵守非常严格的保密安全条款。

  “Rockstar林肯工作室的QA部门从2017年8月开始就一直处于强制加班状态,”一位现任员工说。“2017年10月开始我们正式进入了加班季,直到今天也没有摆脱这种状态。”正如Rockstar所承认的那样,林肯工作室的测试员被要求在晚上和周末加班,从一开始的一周加班三个晚上到一周加班五个晚上,从每月周末只加班一天到每周末都要加班。如果有人想要完整的周末,那么他就必须在另一个周末额外工作一天,也就是说要连续工作12天才能休息。

  但是在这之前,他们也是一直在加班。有人解释说,游戏测试员签的是临时工合同,为了得到固定工作,他们不得不工作更长的时间。一位现任测试员表示:“很多员工拿的是临时工合同,合同快结束的时候,他们希望公司能够续约,不让自己陷入经济窘境。我觉得,在希望自己能够通过加班转为固定员工的情况下,没有人能够不忐忑地说出真话。公司时常会提醒员工为Rockstar工作有多幸运。”

  “进Rockstar之前,我从来都没有抑郁症的困扰,”一位林肯工作室的前测试员说。“就算现在离开了,抑郁症也没有完全消失,时不时还会复发……我的一位下属说他已经向医生寻求帮助了,医生问他在哪里工作,他回答Rockstar,结果那位医生说:‘上帝啊,又来一个。’”Rockstar林肯工作室有两个雇员的伴侣跟我联系,分享了他们的故事,说最近很少见到伴侣。

  其他人则说了一些比较愉快的经历,一位现任测试员说“这是迄今为止我觉得最棒的工作地点,”除了超时工作以外。但是,他们说“这种工作状态不应该持续一年甚至更长的时间。”

  林肯工作室中只有一部分测试员得到了加班补偿。本地化部门的员工,包括主要测试人员拿的是年薪,这就会出现一个让些许人心中不快的情况:部分测试人员会比他们的主管拿到更多钱。有些人甚至跟我说他们并不想升职。

  除了加班之外,Rockstar林肯工作室的现任、前任员工都认为公司设定一些限制规则很没道理。三个测试员说他们在座位上不能用手机,开工前必须要放在储物柜里,休息时间才能拿出来。这样就很难跟医生确认预约或者是处理其它重要的事情。有两个人说有个测试员看到了窗外有一架无人机可能是在拍什么,从此之后,公司就不允许他们在晚班时打开百叶窗了。测试员说他们不能在桌上吃热食,因为轮换班次的其他人也要用这张桌子。

  Jennifer Kolbe承认有些规定,她在邮件中写道“我们相信林肯工作室的大部分员工还是对工作条件比较满意的,而这些人所反映的这些问题或者是一般不会被看作是真正的困扰,或者是不符合现实情况。”

  对一些人来说,除了加班以外,情况确实如此。“总的来说,这份工作还是挺棒的,”一位前测试员说。“在Rockstar上班也是挺值得的。不加班的时候大家还是觉得很开心的。工资也能够接受,年底还有奖金。就是这种加班方式太要人命了。”

  在对话过程中,有些测试员说他们因为加班错过了不少重要的活动,失去了和家人共度时光的机会。其他人说他们的工作时间被严格监控到每分钟,管理人员会严厉要求你补上那些不在工作的时间。林肯工作室的一位前测试人员说有一天他们因为暴风雪迟到了,那片区域的其它公司都因天气恶劣而暂时关闭了。“他们看到我时,说的不是‘谢谢你还赶来上班,’之类的话,而是‘你能把迟到的时间补回来吗?’”

  “加班太久,我都觉得我跟伴侣之间要成为陌生人了。”一位现任测试员说。

  10月19日,Rockstar林肯工作室告诉员工们加班不再是强制的了。虽然Kolbe说这实际上是对之前公司政策的澄清,他们从来都没有硬性要求员工加班,但是有十多位现任和前任雇员先后联络了Kotaku,给了不一样的说法。所有人都说加班是他们工作计划中固定的一部分,其中一个人说他们收到的邮件中就直接用了“强制”这个词。

  周一,Kolbe在邮件中做了进一步说明:“我们已经跟林肯团队联系过了,工作日程中的额外加班时间确实是管理层硬性要求的。但是我们只会在真正有必要的情况下才会让员工加班,达到我们所要求的质量标准。上周,我们听说有个别经理在邮件中用了“强制”这个词。但我们不认为整个林肯团队都是这样的,一部分员工的评论也证实了这一点。尽管他们知道实际上这不是强制性的,但他们觉得有义务留下来加班。然而无论如何,沟通这方面确实存在问题,我们向团队发出了不明确的信息,让他们产生了困扰,这是我们的过失。过去几年,我们花了很多心血搭建、优化QA团队的组织架构,包括将固定职员增加一倍、使用早晚轮班表,这样我们就可以在一定程度上避免QA团队不得不长时间加班的情况。我们还会在这方面继续努力,取得更加有效的成果。”

  上周五,Kolbe分享了一些数据,展示了Rockstar林肯工作室的正常工作时长,尽管这其中并没有显示出白天工作的测试人员在晚上和周末也要工作。她说从2017年10月9日到2018年5月13日,林肯工作室的平均工作时长是每周38.4小时。从2018年5月14到2018年8月5日,平均是45.4小时。但如果这些平均数据也把休息日计算在内,就像Kolbe后来澄清的那样,那么它们就是不准确的,而且这很明显也不符合那些分享故事的人的经历。

  “我们中一些上白班的人觉得这个所谓的平均的工作时长不怎么真实,”一位现任的林肯工作室员工在上周末的邮件中写道。“我们投入的时间远比这多,还是说某些上司其实是想掩盖我们实际的加班时间?Rockstar没有必要用这种手段来美化公司的实际情况,他们应该做的就是切实解决这个问题——这也正是他们正在努力做的事,我们都能看得到。”

  林肯工作室的部分员工认为强制加班的改变是一个积极举措,虽说两位主测试员还是对无偿加班感到不满。“尽管我对这种自愿加班是否能摆脱同事压力/解雇风险/‘激情’焦虑仍有一点怀疑,但看到领导/主管承诺每周加班不超过两个班次,每月周末加班不超过两个班次,还是令人欣慰的,”现任员工说。“特别是考虑到按原计划11月我们的加班工作量非常大。现在我可以自己掌控了,感觉特别好。晚上我有自己的时间了!”

