Red Dead Redemption 2 is finally here, but other studios have condemned the 100-hour working weeks that the team behind it were forced to endure.

Red Dead Redemption 2, a console game that was released on 26 October 2018, has been one of the most highly anticipated games for years. But employees of the company behind it, Rockstar Games, have felt the hit while making the game.

What is crunch?

Crunch, or extended, usually unpaid overtime, has been an epidemic in the video game industry since its inception. The practice was also heavily publicised following the collapse of Telltale games, where poor working conditions were attributed as one of the key factors in the company’s downfall.

Games software is big business, with the UK games software market worth an estimated $3.1bn in 2017. The market is expected to grow strongly, with a compound annual growth rate of 6.1% between 2017 and 2022.

The launch of Red Dead Redemption 2 by Rockstar Games has been overshadowed by accusations of the company excessively working its employees in order for the game to be released on time and suitably polished, with minimal initial bugs. According to reports, Rockstar even made employees sign a waiver to work over the legal 48 hour week limit.

The controversy began when Rockstar Games co-founder Dan Houser admitted in an interview with New York Magazine that teams were “working 100 hour weeks”. Reaction from the gaming industry has been intense since then. Houser has since said that he was only referring to a limited period during which the story writing team was working such hours. Nevertheless, a debate was ignited and gaming press have gathered many employee testimonials about the harsh working conditions endured in the run up to the release of Red Dead Redemption 2

Rockstar Games is a large global game developer with staff working in the US as well as offices in the UK. UK developers speaking to media have spoken-up about unbearable working conditions as the game has been under crunch for over a year. Staff are said to have signed agreements to waive their right to only work 8 hours in every 24 if they were working night shifts at the studio in the UK, which is open 24/7.

An industry-wide problem

In recent years the gaming industry has made positive steps to acknowledge issues around crunch and overworked staff. As part of reaction to the Red Dead Redemption 2 revelations, Patrick Klaus, managing director of Ubisoft Quebec, the makers of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, claimed that the game didn’t require a massive crunch, which he says was a significant improvement on five to ten years ago when launching big games.

Matt Webster, the GM of Criterion Software also condemned the crunch and detailed ways in which he says his studio has worked to avoid it. Webster believes a rested workforce is far more productive, and argues that crunch can be avoided with good planning.

Red Dead Redemption 2 has been in the works for eight years, with team of 1,000 developers, artists, designers, writers and more. It is the most expensive game of all time.

The previous installment in the series was among the bestselling games of the seventh generation of video game consoles, and the sequel looks certain to surpass the previous installment’s performance. The UK’s physical sales so far show it is the best-selling game in its first week. Sales are also twice that of its predecessors in opening week.

With this success and the publicity around the effort required to complete the game, gaming developers are hopefully set for a less stressful future when it comes to the next big gaming release.

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