Crunch isn't required, claims Rockstar co-founder after 100-hour weeks comment

UPDATE Rockstar's Dan Houser says crunch is optional, and the 100-hour weeks previously mentioned were only senior writers during the last three weeks of the project.

Update: Rockstar Games co-founder Dan Houser has followed up his original interview with Vulture by sharing a statement on what he meant by “100-hour weeks” with Kotaku. Houser, however, doesn’t walk back the 100-hour weeks comment entirely.

Instead, the studio co-founder and senior Red Dead Redemption 2 writer says that his quote refers only to the senior writing team and those weeks came toward the end of the game’s development, rather than throughout the entire seven-year process.

Houser says that he and senior writers Mike Unsworth, Rupert Humphries, and Lazlow tend to dow "three weeks of intense work" toward the end of a project to ensure everything is finished and finalized.

Following that, Houser says that crunch isn't mandated or expected at Rockstar: "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.”

Houser’s statement notably doesn’t do much to decry the crunch that did go into the development of Red Dead Redemption 2, even if it was ‘only’ three weeks in the case of this one particular part of the development team. In this case, he also positions crunch as a side effect of passionate development, a standpoint that often helps normalize excessive work hours and obscure some of the management issues that can make regular bursts of overtime standard practice for some game studios.

Original story continues below: 

Red Dead Redemption 2 looks set to be one of the biggest games of the year. The gun-slinging epic has been met with glowing previews across the board, and developer Rockstar has been inundated with praise for creating a world overflowing with impossible detail. 

Right now, all signs indicate the game will be a roaring success when it finally hits shelves later this month, but a recent interview with Vulture suggests it'll be an achievement that comes at a cost. 

Speaking to the magazine, Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser casually revealed the Red Dead development team worked 100-hour weeks polishing off the title. It's an alarming statistic that once again highlights how normalized crunch has become in the games industry. 

"The polishing, rewrites, and re-edits Rockstar does are immense. We were working 100-hour weeks," explained Houser, before commenting on how the finished game will be overflowing with content. 

300,000 animations, 500,000 lines of dialogue, many more lines of code, and 60-hours of story. They're figures that make for impressive reading, until you realize what was sacrificed so they could be reeled out.

It might sound like we're flogging a dead horse, but it's important to highlight the human cost of crunch. While some might say it's a necessary evil, or that passionate employees are happy to work longer hours, it's an endeavor that ultimately does more harm than good.

Earlier this year, the IDGA's former executive director Kate Edwards commented on how crunch "burns people out, and has seriously negative effects on physical, mental, and social health." Referring to a survey conducted by the IDGA in 2015, Edwards said crunch affected 62 percent of developers, and only served to actively discourage them from working in the games industry. 

Plenty of high-profile creators have also slammed crunch, with Double Fine founder Tim Schafer last year branding it "misguided and old-fashioned," and calling for studios to eliminate the practice altogether.

"People do that kind of work because they don't feel confident in their creative output. It's a mode you get into when you can’t see a successful, metered approach to the work you have to do," he commented, drawing on his own experiences. 

"You don't realize until it has happened that you’re doing all this damage to your personal life by staying at work all the time. You can mentally put the rest of the world on hold, but the rest of the world can’t necessarily be put on hold by you."

You can find out more about Red Dead Redemption 2 by checking out the full interview on Vulture, but go in knowing there's nothing normal about working your staff down to the bone.

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