Eighteen months after the release of his last game, Red Dead Redemption II, the air is more breathable at Rockstar, the video game development studio famous for its series of Grand Theft Auto ((GTA). At the time, an investigation by the specialized site Kotaku had pinned Rockstar, criticized internally for its harsh working conditions. An investigation corroborated by testimonies collected by The world, who denounced an oppressive culture of secrecy and untenable workloads.
In a new Kotaku survey published Wednesday April 15, fifteen employees or ex-employees describe a marked improvement in working conditions within the studio, while claiming to remain cautious.
Optimistic, but cautious
In an internal email that Kotaku was able to obtain, Jennifer Kolbe, one of the studio managers at Rockstar, explains that the company has worked in recent months to identify “What works and what doesn't” in the business, “What we do well and what can be improved”, before listing the initiatives taken to improve working conditions.
In particular, she mentions a reorganization to limit the use of overtime (“Even if we still have a lot to do in this area”) and allow a more flexible organization of the hours worked. “We hope that the majority of you have seen positive changes: those for whom this is not yet the case will soon see it”she wrote.
The majority of employees interviewed by Kotaku confirm that these good intentions have started to bear fruit. One of them is delighted, for example, to see “This business finally managed as a real business”. In this period of confinement and telework, production “Stresses that it is normal not to be productive and that we have to take care of our families”, testifies another. “There are always rotten eggs in the basket, nuances a third employee, about the managers stationed at Rockstar. But we feel that their days [au sein de l’entreprise] are counted “.
And if employees report still insufficient wages (de facto making overtime necessary) or believe that some managers continue to cultivate a “Locker room atmosphere” already denounced in the past, everyone agrees that Rockstar Games “Go in the right direction”, according to an employee who is waiting “A year or two” to see if these changes will continue.
“The changes were big enough to convince me to stay, testifies a last, who was a few months ago still on the departure. But I’m waiting to see what awaits us, when the pressure related to the upcoming release of a game becomes a reality again. “
Kotaku indeed recalls that if Rockstar is well at work on a new episode of the series Grand Theft Auto (a hypothetical GTA 6), this one is not “Still in the early stages of its development”. According to Kotaku, it should be released as a game “Of a relatively reasonable size”, before being enriched and extended thereafter with “Regular updates”, in order to control the usual “crunch” period (end of production).
Change at the head of the studios
The Kotaku investigation does not establish a definitive link between the improvement of the corporate culture at Rockstar and the departure of the studio co-founder, Dan Houser, announced on February 4, 2020 and actually effective since spring 2019.
At the time of the release of Red Dead Redemption II, this is an interview with Mr. Houser who had set fire to the powder: the one who then supervised the writing of this monumental game was pleased that his team of writers and he had done “Several hundred hour weeks” to finish writing the game.
Kotaku's new survey highlights, however, that employees hope his departure will help limit last-minute rewrites, which were previously the norm, and point out that people at the helm of Rockstar studios in San Diego, California and in Lincoln (United Kingdom) have been replaced in the past year.
In the Lincoln studio, one of those who suffered the most during the development of Red Dead Redemption II according to Kotaku's sources, the testers, responsible for finding bugs and errors in the games, were finally hired full-time, while overtime, now optional, is paid at 150%.