This article first appeared on VICE Quebec.
Red Dead Redemption 2, the most anticipated game of the last five years, comes out today. If you are at work, it's likely that today's "absentees" are probably playing it. And if you follow the news of the world of video games, you are likely aware of the recent controversy surrounding the working practices at Rockstar Games, which included some employees working 100-hour weeks to get the game delivered on time. 100 hours is 14.3 hours a day, 7 days a week. The internet has rebelled and, as so often is the case online, many have proposed a boycott as a means of protest.
So, should you boycott Red Dead Redemption 2 ?
Let's study the facts. Is it true that employees worked 100 hours a week? Yes and no.
Dan Houser, co-founder of Rockstar, set this particular bomb off in interview with New York Magazine : "We worked 100 hours a week, several times in 2018." Working 100 hours is inhuman and we already know that "crunches ", or intensive periods of extra work, are commonplace in the video game industry, in addition to not being paid overtime on many occasions.
Mr. Houser quickly explained later , saying that it applied only to him and three other employees, and that no one is forced to work overtime at Rockstar.
Several employees and ex-employees gave their views on Twitter, and the speech varies considerably depending on whether they are still part of the company or not. There was also an extensive story on Kotaku that interviewed nearly 80 current and former Rockstar employees, many that described Rockstar as a culture built on overwork and fear.
Among former employees, the reactions are rather negative . "I did 80-hour weeks at Rockstar until I went into depression. If I had not done so, they would have terminated my contract. There are many ways to force someone. "
Not surprisingly, among current employees, the comments are more nuanced. "Since the time I've been here, work practices have really improved. The crunches for Red Dead Redemption 2 were much better than the days of Grand Theft Auto 5, where I could do more than 70 hours a week for a month," said Phil Beveridge on Twitter.
"I have worked in several studios and, honestly, Rockstar North is one of the best experiences I've had. I could have left the office sooner and achieved my goals, but I would not have been completely satisfied with the quality of my work. "
It's hard to say for certain but it does seem that the situation at Rockstar is improving. Especially since the bad press. The culture changes, quietly. Maybe too quietly. But is the boycott the best way to get the message across that the culture needs to change faster?
On the consumer side, there is a bit of egoism and ownership. You read it in many comments online. It's "my game" that "I've been waiting for eight years," etc etc. Many do not believe those who say they will boycott the game. It's easy to say that on Twitter, while downloading the game to your Xbox anyways.
Because it is the most anticipated game of the year from the studio that gave us Grand Theft Auto 5, the entertainment product that has generated the most lifetime earnings, raking in about $6-billion. And critics already unanimously say that Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterpiece.
The best argument for not boycotting the game is that many people who worked there, exploited or not, do not want you to do it. They are proud of their work, they want the most people to witness and venture into the world they created. In addition, their end-of-year bonus is directly linked to the sales of the game. By boycotting the game, you may be hurting Rockstar's wallet, but you're also hurting everyone you're trying to "protect."
Perhaps then, the best way to help them is by loudly denouncing the practice of crunches, so that the industry knows its culture is being watched, game of the decade or not.