According to pre-release previews and gameplay videos, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a fantastically detailed world with tons to do and see. The story campaign takes a long time to beat, and Rockstar Games has boasted that it features the largest world it has ever created. However, the company is now coming under fire for how it made that happen.
In a new interview, Rockstar Games co-founder Dan Houser reveals that in order to complete work on the game, the Red Dead Redemption 2 development team has been "working 100-hour weeks" in 2018. The article also references an email sent by Houser in August saying, "We’ve poured everything we have into [Red Dead Redemption 2]. We have really pushed ourselves as hard as we can.” In this email, Houser also describes the game's development as being "the hardest" the studio has ever worked on.
Since the interview was published, Houser has released a statement, explaining that the extreme working conditions related to "the senior writing team, which consists of four people, Mike Unsworth, Rupert Humphries, Lazlow and [Houser]," as opposed to the wider development team. Houser also explained that the 100-hour work weeks only happened for three weeks, and that "we obviously don’t expect anyone else to work this way."
But, it's understandable why many were quick to criticize Rockstar as a whole for Houser's initial comments. Crunch is a well-known game development practice in which developers work excruciatingly long hours to complete work on games. During this time they may spend little to no time with their families, find themselves sleeping in the office, and pull long hours in order to get the game done and out the door.
Rockstar especially is known for its crunch development practices, with some pointing to the now-infamous "Rockstar Spouse" incident from 2010. This refers to an open letter from the spouses of Rockstar developers that claimed that the studio's employees were being "turned into machines as they are slowly robbed of their humanity" as a result of the working conditions.
In a Twitter thread, former Rockstar employee Dylan Wildman described the experience of being a "survivor" of Grand Theft Auto 5's crunch development, saying that it was "hell." This crunch time involved 12-14 hour workdays for six days a week and Wildman estimates that it lasted for a year, going past release to account for post-launch support and DLC. Given that Red Dead Redemption 2 is even larger and post-launch content is also planned for the title, it's not hard to see why people believed that the crunch would be far more severe too.
As many will be quick to point out, Rockstar is far from the only studio that uses crunch development practices. Last year, Destiny developer Bungie made headlines when it ended its own crunch development process, something which had been in place since Halo 2. But many will also argue that this is the point, and that there needs be an industry-wide effort to reduce the stress that developers are put under when making games.
Red Dead Redemption 2 releases on October 26th for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.