  我们从Rockstar不同工作室之中感受到了复杂的情绪:能够参与制作《荒野大镖客:救赎2》这样的游戏,员工感到很自豪,但是超长时间的加班让他们疲惫不堪。对于管理层试图对公众隐瞒真正的加班情况的做法,大家都很愤怒。

  随着Rockstar公司加班问题在过去几周中成为各大媒体的头条,他们决定采取一些特别的措施来控制局面。通常来说,像Rockstar这样一家行事隐秘的公司会与媒体保持距离,不让开发者们公开谈论自己的工作。但是上周,Rockstar做出了一个前所未有的举动:他们跟开发者说可以公开谈论公司的工作条件。同时他们也接受了Kotaku的采访——以一种不同寻常的方式。

  上周四我受邀去参观Rockstar位于纽约曼哈顿SOHO区的总部工作室,天气非常冷。Rockstar知道我从十月初(也就是Houser发表言论促使舆论大爆发的前一周)就开始撰写相关的文章了,他们表示会让员工参与采访。在对话过程中,Rockstar的部分高层人员,包括发行部门负责人Jennifer Kolbe,告诉我他们很重视这个问题,会确保我有机会跟各个工作室的员工顺利交流。

  然而,接下来的采访是我目前职业生涯中最诡异的经历之一。Rockstar PR部门负责人Simon Ramsey跟我在四楼会议室会面。Ramsey说我们将会通过视频聊天的方式对不同地区的工作室员工进行采访。在准备工作做完后,我看到屏幕中出现了两个分屏。左边是新英格兰工作室的两个员工坐在沙发上,右边是北部工作室的三个员工。他们都穿着休闲的服装,有的还印上了《荒野大镖客》的标志、标语。我们互相做了简单的自我介绍,然后我就可以开始自由询问他们的工作生活状况以及加班经历。一次性要完成五个人的采访。

  在接下来的两个小时中,圣地亚哥、林肯、多伦多地区的员工也陆续接受了采访,其中有新人也有前辈。Rockstar说我可以在文章中直接引用他们的话,但是要匿名。

  在同事、记者、以及PR主管的陪同下,我也说不准他们说的到底是不是实话。尽管如此,受访的这12名员工还是提供了值得分享的观点,他们想法跟那些在推特上公开工作经历的人很相似。

  “有时候我会感觉有必要多工作几个小时——你肯定会有某几周是加班时间相对比较长的,”新英格兰工作室的某位员工说。“另外,我很容易就能在工作生活和个人生活之间找到平衡。”

  “五年来,我每周末都会来公司工作一天,”北部工作室的一名负责人说,还特别提到了自《侠盗猎车手5》以来,他们的工作情况改善了很多。“我的某些员工想要在下午五点准时下班回家,这没什么问题……我已经看到了公司内部的改变,人们能感觉到事情在往好的方向发展,但是以前的文化糟粕依然还没完全清除。”

  “在我参与的所有项目中,《荒野大镖客:救赎2》是我个人觉得最轻松的一个,”圣地亚哥工作室的某位员工说。“每天固定的工作时间是九个小时,其中还包括午餐时段。大多数时候我自己还会多加两个小时。加班时候我也会额外多工作一或两个小时。”

  “没有人告诉过我‘你必须要工作X小时’,”多伦多工作室的某位员工说。我们有时会被问说周末是否有空。”

  在完成其中一个采访之后,Ramsey问我目前有什么看法。我跟他说我相信他们所说的故事。但是我还是对采访环境有所介意,觉得在这样的条件下人们不能做到完全坦诚。他看起来觉得有些意外。

  这让我想起了上周与Rockstar高层的会面。尽管他们努力澄清他们没有强制员工超时加班,并放宽了对员工言论的限制,但我还是觉得这些举动没有多大意义,员工必然还是会害怕上司的报复,不管上司允许的是怎样的谈论方式,这是人的天性。上周末,在一封发给Rockstar雇员的邮件中,北部工作室合伙人 Rob Nelson说有部分员工想要一个可以匿名表达想法的地方,公司正在着手准备。这无疑有助于获得更加真实的反馈。

  很多Rockstar员工说他们相信自《荒野大镖客1》以来,情况已经改善不少了,跟我私下联系的人也有这么说的。当我问Kolbe她是否认为加班是一种长久的解决办法,她回答说:

  “我想我们已经意识到了加班并不是一个可持续的应对方法,但我并不是工作到身心疲惫后才意识到,是有了孩子之后我明白了,你不能把时间都给了工作。即使是没有孩子的人,他们为不同的项目加班加点,到下一个项目就可能采取不同的应对方法。因为健康问题对谁来说都是非常重要的。我觉得大家对新项目的目标都是要比上一个做得更好。”

  Kolbe补充说他们团队中的很多人已经在一起合作15~20年了。“我们想继续合作下去,但是我们也知道年纪越大,机会就越少,”她说。“现在工作室里有了年轻的新一代,他们对于工作&生活平衡的看法跟我们这代很不一样,为公司带来了新的理念,我想这是一件好事。他们可能会觉得我们这些人都是疯子,但是我认为关于如何工作这件事,我们原先的想法已经发生了改变。”

  至于到底改变了多少,那得取决于你问的人是谁。在《荒野大镖客1》时期,对于工作狂来说,Rockstar的生活是非常有吸引力的。他们愿意长时间地与同事一起工作,竭力想要完成那些庞大而雄心勃勃的项目,让Rockstar成为游戏领域最受欢迎公司之一。有些人会把Rockstar团队看成一个大家庭。有人会说在Rockstar做游戏就像是一起上战场打仗。其他人说他们或许是得了斯德哥尔摩综合症。

  “如果你真的很热衷于在这里做游戏,甚至愿意让工作凌驾于你的个人生活之上,那Rockstar对你来说就是一个绝佳的工作地点,”圣地亚哥工作室的某位前员工说。“但如果你把个人生活放在第一位,Rockstar可能就不太适合你。”

  另一位大型游戏公司的负责人告诉我,过去几周他面试了两位Rockstar的老员工。他问他们为什么选择离开。“他们回答说‘如果你在Rockstar工作,那就别指望有工作以外的生活,’”他告诉我。

  经过一周的资料收集,我们能够肯定的是有很多Rockstar的现任和前任员工都希望他们的工作状况的能够得到改善,其中也包括那些在Rockstar有过愉快工作体验的人。他们想为自己、为同事争取一个更好的工作氛围,不要让加班成为一个硬性要求。开发一个理想中的游戏并不意味着要把自己搞到崩溃。

  或者,至少,他们希望在未来所有人都能得到应有的加班补偿。

  “我写这封邮件不是为了损害公司名誉或是影响游戏,”一位现任员工说。“能在这里工作、参与游戏开发这都让我无比自豪,我跟他们是一边的。我想玩家之后就能感受到我们所付出的时间以及心血究竟有多少了,我等不及要让大家玩这款游戏了。我写邮件的原因是我认为这是一个难得的发声机会,可以让公司知道我们对超负荷加班的抗议,期盼他们能做一些改变,创造一个更好的工作环境。如果Rockstar采取措施了,那么其它游戏公司也会跟着效仿。”

  有粉丝在问他们是否应该抵制《荒野大镖客:救赎2》来表达他们对被压榨开发者的支持,Rockstar的很多现任、前任员工,包括那些在Rockstar有过职业生涯最糟糕经历的人都表示这样做不合适。首先,那些长时间加班的人想让玩家看到他们所付出的努力。万字长文回吴绮莉再当小三顾:Kotaku探究Rocksta再来,某些现任员工说他们今年的奖金也是根据游戏销量决定的,大规模的抵制其实会损害Rockstar员工的利益,而不是起到帮助作用。他们表示如果玩家真的想做些什么,那就为加班和工作环境问题发声,说出你的类似经历,给公司施加公众压力。

  10月26日,Rockstar正式发行《荒野大镖客:救赎2》,11月底会推出《荒野大镖客Online》,员工们也有为后者加班加点。接着,Rockstar会继续开发新项目,但是我们依然不能肯定工作方式是否会发生改变。

