Former Rockstar Employee Blogs About His Terrible Experience
“The following is most likely a complete fabrication — unless it’s all true.”
So says blogger Zero Dean in a epic talking-sh*t post about his experience working for Rockstar. Those of you expecting a gossip-filled tirade about hookers and cocaine may go away disappointed, but for anyone who’s had the misfortune to work in a bulky, corrupt corporate environment of any size, it’ll be music to your eyes (even if it kind of pulls the Rockstar Wizard out from behind the curtain.)
Zero was hired as an environments developer for future game of the year Red Dead Redemption. WIN, yes. The chance to work on what would ultimately become one the most acclaimed and successful games of 2010, for one of the most successful gaming companies ever, sounded like a great opportunity. And it was, until he actually began to work, and discovered a mess of cronyism, non communication, inefficiency, petty backstabbing and ego-instead-of-policy insanity. His story begins with typical corporate HR incompetence and quickly devolves into office horror, and if it can be believed, Rockstar San Diego is a corrupt mess, and the perfect recipe for middle management douchebags with pretensions to Feudal glory to really lord it over the plebes.
Things became particularly terrible for Zero when he was placed in charge of a team and discovered rather quickly that his authority was negligible at best:
My status as a team lead lasted for about 6 weeks — I think — until I sent what I thought was a private email to 3 people on my team. I talked about how “I knew everyone was working hard, but that it was probably unwise to be watching Youtube videos or browsing websites unrelated to work while at work — especially when we were under such intense scrutiny. I mentioned how I knew the schedule we’d been given was unrealistic, but…”
Well, a few minutes later I was called into a meeting and was subjected to a complete fit of swearing & screaming at for about 10-15 minutes by a “I’m obviously in charge here” higher up (who was — let’s just say “not very popular” amongst some — or maybe most — employees I ever came in contact with).
About what? About that email, of course! — I mean, who would’ve guessed — all email was monitored. Clearly, there was a lot of trust here.
So by trying to motivate my team to focus on their responsibilities and not watch funny Youtube videos or do things unrelated to work and by admitting something everyone in the studio already knew — I’d “questioned authority” and it was obviously an offensive gesture that made my superiors look bad.
And for that I was nearly fired on the spot for “appearing as if I questioned anyone senior to my position”.
He stuck through for a few more months but the last straw came when his boss brazenly claimed credit for his work and all but dared him to accuse him of lying about it.
So I rolled with the punches for as long as I could — but it became really difficult to ignore how ridiculous things were getting — not just for me, but for everyone. And I came to realize that I’d somehow been sucked into thinking that it was all somehow “ok”.
That is was “ok” for me to be working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week without compensation. That is was “ok” to be lied to and manipulated in the workplace. That it was “ok” to be spoken to by management as if you were child. That it was “ok” if management screamed at and abused people while their peers looked on (I wasn’t the only one). And that is was “ok” I was letting “real-life” pass me by as a result of all this.
It wasn’t “ok” — It was actually far from “ok”.
But it wasn’t until my boss took credit for my work — and politely argued with me about who had actually created it (I had the original documents on my desktop) — that I went back to my desk and started “cleaning” it — and then I realized I wasn’t cleaning it. I was packing.
I was pretty upset with him over that for a while — but I realize now he deserves my thanks — he pushed me out of hell.
I’ve worked in an environment like that. I’ve witnessed what I thought was every kind of petty, soul crushing nastiness perpetrated by pathetic people for whom their workplace is a chance to act like the queen bee they always wanted to be in High School. Which is why this account rings true. Even so, I’ve never experienced anything remotely close to what Zero Dean experienced working on RDR.
When we’re playing these games we love so much, we probably don’t really think about the fact that they weren’t simply conjured into existence by imagineers. Real people spent years on it, in many cases under working conditions nearly as terrible as the ones Zero relates in his account. We have a tendency to think that if it’s not coal-mines/galley rower terrible, it’s fine, and it’s definitely true that getting to do what you’re good at for a living is way, way, way easier than otherwise. But grueling work of any sort kills people slowly, particularly when accompanied by enforcement techniques bordering on Orwellian.
Red Dead Redemption is a work to be proud of, and Rockstar consistently puts out excellent games. But rumors of their tremendously awful treatment of their employees have plagued the company for years. Whether Zero Dean’s account helps escalate that criticism remains to be seen, but here’s hoping at the very least, more oversight of the conditions techies work under results.
There’s more, including comments from other former employees and excerpts from a local news article about the way Rockstar SD treats their employees. It’s riveting but also delicious, and it’s worth a full read.
In the meantime, we’re not going to stop playing RDR, though we might feel a tad bad about it. Just a tad though.