It’s safe to say that the executives in charge of Rockstar Games and parent company Take-Two are happy with the company’s performance as of late. Grand Theft Auto Online continues to generate enormous revenue and Red Dead Redemption II recently crossed 25 million sales, but those who actually make the games now have a reason to celebrate, as well — the quality assurance (QA) department is being converted from freelance contractors to full-time staff.
According to a report from Kotaku, the game testers at the Rockstar Lincoln studio were turned into full-time employees on August 1. Other policies, including one that prevented testers from having cell phones at their desk, have been eliminated,as well, and workers will have more choice in which hours they work during the day.
Full employment should offer these developers more protections and benefits than they were offered as contractual workers, during which time a “rolling” contract meant instability and uncertainty for the future. The release of a game is usually the cause for celebration, but could instead be the end of the road at the studio.
Rockstar has been publicly accused of supporting “crunch” culture, where developers work long hours for extended periods of time in order to ship a game on time. The culture has been criticized by both current and former workers, some of whom say it has been going on as far back as 2010. It came to a head in the lead-up to Red Dead Redemption II‘s launch, however, when Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser told Vulture that his team had worked 100-hour weeks for the game. That comment was met with swift criticism, particularly because it seemed to be a point of pride for Houser.
Issues like this and similar scenarios at companies like BioWare and the now-closed Telltale Games have furthered the push for game developers to unionize. In May, executives at Pittsburgh-based Schell Games, which has not suffered a layoff in its history and actively avoids crunch, admitted that a push toward unionization at AAA studios could be necessary if workers’ issues are not properly addressed. Improper task management by producers and higher-level employees, rather than a lack of time, is often to blame for crunching.