  有没有可能在不牺牲大量个人时间的情况下创作出一个宏伟的艺术作品?这是一个困扰游戏行业几十年的难题,人们难以找到一个确切的答案。如果Rockstar要摆脱以前那种加班铸就宏伟艺术作品的工作模式,那么他们还会这么成功吗?之前在《巫师3》采访过程中,开发商CD Projekt Red CEO Marcin Iwiński谈到加班时,他认为这是游戏开发中的“必要的恶行(necessary evil)”,真的如此吗?这些讨论在将来还会继续。但是对于现在来说,很多人只是希望能够一起分享自己的故事,促使Rockstar Games做出改变。

  本文由游戏邦编译,转载请注明来源,或咨询微信zhengjintiao

  In the final year of development on Red Dead Redemption 2, the upcoming Western game, the top directors decided to add black bars to the top and bottom of every non-interactive cutscene in hopes of making those scenes feel more cinematic, like an old-school cowboy film. Everyone agreed it was the right creative move, but there was a catch: It would add weeks of work to many people’s schedules.

  “You can’t just slap black bars on the cinematics we’ve already shot,” said one person who worked on the game. “You have to reframe the camera so that the cinematics flow in a particular way, and you’re emphasizing what you weren’t emphasizing initially with that shot.”

  With no hope of delaying the game any further—Red Dead Redemption 2 had already been bumped internally before it was announced, then publicly delayed twice—there was no way for the developers at Rockstar Games to add more time to their schedule. Instead, they would have to crunch, putting in extra nights and weekends in order to redo these scenes and deal with the rest of the massive workload that was ahead of them. Would the black bars prove to be worth it?

  This has been a common occurrence in the last years of development on a Rockstar game. Dan and Sam Houser, the co-founders of Rockstar and creative leads on Red Dead Redemption 2, are renowned for rebooting, overhauling, and discarding large chunks of their games. Through eight years of development on Red Dead Redemption 2, the Housers and other directors have made a number of major changes to the story, the core gameplay mechanics, and the game’s overall presentation. It’s a process that some see as essential for making a game of this nature, but it’s also one that leads to a great deal of overtime, and has contributed to a culture of crunch at Rockstar Games that is impossible to deny, according to interviews with dozens of current and former employees. This isn’t crunch that came in a burst of a few weeks—it’s crunch that, those employees say, has lasted for months or even years.

  Two Sundays ago, a glowing article in New York Magazine about the making of Red Dead Redemption 2 ignited controversy thanks to a quote, left unexamined and unexplained, in which Dan Houser described working “100-hour weeks” to get the game out the door. The following Monday, Houser said in an e-mailed statement to Kotaku that he was only referring to the writing team and only for a period of three weeks. On Wednesday the company lifted its social media policies, allowing employees to share thoughts on their own experiences with crunch.

  The article and its fallout have led to widespread industry discussion of crunch and plenty of questions about work conditions at Rockstar. Does the company behind Grand Theft Auto V, the most lucrative video game of all time, overwork its employees? How much unpaid overtime went into Red Dead Redemption 2? Is crunch required to make games with the scope and scale of Red Dead Redemption and its sequel, which comes out on Friday and is likely to be a massive commercial success? What is Rockstar’s culture really like?

  This account, a peek inside one of the most secretive companies in gaming, is based on interviews with 34 current and 43 former employees, over phone calls and e-mails and texts. Last Wednesday, Rockstar told current employees that they were allowed to speak to journalists (so long as they gave HR a heads up), but almost all of the people who spoke to me for this story requested anonymity. Some said they feared retaliation for being candid about their negative experiences at Rockstar, and some said they were worried about coming across as dishonest for sharing positive stories.

  In addition, Rockstar provided us interviews with 12 current employees over group video chats as well as its head of publishing, Jennifer Kolbe, who oversees all of Rockstar’s studios.

  The tale of Red Dead Redemption 2’s development is complicated and sometimes contradictory. For some people at Rockstar, it was a satisfying project, an ambitious game that took reasonable hours and far less crunch than the company’s previous games. Many current employees say they’re happy to work at Rockstar and love being able to help make some of the best games in the world. Others described Red Dead 2 as a difficult experience, one that cost them friendships, family time, and mental health. Nobody interviewed said they had worked 100-hour weeks—that would equate to seven 14-hour days—but many said their average weekly hours came close to 55 or 60, which would make for six 10-hour days. 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. Those who are still at the company hope that their 2018 bonuses—expected to be significant if Red Dead 2 does well—will help make up for that.

  Many of the most harrowing stories shared by current and former employees—anecdotes of damaged relationships, mental breakdowns, and heavy drinking at work—were impossible to print without risking that the individuals involved might be identified. Given Rockstar’s complex non-disclosure agreements and possible repercussions for violating them, we erred on the side of being as cautious as possible in this piece, which meant leaving out some of the roughest details we’d heard.

  Rockstar consists of thousands of people in eight offices across five countries, so it’s no surprise that its employees would have a wide variety of experiences. Last week, Rockstar shared several statistics with Kotaku and other outlets, including the average reported weekly hours across all of its offices from January to September of this year. From January through March 2018, according to those statistics, Rockstar employees worked an average of 42.4 hours. From April through June, they hit 45.5 hours. And from July through September, 45.8 hours. The averages include people from all disciplines and working on all of the company’s projects, which helps explain the discrepancy between those numbers and the anecdotes we’ve heard. People whose work on Red Dead Redemption 2 was finished earlier, or who were working on different projects (like Grand Theft Auto Online) that weren’t in heavy crunch mode this year, may have worked far fewer hours. Those who have worked on Red Dead Redemption 2 describe the cinematics team, the design team, and especially the quality assurance team as facing some of the worst crunch.

  In an e-mail on Monday, Kolbe offered another explanation for the discrepancy, saying that the “averages for Red Dead only would not be meaningfully different” and that days off were actually included in those averages, although weeks off were not. “However, the explanation for the discrepancy between the cross-company data and the individual anecdotes is just that: you are hearing individual anecdotes which are usually self-selecting both for the most extreme ends of the scale as well as for people who clearly have issues with our process,” she said.

  “There are absolutely people who, at various times, worked really long hours,” Kolbe added. “There are also individuals who are exaggerating what their actual hours were, as we have confirmed their self-reported numbers at the time as substantially lower from what they recall having done in their online postings, and we have offered to share the evidence of that with you if given permission from those people.”

  (We could not discuss any individuals’ stories with Rockstar, as we had agreed to protect their identities.)

  Even among those who said they crunched hard on Red Dead Redemption 2, accounts varied. Some said they left or were planning to leave because they felt mistreated, while others described Rockstar as a great place to work, aside from the long hours. Several current staff said they were infuriated by Houser’s comments implying that overtime at the company was voluntary. “I didn’t volunteer for it,” said one current developer. “I just know that’s the cost of working where I’m at.” We’ve heard the highest number of tough crunch stories from two offices in particular: Rockstar Lincoln in the United Kingdom and Rockstar’s main headquarters in New York City. From other Rockstar studios, we’ve heard a variety of positive and negative stories. (One studio we did not hear much from was Rockstar India, although those at other offices said they’d heard that overtime was bad there as well.)

