An image wasn’t all they had to say. Two weeks since the posting on the Internet of anonymous complaints about working conditions at its San Diego satellite, the development studio most famous for Grand Theft Auto addressed those charges.
The company did so by addressing a reader question on Rockstar’s official website.
“Unfortunately, this is a case of people taking the opinions of a few anonymous posters on message boards as fact,” the response began. “No business is ever perfect, but Rockstar Games is a tight knit team made up of around 900 supremely talented and motivated professionals, many of whom have worked here for a very long time.
“We’re saddened if any former members of any studio did not find their time here enjoyable or creatively fulfilling and wish them well with finding an environment more suitable to their temperaments and needs, but the vast majority of our company are focused solely on delivering cutting edge interactive entertainment. We’ve always cared passionately about the people working here, and have always tried to maintain a supportive creative environment. There is simply no way Rockstar could continue to produce such large scale, high quality games without this. That being said, making great games is very challenging, which is why we have and will continue to try to keep hold of some of the best talent in the industry and support them in every way we can.”
The furor over working conditions at Rockstar San Diego began on Thursday, January 7, when an anonymous writer or writers, referring to themselves as “Determined Devoted Wives of Rockstar San Diego employees,” published a screed against the studio in a user-blog on website Gamasutra. Echoing widely-publicized complaints made in 2004 about working conditions at publisher Electronic Arts, the user-blog was entitled “Rockstar Spouse.”
The letter alleged that Rockstar San Diego employees were experiencing extended crunch-time working conditions since March 2009 for the April 2010 Red Dead Redemption. Allegations included mandatory six-day, 12-hour work weeks and a culture of “dishonesty” among Rockstar San Diego management that contributed to stressed workers. The letter, which was written awkwardly, suggested that the well-being of San Diego workers was a growing problem: “Without time to recuperate and no efforts made to alleviate the stress of such conditions would procure on an employee after a period time, serious health concerns. Yet, now the health concern becomes another financial concern as the stripping of medical benefits surfaces to realization.”
The Rockstar Spouse letter promised consequence: “If these working conditions stay unchanged in the upcoming weeks, preparation will be made to take legal action against Rockstar San Diego.”
Rockstar’s headquarters is in New York. Managers and creators in that office oversee the work at all Rockstar studios around the world, including Rockstar North, where the main Grand Theft Auto games are built and Rockstar San Diego, the group responsible for Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis, the RAGE graphics engine that was used to run the GTA IV and the forthcoming western, Red Dead Redemption.
MTV quoted an anonymous former Rockstar New York employee as saying Rockstar New York’s oversight of the satellite studios was similar to the watchful, menacing Lord of the Rings “Eye of Sauron.”
Since the publication of that letter, writers claiming to be current or former Rockstar employees — most of them anonymous — chimed in below the Rockstar Spouse post and and on other websites, agreeing with the letter’s complaints or at least saying that they were believable. Kotaku was unable to independently verify any of these accounts, including those anonymous ones that arrived in our inbox vouching further support for the Rockstar Spouse claims. On Friday, website Joystiq reported that, in April 2009, Rockstar had settled a lawsuit brought against the San Diego office in 2006 regarding unpaid overtime.
Amid the response to Rockstar Spouse was an argument by some Internet posters that the tough working conditions alleged at Rockstar San Diego were commonplace in the gaming industry and possibly even the price of working at a topflight development studio.
Rockstar itself remained mum, providing Kotaku no comment on the matter, despite repeated requests over the last two weeks. On Friday, however, the company did update its series of regularly released computer wallpapers with a series seemingly based on the “Eye of Sauron” comment. The studio behind the often-satirical GTA games appeared to be having some fun with the controversy.
The company’s comments on its official site today may not have addressed the specifics of the alleged mandatory six-day work weeks, 12-hour work days and health risks at Rockstar San Diego, but it is clear that the makers of some of the biggest games in the world prefers it to be known that it wants its employees happy, no matter how hard making games is.