Rockstar's Dan Houser has revealed that the creation of Red Dead Redemption 2 has seen developers working 100-hour weeks. The title, which is gearing up for release on October 26, has long been at the top of many a gamer's wish list for 2018, and with that date fast approaching fans have been excited to see the reality of a game whose publisher has stated will redefine the gaming industry.
Exactly how the title will do this remains to be seen, but Rockstar has stated that the title has a 60-hour campaign, complete with what is likely to be an extremely deep experience with a variety of nuanced characters. On top of this, the technical aspects of Red Dead Redemption 2 also seem impressive, complete with first person options, while the confirmation of Red Dead Online means that the game will expand beyond even its initial campaign.
All that, however, comes at a cost. According to an interview given by Dan Houser to Vulture, Red Dead Redemption 2 has seen some at the developer working "100-hour weeks" several times over the course of 2018. When asked to clarify by Kotaku, Houser specified that this related to the work on the narrative and dialogue for the project, rather than the game as a whole. The head writer did suggest that working excessive hours was still a truth for some senior members of staff, suggesting the developer has "some senior people who work very hard purely because they’re passionate about a project."
According to Houser, the additional effort from some employees "is a choice," rather than an expectation. However, when this is tied to senior employees, particularly when working "very hard" and being "passionate" about a project seem tied to working hours far beyond those recommended by healthcare professionals, it can lead to other staff members to feel pressured into following suit.
Rockstar has a history with crunch time in the run-up to a game's release, with cases of overworking reported during the development of GTA V and Red Dead Redemption, and even if things have improved this still needs to be taken seriously. Comments from Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick from earlier this year do suggest that there is still an attitude of long hours at the company, stating that "people are anxious to participate" during busy periods.
Crunch has long been an issue within video game development. Particularly in the run-up to a game's release, developers have been expected to work extremely long hours without breaks or regular days off to ensure that launch date targets are met. If the example of 100-hour weeks from Red Dead Redemption 2 is to be believed, then this would mean 14-hour work days, seven days a week.
The health problems related to working long hours are well-documented but bear repeating. Studies have shown a link between working beyond a 40-hour week and an increased risk of cardiovascular issues, along with unhealthy weight gain and a higher amount of tobacco and alcohol consumption. Meanwhile, mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and stress are also more likely to develop, while long-term exposure to stressful situations is a trigger for those susceptible to schizophrenia or psychotic episodes. All in all, some may wonder whether these risks are worth it for virtual horse testicles that shrink in cold weather.
Breaking out of a mindset that allows crunch to become a norm is a difficulty that the industry as a whole faces, but it is something that has to be addressed. Even if the health concerns of employees aren't taken into consideration as they should, the quality of the end product is also impacted, as working long hours actually makes people less productive. In video games, this could no doubt lead to more bugs, gameplay glitches, and a general failure to reach standards.
All in all, it shows that some serious questions need to be asked about the treatment of developers. Between Telltale firing staff without severance and the growth of games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Cyberpunk 2077 putting a greater pressure on deep experiences that require intensive work to create, there are valid concerns about exploitation of game creators. Even if Red Dead Redemption 2's extra hours were a labor of love, wellbeing should always come first, and that's something that those bestselling predictions cannot erase.