  Personal experiences may differ, but anecdotes from current and former employees paint a consistent picture: Rockstar Games is a complicated and sometimes difficult company, one where working “hard” is equated to working for as many hours as possible. Many told Kotaku they felt pressured to stay at the office at night and even come in on weekends if they wanted to succeed. Despite Dan Houser’s quote that “No one, senior or junior, is ever forced to work hard,” people who have worked and currently work at Rockstar say that overtime is mandatory. In conversations, several used the phrase “culture of fear,” with some saying that they were worried about lawsuits or other retaliation for speaking up.

  “The overall tone at Rockstar is that what the company values most is not the bugs you fix but the hours you put in,” said one current employee, echoing a view shared by most of the people interviewed for this article.

  Rockstar’s Kolbe disagreed with this characterization but acknowledged that many members of her team have worked evenings and weekends in the lead up to Red Dead Redemption 2’s launch.

  “In an ideal world, I’d like to think that we could have all of our work done so that we didn’t actually have to spend late nights here, but at the same time I think we do push ourselves really hard,” she said. “I think that’s across the board. It’s not just the games team, I think it’s the people involved in all aspects of what we’re creating here in that we will push ourselves to get the best piece, whether it’s the best piece of creative, whether that’s a television commercial, a trailer, whether that’s back-of-box copy… We care deeply about the games. I think that can sometimes result in a little bit of— You can become obsessive about certain things.”

  Many video game studios crunch, and it’s rare to find a big game that didn’t require excessive overtime to make. But accounts from dozens of current and former Rockstar employees describe a company that appears to embrace crunch more than most, one where people have traditionally struggled to find success without working long hours. Rockstar makes some of the most impressive games in the world. The question is: What’s the cost?

  Rockstar’s crunch culture first became public nearly nine years ago. On January 7, 2010, an anonymous author published a letter claiming to be from a group of “wives of Rockstar San Diego employees.” The account, which was well-publicized, criticized Rockstar’s California studio for forcing staff to work 12-hour days for six days a week in order to finish the first Red Dead Redemption, which would come out four months later, in May 2010. At the time, Rockstar waved it off as “a few anonymous posters on message boards,” but people who worked on the game say the letter accurately depicted what they went through.

  “If you left early on a weekday or weekend, you’d get dirty looks,” said one former employee of Rockstar San Diego who told me they worked an average of 70 hours a week during Red Dead Redemption. “You’d feel the stare down, and sometimes you’d see it as you were leaving. There was this culture of, if you don’t put in the hours, you’re not worth working here.”

  In the thick of this crunch, Rockstar San Diego began offering laundry service, according to two people who worked there, which as another former employee pointed out left some people feeling uncomfortable—they wouldn’t even have enough spare time to do their own laundry?

  Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption (2010) was a massive critical and commercial success.

  “The temperament from these guys has always been: It should be a privilege to serve in this organization,” said a person who was there. “And if you don’t agree with that, there’s a long line of people waiting to take your place.”

  That’s a common sentiment from those who have had negative experiences at Rockstar, especially those who were there during the first Red Dead. “I would normally never speak about my time at Rockstar—it’s not my style,” said another person who worked at Rockstar San Diego during that game’s development, “but we absolutely were forced to work six-day weeks in the six to nine months leading to launch.”

  Even Rockstar’s management now admits that it was a problematic time for the company, despite originally dismissing the anonymous letter.

  “We certainly looked at Red Dead 1 and what came out of that, and knew we did not want to have a situation like that again,” said Rockstar’s Jennifer Kolbe. “I think naturally as the team has grown in its working practices together, we have made improvements into how the teams are run.”

  Rockstar’s next project after Red Dead Redemption was L.A. Noire (2011), which went through a rough production under the Australian studio Team Bondi, and then came Max Payne 3 (2012), a third-person shooter about an alcoholic vigilante. People who worked on Max Payne 3 have described it as a “death march,” a brutal period of time for the company that involved long nights and plenty of mandatory crunch.

  Max Payne 3, released in 2012, was made under heavy crunch and did not sell well, leading to low annual bonuses for its developers.

  “I’m gonna be honest, a lot of the details of my life during that time are pretty blank,” said one person who worked on Max Payne 3 at Rockstar’s New England office in Massachusetts. “It was a lot of getting into the office at 9 or 10 AM and leaving at 10 or 11 at night.”

  That person, who was salaried, did not get paid for their extra hours. Instead, they had to hope that the game would sell well enough to net everyone on staff a healthy bonus.

  Bonuses are a big deal at Rockstar Games. The standard compensation package for a Rockstar employee includes an annual bonus, one that grows substantially during years when the company ships a game. It’s tied to a number of factors, Rockstar says, including the sales of that game and individual employee performance. Some former Rockstar employees described receiving hefty bonuses after the first Red Dead Redemption, sometimes reaching the mid-five digits. But Max Payne 3 did not sell well, according to the former Rockstar employee, so bonuses in 2012 were significantly lower than expected.

  Then came 2013’s Grand Theft Auto V, which required crunch from many who worked across Rockstar’s studios. One former employee at Rockstar’s Toronto office shared documents showing how many hours one team had worked during a week in the months leading up to GTA V’s release. Those who had worked fewer than 60 hours were marked with the word “Under” in red letters. One person who worked at one of Rockstar’s offices in the United Kingdom said that the stress of constant overtime for nearly a decade had cost them their relationship and their mental health, although the person also insisted that it was one of the best places they’d ever worked. “They were—are—one of the best companies going,” the person said. “But the thing is, for the people who work for them, it’s not just a job, it’s an absolute way of life.”

  It’s not uncommon to hear current and former employees describe Rockstar as a family—or, less charitably, as a “cult.” Some have shared stories of the company going out of its way to help them out during hard times, like family deaths or serious illnesses. Some said they saw Rockstar as a sort of trial by fire: Work there for a few years, put in the extra hours, and your resume will be armed with a Grand Theft Auto or a Red Dead Redemption, giving you the prestige to get hired by any game development studio you’d like.

  During the development of Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar began formally shifting to a new policy. Instead of different studios or clusters of studios working on each project, as they had for Red Dead 1 and Max Payne 3, all of Rockstar’s offices would combine forces. For some departments, that helped alleviate the workload.

  Others said they still had it rough, however. Three people who worked at Rockstar San Diego between 2011 and 2016 recall a period where they were told that overtime wasn’t optional. “It was mandatory 80 hours for basically the whole studio,” said one person who was there. “If you don’t have any work to do on Red Dead 2, just test GTA V for another eight hours.” Said a second: “Maybe they didn’t tell anyone 100 hours, but they definitely told us 80. Concept artists were sitting there being glorified QA.”

  A current Rockstar San Diego employee also confirmed that they had been asked to work 80-hour weeks for periods back then. That’d be an average of 11-hour work days—10am to 9pm—for all seven days of the week.

  In order to keep track of hours, Rockstar asks many employees to log into the company’s proprietary bug-tracking software, BugStar, every day when they get into work, then log out when they leave. (Some Rockstar offices use other software to track their hours.) Employees are also told to log their individual tasks, which Rockstar says is for project management purposes, so the company can know how long it takes to fix bugs or implement features. It’s an environment that has made some staff feel as if they’re constantly being watched, and several current employees have shared stories of being called into their manager’s office and asked why they aren’t working more than 40 or 45 hours a week.

