I would have written earlier about this, but was away from my computer and couldn’t get to it. But about a week ago, it was discovered that in order to make Red Dead Redemption 2, programmers and other staff had to work 100 hour weeks over a three week period in order to finish the game. This caused a swift backlash on the Internet about the conditions, with everything from news journals to podcasts criticizing what Rockstar had done. Co-founder and VP Dan Houser argued that these overtime shifts were “optional” to employees in defense of the habits, saying that these people opted-in overtime to finish the newest game.
However, when some employees (granted permission by the company to clear the air) took to Reddit for Q&A, that clearly wasn’t the case. A QA tester from the Rockstar Lincoln studio in the UK clarified that the public doesn’t often hear of the working conditions as a result of employees signing a NDA (non-disclosure agreement), preventing them from taking issues to the public.
He also clarified that the overtime shifts aren’t really optional but expected, as they have to make up an overtime shift if they for whatever reason can’t do an initial one. As for weekends, they have to make it up as a “double” weekend if they miss out on working one. The QA tester does clarify that they are paid for their overtime. He does establish the difference between a typical work shift and an overtime shift, the main difference being about 2 1/2- 3 hours longer. The overtime shifts are usually implemented near the end of the creation of a video game, in order to have it released by the proper date they planned for. While that doesn’t alleviate the issue of exploitation, it does explain that the overtime hours aren’t the norm.
Now, in the midst of this controversy, I noticed that some freelance artists, programmers, ans video game designers took to Twitter and other forums to explain their story. They didn’t center their stories around Rockstar, but rather their experiences as contract workers for other companies. What they explained was rather interesting.
Just about 100% of the time, the people were explaining that they voluntarily took on the hours, for fear of being dropped from their contracts. Despite some being told by their own employers that they don’t need to work so hard, they still overworked, trying to be as productive as possible and thus more valuable. All of these cases end in a nasty case of burn out.
What is burn out? By dictionary terms, it means to completely ruin one’s health or energy through overworking for a long period of time. People will permanently disfigure themselves, or place themselves into life-threatening situations that way, all because they wouldn’t let their body rest. Ever heard of people dying at their desks in Japan from working too much? Yeah, that’s an extreme form of burn out.
As I mentioned earlier, the thing to note in both of these areas is that the overtime is promoted as voluntary or optional in terms of the legal working contract. But workers argue that the “optional” overtime was actually expected, or perceived to be expected, thus feeling the pressure to take up the overtime. It’s a dangerous expectation that can easily result in the damaged health of an employee.