I wanted to take some time to address what's been in the news recently about San Diego. I've been thinking about and working on this since the news first broke. The reason I didn't post about this story as soon as it broke was because I wanted to get all the facts. If you've been living under a rock for the past week, heres the low-down: spouses of current and former Rockstar San Diego employees posted a blog post about the working conditions of the studio. This is similar to an incident with EA back in 2004. According to their blog post, everything was good until March of 2009. From what I can gather from comments on the various news stories, after completing the South Central expansion, the Midnight Club team was "slowly dismantled". Some were laid off, some quit, and the others were merged into the Red Dead Redemption team. A source told Joystiq this:
"At first, the team was told there was going to be another. That lasted a few months until the team was told, 'Well, we're going to do another, but it will be all outsourced ... but there will be a core team of 5 - 15 people at RSSD working on it.' Then, after a while longer, it was just not going to happen at all."
While it is sad that Rockstar had to dismantle the Midnight Club team, it's not the only company letting people go. Right now the economy is in a bad state. Couple this with the high costs of operating a business in California and the fact that SD had three teams (MC, RDR, and Rage Tech teams), there may not have been a choice but to merge the two game teams into one. Does this mean the end to Midnight Club? Not exactly. If San Diego stays open after Redemption, it could very well be their next project. But back to the issue at hand, the treatment of the employees. The spouses tell that the studio has started doing 12 hour days and mandatory Saturdays. While this is unfortunate, this is sadly the norm within the industry when it comes to crunch time. Even a former developer of the studio before Rockstar aquired SD admitted this has been the norm there even before the Rockstar days. However, the spouses tell about new studio managers being appointed who have little game production experience and if that's true, it definitely cannot help the situation at the studio.
The big question is, do all the developers at San Diego feel the same? A current developer at SD who is going by the name of "Code Monkey" doesn't feel exactly the same way. While he does admit to a rather unplesent and unusual work environment for some, he still loves RSSD.
"As a R* employee for a certain amount of years, let me first say that I feel like a proud citizen of my clan, but I like many of my peers seek a reprieve from the issues that the wives have boldly brought to the media's attention. I suppose I've been one to personally let things slide a lot over the last few months as I work many long hours, many of which I feel have been somewhat forced upon me, because I love my job so much, and every second I spend in my chair in front of my screen is only a second that comes completely natural to me. I like to make games, and I like to solve game problems. That being said, I also have a very supportive significant other half, and we have no children to feed and spend time with. Also because I'm in fairly good health, I don't find myself complaining about quality of life so much as I may complain of other issues at the studio that directly affect me. But I also do have close friends at the studio who have had their health and lives deteriorated in some way, and whether or not the long hours have directly contributed to these ailments, it certainly hasn't helped. And just because I may feel just fine today doesn't mean I'll still feel fine tomorrow or months down the road when it all catches up to me. And I acknowledge the day we have a child of our own may be a day of reckoning. ...When it's all said and done, I love my studio, I love my game, and I love my team, and I wouldn't give this up for the world. I just would like to see things improve for all of us, including our management."
On the 11th, Rockstar sent this email to the folks over at SD:
"Dear Rockstar San Diego
No doubt you are all aware of the comments made on Gamasutra regarding some internal dynamics at the studio and some people's dissatisfaction with the environment. We take issues related to working conditions extremely seriously and will look to address any genuine concerns immediately.
It’s been a challenging few years, and a tough last few months as the game moves towards completion, but the final product of all that incredible effort is on the verge of finally being received by the public: the stellar game that is Red Dead Redemption, a game of which you all should be justifiably proud and which you should be excited to see come to market.
We do not agree with the allegations in the Gamasutra post (e.g. there has been no reduction in health benefits or ancillary benefits and perks (such as free dinners and massages etc), wage increases across the studio have kept track with cost of living increases, and anyone who feels they have been overlooked for a bonus for a game they worked on please contact HR to discuss as soon as possible). Nevertheless, we do know that the team is working very hard right now, and we care deeply about the physical health and mental well-being of every single person on our team. We are committed to working through any issues anyone at the studio may have, and to providing support wherever possible. Please, if you have concerns, discuss them with Sarah Shafer or with Rob Spampinato who heads up HR for the whole of Rockstar and who will be on-site in the studio for the next few days (Rob is sitting in the “new york” office). If you would prefer to speak to someone in confidence outside of Rockstar, please contact Chris Casazza, who oversees HR for Take Two.
Red Dead Redemption is rightly one of the most anticipated games of 2010, and we’re incredibly proud of the entire team for the truly outstanding work that’s gone into making this remarkable game as good as it is. Here’s hoping we can give this game the reception it deserves this April.
Due to all this, people have cried for a boycott of the game. However, "Code Monkey" disagrees with a boycott.
"We want people to play our game. Forget about the money and any possible job security for a second. We made a great game, and we just want people to play it and see that."
In the end, hopefully everyone can get past the finger pointing and make this a learning experience for all parties in this incident and even other studios. We wish the folks at San Diego, current and former, good luck. Hopefully at the end of RDR, you guys will enjoy a long, well deserved break while we spend weeks of our lives throughly enjoying the fantastic game that will be Red Dead Redemption.
This story is still developing. We will continue to update as more information comes available. If you believe I have missed something or want to make a correction, please contact me.