  “The idea that Rockstar cares about its employees and their health is laughable,” said one former San Diego employee who left during production of Red Dead Redemption 2. “I was pushed further into depression and anxiety than I had ever been while I worked there. My body was exhausted, I did not feel as though I was able to have any friends outside of work, I felt like I was going insane for much of my time there and I started drinking heavily… Now, I have heard from some friends that are still working there that some improvements have been made, but Dan’s statement about crunch being optional is ridiculous. It is optional if you want to lose your job or never move forward in your career.”

  When Red Dead Redemption came out in May 2010, it was a massive critical and commercial success. It was widely seen as one of the greatest games of all time, and it was no surprise that Rockstar greenlit a sequel.

  Red Dead Redemption 2, announced in October 2016, has been in some form of development since the beginning of 2011. Those who have worked on the game over the past seven years have expressed nothing but positivity about it, and even those who feel bitterly about how Rockstar treated them acknowledge that working on the sequel to Red Dead was creatively satisfying. “The work I did there was the most fun, most interesting work I’ve ever done,” said one former Rockstar employee who otherwise had nothing but negative things to say about his experiences with crunch, management, and the company as a whole. “I think I enjoyed the actual work more than I have doing really anything.”

  Current and former employees use high praise when talking about Red Dead Redemption 2, describing it as unlike anything anyone has played before. It’s poised to be one of the most technically impressive games of all time. It was also developed under a great deal of crunch.

  The word “crunch” is something of a misnomer. It implies a short period of time toward the end of a project—crunch time, the final opportunity for everyone to make the game as good as possible. But in the video game industry, crunch can happen any time, for a variety of reasons. Whether there’s a big publisher milestone coming up, some executives are coming to town, or the creative director wants to look at a new demo, there are many periods when game developers might have to work nights and weekends to finish big tasks.

  For some people working on Red Dead Redemption 2, crunch started as early as 2016. For others at Rockstar, crunch periods started in the fall of 2017, a year before the game’s release date. Even when the company wasn’t in official crunch mode, dozens of current and former employees say they’ve felt compelled to stay late for a variety of reasons. “Rockstar pressures employees to put in overtime in several direct and indirect ways,” said one current Rockstar developer. “Coming in on weekends is perhaps the only way to show you are dedicated and care. So you can be very efficient and hard-working during the week, but if you don’t show up on the weekend, you’re accused of not doing your share and will be constantly harassed.”

  In conversations and e-mails, six current and former employees all independently used the term “culture of fear” to describe their experiences at Rockstar, in large part because of that overtime pressure. “There is a lot of fear at Rockstar,” said a former employee, “fear of getting fired, fear of under-performing, fear of getting yelled at, fear of delivering a shitty game. For some people fear is a great motivator, for others it just incites rebellion.” Some current employees, when asked, said they’d experienced nothing like this, noting that it would all be dependent on their department and individual manager. But those who have worked in several of Rockstar’s offices have described feeling like they had to be in the office as much as possible out of fear of getting yelled at, having their bonuses docked, or losing their jobs.

  Even over the past week, as Rockstar’s management sent multiple messages to employees telling them that they were welcome to talk about their experiences, some current staff said they were terrified of being open. Last weekend, Rockstar North co-studio head Rob Nelson sent an e-mail to everyone at the company acknowledging that management was looking to improve “the way we approach development at this scale” and promising that nobody would be targeted for sharing feedback. “He reiterated an offer he made last week that if any of us wants to talk to him, he’s happy to do so,” said a current employee, “but everyone I’ve spoken with is still afraid to open up.”

  One common fear at Rockstar is that if you leave during a game’s production, your name won’t be in the credits, no matter how much work you put in. Several former Rockstar employees lamented this fact, and Rockstar confirmed it when I asked. “That has been a consistent policy because we have always felt that we want the team to get to the finish line,” said Jennifer Kolbe. “And so a very long time ago, we decided that if you didn’t actually finish the game, then you wouldn’t be in the credits.”

  Kolbe later told me that for Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar was “planning to recognize many people who made a contribution, including many former employees,” which turned out to be a list of their names on the company’s website. That list includes those who worked on Red Dead Redemption 2 for years but left before the game shipped, leading Rockstar to exclude their names from the in-game credits. This appears to be the first time Rockstar has credited former employees in a fashion like this.

  For some, crunching on Red Dead Redemption 2 was a choice, one that several proud current employees told me they made because they wanted to help ensure that the game was as good as possible. Many have argued about the ethics of voluntary crunch—and the pressures it creates on one’s co-workers—but quite a few Rockstar staff insisted that their overtime had not been mandatory. They were workaholics, they told me. They wanted to put in that extra push to make Red Dead 2 great.

  For others, crunch emerged for other reasons. During development of Red Dead Redemption 2, several sources say, there were many points where the Houser brothers weren’t pleased with how the game was shaping up. They made major changes to the map and the camp system, a core part of Red Dead Redemption 2 that involves protagonist Arthur Morgan’s gang of fellow criminals moving around the world. “There was a point where the Houser bros. were extremely disappointed at how the game was turning out,” said a former Rockstar employee. “They didn’t like the gameplay, didn’t find it fun or interesting, and this triggered an overhaul on a lot of different things.”

  Even something as simple as changing the name of a city could lead to tons of extra work. At one point, Red Dead Redemption 2’s biggest city was called New Bordeaux, two sources confirmed, but when Rockstar found out that the open-world game Mafia III (developed by 2K, which is also owned by Rockstar parent company Take-Two Interactive) had used that name, they changed it to Saint Denis. That meant taking voice actors into the dialogue booth for a whole lot of re-recording, which meant a whole lot of extra work for anyone involved with cinematics—not to mention all the artwork and interface changes.

  Ask any game developer what the most important part of making games is and they’ll likely give you a single-word answer: Iteration. What that means is experimenting and prototyping and changing your game until you learn what works best. Inevitably, that means throwing out work that’s already done, and even more inevitably, 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, especially for those at the end of the pipeline. The audio team, for example, can’t work until other parts of the game are finalized.

  “You cannot possibly accurately plan out a project as complicated as RDR2,” said a current Rockstar employee. “There are always going to be unexpected problems or dependencies that arise that generate bottlenecks which are going to require somebody get some work done quickly, otherwise 20 other people are held up. If someone is looking for an absolute 9-5 no surprises type job, then there are plenty of those jobs available in different industries that someone who works in games is more than qualified to do.”

  Yet Rockstar’s crunch feels different than that of other studios. For years, whispers have circulated in industry circles about crunch at the company behind Red Dead Redemption 2, and there are plenty of people with stories to tell.

  Over the course of reporting for this article, I heard a wide range of varying and often contradictory opinions and anecdotes. Even within the same office, one team might be going through brutal crunch while another team works standard nine-hour days. One current employee at Rockstar NYC, for example, told me that they’d been working 60- to 70-hour weeks for the past two years. They said that they can’t see themselves doing this kind of work for that much longer. But they also said they didn’t see how else a game like Red Dead Redemption 2 could be made.

