Cast your mind back to October of 2018, when Rockstar Games co-founder Dan Houser proudly boasted that members of the studio were suffering through 100-hour work weeks in order to get Red Dead Redemption 2 released. The bragging lit a firestorm on social media, dominated gaming news, and even brought other developers forward to discuss the issue and assure its fans that their developers were being cared for.
The studio attempted to mitigate the furor both with a “clarification” from Houser and Rockstar’s Lincoln, UK studio, as well as “permitted” testimony from devs (which also led to some not-permitted, anonymous testimony). Ultimately, the matter appears to have seen Houser leave the company in March after an “extended break” during spring 2019.
Now, after 18 months, and with the next Grand Theft Auto title in the early stages of development, there are reports that life at Rockstar is improving. Efforts by the studio include flexible scheduling for all of Rockstar’s studio locations, management and leadership training, anonymous employee surveys to gather feedback, regular updates on the company’s future games and updates, and overall better communication, with promises to improve technology pipelines and plan out game features in advance.
Rockstar has also made a number of leadership changes; in addition to Houser’s departure, studio heads, directors, and managers who contributed to the company’s crunch culture have been booted.
According to anonymous accounts from 15 current and former Rockstar developers, the changes are being felt, which has led to some cautious optimism. “It’s like there’s an operation to get rid of bad eggs,” said one employee. “There are still bad eggs around, don’t get me wrong, but it feels like their days are numbered.” According to another, Rockstar is now “running the company like a company,” while another says, “We’ll see in a year or two if I’m pulling my hair out, but it does seem like we’re moving in the right direction for being a company the size we are.”