  “I think one of the big misunderstandings that I see a lot in comments and articles is that this isn’t number crunching,” said the employee. “We have an understanding that we’re trying to make a work of art more than just churning out a product. If I was just churning out a product, [at] 5 p.m. I’m heading out. But we’re making something you’ve never seen before.”

  The employee said they’d reached out because of Dan Houser’s comments implying that crunch was limited and voluntary at Rockstar—comments that the employee said were infuriating to them and others in their office. “We got a few e-mails where they were like, ‘Look, guys, we need to be hitting these deadlines, doing this—I don’t see any butts in the seats on Saturdays,’” they said. They added that their crunch had “100 percent had long-term ramifications” on their friendships and relationships, yet they’d do it all again if they could. “This game would have never come out if we did not put in the hours that we did,” the employee said.

  A second Rockstar NYC developer also said they reached out because of Houser’s comments. “While nobody I know worked 100 hour weeks, many of us worked 60-80 hour weeks for the past one or two years,” they said. “To hear one of the heads of the company effectively go on record as saying none of that ever happened has been a huge blow to morale at a time when we should be celebrating.”

  A third Rockstar developer in the New York office said they’d had far more positive experiences. “We crunch far less than articles so far have presented and there is no ‘secret shaming’ of people who leave early,” that person said.

  A fourth current developer, also in New York City, said they were terrified even to reach out to me, and that they felt like they worked long hours under an “abject culture of fear.” A fifth employee at Rockstar New York said their past few years had been great. “I would really hate for all of Rockstar’s management to get vilified when some managers/leads really are doing a phenomenal job and genuinely care about their employees,” that person said.

  As with any massive, multi-national company, experiences at Rockstar can differ drastically. Yet there are a few common themes. The current Rockstar employee who said they’d crunched far less than articles have presented also brought up a point echoed by many others: At Rockstar, being in the office is valued above all else. “Rockstar does have a pervasive issue with the ‘appearance of work,’” that person said in an e-mail. “They like seeing people at their desks (they don’t allow work from home unless for medical reason and even then they strongly urge PTO [paid time off]). They also like people staying for dinner and you do see a bit of shame if you haven’t stayed until dinner (7:30) in a few weeks.”

  At Rockstar’s New York City office, dinner has been catered three to four nights a week since the heaviest crunch started, in fall of 2017, according to those who spoke to me. To some teams, this wasn’t presented as a voluntary option. One e-mail shared with Kotaku from the fall of 2017 makes it clear that crunch was required, starting with three nights a week.

  On Twitter over the past week, Rockstar employees have shared a number of positive stories, with many, especially at Rockstar North in Edinburgh, Scotland, stating that crunch on Red Dead Redemption 2 was the easiest they’ve ever had it. Although Rockstar explicitly told employees not to “sugarcoat” any of their stories, outside observers were skeptical that anyone would publicly trash their current employer. Indeed, when I spoke to some of those who tweeted, some who responded said they had been honest but may have left out some parts of their stories—and that they were hoping that this month’s events might lead to change for those Rockstar staff in departments that had it rougher.

  Former employees have also publicly shared negative experiences. Job Stauffer, who worked in PR for Rockstar, said on Twitter that he had worked weekends during his time at the company. “It’s been nearly a decade since I parted from Rockstar, but I can assure you that during the GTA IV era, it was like working with a gun to your head 7 days a week. ‘Be here Saturday & Sunday too, just in case Sam or Dan [Houser] come in, they want to see everyone working as hard as them.’”

  Privately, several current employees told me that this hasn’t changed. Those who didn’t work in the New York City office shared stories of everyone having to work extra hours whenever the Housers came to town, while those who do work in New York echoed Stauffer’s comments.

  “There’d be Saturdays that I’d go there with nothing to do,” said one. “I’d sit in the office for six to eight hours just in case Sam or Dan was there, so they could see me. It was always dictated to me about my bonus. It was never about working, it was always about, you want that good bonus so you need Dan and Sam to see you sitting there.”

  Said another: “The stories you’ve heard about people coming in to be visible for the Housers (more frequently Dan than Sam) are 100% true… I myself have been told at least once to walk a lap around the floor on an otherwise slow Saturday so that he could see there were people around.”

  When asked about this, Rockstar head of publishing Jennifer Kolbe said she found it shocking. “I can’t speak to any particular manager that might say that type of stuff,” she said. “I don’t know the last game review with Dan or Sam that actually flowed over to a weekend… I’d like to believe that we don’t believe in the idea of mandatory face time, if that makes sense. I think it’s more if you have work that needs to get done, we expect it to get done.”

  Kolbe said she used to come into the office nearly every weekend until around two years ago, when she had a child. She said she found it productive to be there when other people weren’t around, so she could catch up on e-mails and other work without having to take any meetings. “I don’t know if I was inadvertently sending a message to people that because I was here, they needed to be here,” she said. “Now that I look back, I don’t know. I would’ve hoped they would’ve stayed home so I could get my stuff done.”

  And what of other studios? Some who currently work for Rockstar North have shared positive experiences, both on Twitter and privately with Kotaku, outside of those in the scripting or design department, who say they’ve been hit pretty hard by crunch on Red Dead Redemption 2. One current Rockstar North staffer said their hours have ranged from 40 all the way up to 80 per week during crunch. “I love working there, during my time I’ve had multiple promotions, get to make great games and I feel the pay is ok/good,” they said in an e-mail. “Outside of crunch hours the job is amazing.” A second current Rockstar North staffer described a bleaker situation: “Not once have I approached 100 hour weeks, even in the worst of crunch. I have, however, been on a steady death march of mostly mandated 50-60 hour weeks for quite honestly years.”

  (To conceptualize this, a 50-hour week would be five 10-hour days, say 10am to 8pm. A 60-hour week would add a full Saturday or Sunday to one’s work schedule.)

  Two current employees at Rockstar New England, which is located in Andover, Massachusetts, both shared glowing stories. “I really can’t imagine working at another game company at this point,” said one. “I’m working on the best products with amazingly talented people using the best tools and pipeline in the industry under a company that puts the quality of the game above anything else. I’m also working very reasonable hours and I’m very well off financially. It’s a comfortable and exciting career, and they take care of us.” A third, also at Rockstar New England, said they loved working at the company but that they’d been told to work 55- to 60-hour weeks during crunch over the past year.

  In San Diego, some said things have changed drastically from the days of the first Red Dead Redemption and that anonymous letter from employees’ spouses, while others said they’ve felt pressured to work nights and weekends. Two current staffers each said they’d been asked to work more hours, although they weren’t given specific guidelines or quotas. “It’s a culture thing,” said one. “You’re going out to lunch and everyone’s talking about work hours—how many hours you’ve done, how many you’ve logged in. The culture values being a workaholic.”

  Some Rockstar staff said they were paid annual salaries, so they didn’t get any extra money for putting in hours on top of their standard schedules. Others said they were paid hourly, although several said they’d compared their wages to those co-workers making annual salaries and found that they’d have to work overtime just to make the same amount. (The people on annual salaries tended to be more senior, so it follows that they were paid more.)

  And then there’s Rockstar Lincoln. Of all of the current Rockstar employees who reached out to tell their stories, nearly a dozen worked at Lincoln. More than a dozen former employees from that office also chimed in with their own experiences, painting a bleak picture. Even some current staff who worked at other offices and told me they had positive experiences at Rockstar acknowledged that Lincoln had serious issues. If crunch culture is a problem across Rockstar, then at Rockstar Lincoln, it appears to be an epidemic.

  At many game studios, there’s one department on the very bottom of the totem pole, a place where it’s tough to get a lot of respect: Quality Assurance, or QA, where people play different sections of the game in as many ways as possible, trying to find all of the bugs. Although QA testers are essential to the success of a game, they’re also seen by many game studios as low-skilled and dispensable.

  Rockstar has a few QA departments, but a large number of its testers work at one particular office: Rockstar Lincoln, located in the English city of the same name. Current and former employees of Rockstar Lincoln describe it as a tough place to work, one where the testers are paid low wages, asked to work extremely long hours, and subject to strict security practices.

  “The QA department at Rockstar Lincoln has been working mandatory OT since August 2017,” said one current employee. “In October 2017 we officially began our crunch and have been in this crunch since to this date.” As Rockstar has confirmed, Lincoln’s testers have been asked to work on evenings and weekends since then, starting with three nights a week and later moving up to five, and starting with one weekend day per month and later moving up to every weekend. Anyone who wanted a two-day weekend would have to work an extra weekend day on another week, which meant 12 straight days of work between days off.

  Even before then, however, some staff said they were working overtime. Some explained that testers were hired on a temporary contract basis, and they’d felt compelled to work extra hours in order to get permanent jobs. “A large amount of staff are on rolling temporary contracts and live in the hope that they will be extended and able to pay rent as the end of their contract approaches,” said one current tester. “I don’t feel like anyone is comfortable speaking out in the hopes that they can be extended long enough to be made permanent. Staff are often reminded how lucky they are, simply to be working for Rockstar.”

  “I have never suffered from depression before working at Rockstar,” said a former Lincoln tester. “Now some time after leaving it’s a recurring issue for me… One tester who worked below me told me he had gone to the doctor for help dealing with depression, was asked where he worked and when he replied Rockstar, the doctor said. ‘For god’s sake, another one.’” Two different spouses of Rockstar Lincoln employees contacted me to share stories, saying they hadn’t seen much of their partners lately.

  Others said they had positive experiences as well, with one current Rockstar tester even calling it “the greatest place I have ever worked,” outside of the crunch. But, they said, “This type of work should never be placed on people to maintain over the course of an entire year and beyond.”

  Only some of Lincoln’s testers were paid overtime. People working in the localization department received annual salaries, as did lead testers, creating an uncomfortable situation where some testers were getting paid more than their leads. Some told me they didn’t want promotions as a result.

  On top of the overtime, those who work or have worked at Rockstar Lincoln describe restrictions they saw as unfair. Three testers said they weren’t allowed their cell phones at their desks during the work day, and had to put them in lockers before starting their shifts, which made it difficult to deal with doctor’s appointments or other essential activities aside from their breaks. Two said that after a tester spotted a drone that might have been filming through the windows, they were no longer allowed to open the blinds at night. Testers said they weren’t allowed to eat hot food at their desks—desks that were shared between day- and night-shift employees.

  Rockstar’s Jennifer Kolbe confirmed these details, saying in an e-mail, “We believe that the vast majority of our team in Lincoln feels positively about work conditions there, and these specific difficulties mentioned are either not generally considered real hardships or are not based on any current reality.”

  For some, that was certainly the case—except for the hours. “Ultimately, the job is a good job,” said one former tester. “And Rockstar is a good company to work for. When it’s not crunch, it’s not a bad place at all. The money’s alright, there’s a bonus at the end of the year. It’s just that crunch practically kills people.”

  In conversations, some testers said they’d missed out on important events and time with their families due to this crunch. Others said their hours were monitored down to the minute, with managers reacting harshly to any missed time. One former Lincoln tester said they’d arrived late at work one day due to a heavy snowstorm that had led other businesses in the area to shut down. “There was no, ‘Thanks for making it in,’” the tester said. “It was, ‘Can you work back that?’”

  “I feel like I’m going to need to get to know my partner again,” said a current tester.

  On Friday, October 19, Rockstar Lincoln told its staff that overtime would no longer be mandatory. Although Kolbe characterized this as a clarification of a previous policy, and said it hadn’t been mandatory before, nearly a dozen current and former Rockstar Lincoln employees have reached out to Kotaku since then to say otherwise. All said that this overtime was a regular part of their schedule, and one even said they had received e-mails using the word “mandatory” to describe crunch.

  In an e-mail on Monday, Kolbe offered more clarification: “We have spoken with the Lincoln team to make sure it’s clear that the scheduled extra time is requested, and yes we have only been requesting what we feel is really needed to get this game finished at the quality level we need. From talking to our team last week, we have heard that there were references to ‘mandatory’ overtime from some managers. At the same time we don’t believe that was a blanket message for the Lincoln team, and that is borne out by the comments from some that while they knew it was not in fact mandatory, they felt an obligation to do it. Either way, it is clear to us that our communication has not been perfect and we take responsibility for the situations in which the team has been confused or has received confusing messages from us. We have pushed hard over the last years to build and optimize the structure of our QA team, including doubling the size of the permanent team since 2014 and introducing scheduled day and night shifts so that we can increasingly avoid asking the QA team to work overtime. We will continue to make progress on that.”

  Last Friday, Kolbe shared numbers that appeared to show normal work hours at Rockstar Lincoln, despite the company’s request that daytime testers work nights and weekends. From October 9, 2017 to May 13, 2018, she said, the average work week at Lincoln was 38.4 hours. From May 14, 2018 to August 5, 2018, she said the average work week was 45.4 hours. But if these averages accounted for days off, as Kolbe had later clarified, then the data was skewed—and it certainly doesn’t mesh with the experiences of those who shared their stories.

  “Some of us on dayshift feel a bit cheated by the averaged out hours,” said a current Lincoln employee in an e-mail last weekend. “It diminishes the work we’ve put in, if some higher-up tries to gloss over or down-play the actual hours we were forced to crunch. Rockstar doesn’t need to use such underhanded tactics to make themselves look slightly better, all they should do is resolve the issue at hand—which they have started to, credit where credit’s due.”

  Some at Rockstar Lincoln are optimistic about the change to optional overtime, although two lead testers have lamented the fact that their extra hours remain unpaid. “While I’m still a bit skeptical as to whether this voluntary overtime can remain free of peer pressure/job security/’passion’ anxieties, it’s comforting to see leads/supervisors commit to no more than two overtime shifts per week and two weekend shifts a month,” said the current employee. “Especially considering how much we were supposed to be crunching in November. Now I’m in control of how much I can work, it feels great. I’ll actually have meaningful free time in an evening!”

  From people across all of Rockstar’s studios, we’ve heard mixed feelings: Pride at having worked on a game like Red Dead Redemption 2. Weariness after putting in so many hours. And anger that Rockstar’s management has seemingly downplayed the crunch in public over the past week.

  As Rockstar’s approach to work has made headlines over the past couple of weeks, the company has tried to get on top of things by taking some unusual steps. Normally a secretive institution that would prefer the press stay away and their developers not talk publicly about their jobs, Rockstar last week made the unprecedented move of allowing its developers to speak publicly about work conditions. It also opened up its doors to Kotaku—in a particularly unconventional way.

  It was cold last Thursday when I went down to Rockstar’s office in SoHo, Manhattan at the company’s invitation. Rockstar had learned that I was working on this story earlier in October, a week before Houser’s comments set off public discussion of crunch culture, and said it would make its employees available for interviews. Over the course of a few conversations, some of Rockstar’s top people, including head of publishing Jennifer Kolbe, told me that they took this issue very seriously and wanted to make sure I had a chance to speak to staff on the ground at all of their studios.

  What followed was one of the strangest interview experiences I’ve ever had. Rockstar’s head of PR and communications, Simon Ramsey, sat with me at a table in a fourth-floor conference room. Ramsey said we’d be video-chatting with staff from all across the world, and after some brief technical issues, we were faced with two boxes on a screen. In one box, on the left, two employees sat on a couch at Rockstar New England. In another box, on the right, three Rockstar North employees also sat on a couch. They all wore casual clothes, some adorned with Red Dead Redemption logos and slogans. We exchanged quick introductions, and then I was given free rein to interview them about their work-life balances and crunch experiences. All five of them. At once.

  Over the next two hours, the company also brought in groups from Rockstar San Diego, Rockstar Lincoln, and Rockstar Toronto, a mix of junior and senior employees. Rockstar said I could quote them but asked that I not use any of their names.

  It’s difficult to gauge whether someone’s being completely candid about their work experiences when they’re on a video chat with a group of their co-workers, a journalist, and the company’s head of PR. Still, the 12 employees who spoke to me on these calls offered perspectives that are worth sharing, much like those who publicly tweeted about their experiences.

  “I know when I feel like I need to put in the extra time—you certainly have weeks when you feel like you’re going to have a lot more hours than others,” said one Rockstar New England employee. “The other side of it is that it’s been very easy for me to balance my work life and my personal life.”

  “I’ve worked one day of the weekend in five years,” said a lead at Rockstar North, noting that things had changed drastically for them since the development of Grand Theft Auto V. “I’ve got people who just want to go home at 5 p.m., and that’s not an issue… I see in the company that we’ve changed, and that people feel more like they’re being treated well, but there are still some cultures that remain from the old days.”

  “Out of all those projects, Red Dead Redemption 2 has been the easiest I’ve experienced personally,” said one Rockstar San Diego employee. “Core hours, including lunch, would be nine hours. I’d say I probably get in an extra two hours on top of that most times. During crunch I probably put in another hour or two on top of that.”

  “Nobody’s ever told me, ‘You need to work X amount of hours,’” said a Rockstar Toronto employee. “We will on occasion be asked if we have availability on weekends.”

  After one of these calls, Ramsey turned to me and asked what I thought so far. I told him that I believed these stories but was skeptical that anyone could be transparent under interview circumstances like this. He seemed surprised.

  This tracks with my encounters with Rockstar higher-ups over the past week. While they’ve made efforts to discuss the allegations of overwork and have loosened restrictions on their employees speaking up, I’ve not gotten much sense that they see that workers will inevitably fear retaliation from bosses, no matter how much those bosses say they can speak freely. It’s human nature. In an e-mail sent to Rockstar employees this past weekend, Rockstar North studio co-head Rob Nelson said that a few people had mentioned wanting some place to submit their thoughts anonymously, and that the company was looking into setting that up. That will undoubtedly inspire more candid feedback.

  What plenty of Rockstar employees say they believe, even those who spoke to me privately, is that things have changed for the better since the days of the first Red Dead Redemption. It’s a sentiment that Rockstar’s Kolbe also shared, when I asked her if she thought crunch was sustainable.

  “I think we’ve realized that it’s not sustainable,” she said, “but I don’t necessarily think we realized it through burnout. I think we’ve realized it through having children, because I think that naturally means you’re going to work less hours. I think even for the people who don’t have children, who have gone through crunch periods on other games, they approach the game they then go onto next a little differently. Because no matter who you are, your health is a concern to you. I think everyone approaches each new project with the goal of: It’s got to be better than what I did last time.”

  Kolbe added that many members of her team have worked together for 15 to 20 years. “We want to continue working together, but we also know that certainly as you get older, it gets harder,” she said. “We’re dealing now with the generation after mine. They have very different ideas about work-life balance than my generation has, and they are bringing that into the company, and I think that’s a positive thing. They probably think we’re all crazy, but I think it actually has changed our ideas of how you can work.”

  Just how much has changed at Rockstar depends who you ask. During the Red Dead 1 days, at least, life at Rockstar appealed to a certain type of person—a workaholic, one who loved the thought of spending long hours with their co-workers, pushing as hard as possible to finish the gargantuan, ambitious projects that have made Rockstar one of the most beloved companies in games. Some employees compared it to a family. One described making games at Rockstar as feeling like fighting a war together. Others used the words Stockholm Syndrome.

  “If you’re really passionate about the game and working there, and want to prioritize that over your life, it’s a really great place,” said a former Rockstar San Diego employee. “But if you want to prioritize your life, it’s not.”

  One lead at another major game studio told me that in the last few weeks he’d interviewed two different candidates from Rockstar. He asked why they were looking to leave. “[They] said, ‘If you work at Rockstar, it is expected you have no life outside of Rockstar,’” he told me.

  What’s become clear over the past week is that many of those who work and have worked for Rockstar—even those who have had positive experiences—want things to change. They want a better atmosphere for themselves and their colleagues, one where overtime is an exception rather than the rule, and where working on a dream game doesn’t mean burning themselves out.

  Or, at the very least, they want a future where all employees are paid for their extra hours.

  “I’m not writing because I want to harm the company or the game,” said one current employee in a recent e-mail. “I’m proud of both and I stand by them. I think the incredible amount of time and effort put into the game will show and I can’t wait for people to see it next week. I’m writing because I think this is a unique opportunity to raise our voices against the insanity of crunch, and that Rockstar really could change for the better as a result. If that happens, maybe other studios will follow suit.”

  Some fans have asked if they should avoid buying or playing Red Dead Redemption 2 to show support for those who had tough experiences making it, but many of Rockstar’s current and former employees—even those who had the worst things to say about the company—say they’re against the idea. For one, those who put long weeks into the game want people to see what they’ve done. Also, given that this year’s bonuses will be based on royalties, any sort of large-scale boycott may hurt Rockstar employees more than it helps, some current employees have said. What fans can instead do, those people say, is speak out about crunch and workplace issues like this, helping put public pressure on the company.

  On Friday, Rockstar will release Red Dead Redemption 2, and next month, it will launch Red Dead Online, which some current employees are now crunching to finish. Then, Rockstar will move on to new projects. The work of making video games at Rockstar will continue, and it is unclear how much the process of creating them will change.

  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. Can Rockstar continue to make great games without putting in the crunch hours that have been so pervasive in its long history of successful art? Is crunch just, as CD Projekt Red CEO Marcin Iwiński once told me in an interview about his studio’s mega-hit The Witcher 3, a “necessary evil” in game development? These are questions that will be debated for years to come. For now, at least, many hope that by coming together to share their stories, they can push for some change at Rockstar Games.(source:kotaku )


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