Rockstar dev recalls "deception", "abuse"

The truth behind Red Dead Redemption?

Earlier this month Take-Two turned a profit, a feat that usually requires Grand Theft Auto. This time, however, it took the breakout success of one new game: Red Dead Redemption, a Wild West romp smothered with praise.

But at what cost?

One former employee has posted a revealing account of Red Dead Redemption's development at Rockstar San Diego - uncovering a working life of "deception", "manipulation" and "abuse".

That former employee is Zero Dean, whose blog post "My Life at Rockstar Games" now seems to have disappeared. A Google cache, however, reveals its contents.

As to its and his credibility, Zero Dean posts a quirky disclaimer accepting the caveats that come with a personal recollection. Zero Dean exists on LinkedIn, and his profile is linked to at the bottom of his blog post. Furthermore, his profile has been recommended by 13 people - 11 apparently from Rockstar San Diego. Zero Dean's job title was Senior Environment Artist on Red Dead Redemption.

Zero Dean joined Rockstar San Diego in 2007 and sensed something was "off" from the start; team bonding was "non existent", "no one had a clue what anyone else was working on and there was no feedback loop". Zero Dean decided to write a risky letter to his boss that eventually paid dividends and things improved, for a while.

"It really wasn't until after my first year at the company when people (higher-ups) started freaking out about how long the project had been in development, how much money was being wasted, and - and this is the big one - release dates," he wrote.

"And that's when the increase in the deception and manipulation by management began - slowly at first - and then over time it got totally nuts (by my standards)."

"Seriously," he added, "if the going-ons at the office had been filmed, it would've been a great comedy from a viewer's perspective, I'm sure. Sadly, it was real-life and hell for a lot of people - people talked about wanting to leave, but couldn't because they 'had kids', or 'a mortgage', or 'the economy is so bad' and 'no one is hiring'."

Zero Dean recalled how the hours increased from eight to 12, and days spread from five each week to six. Salaried workers weren't compensated for overtime but paid for a standard 40-hour week.

"Morale continued to deteriorate as the lies increased. And everyone was on edge. And we were being spoken to in meetings like incompetent 10 year olds," he wrote.

After months of cleaning someone else's shoddy and rushed work, Zero Dean was given responsibility of creating the Mexico part of Red Dead Redemption. But things turned sour when he tried to encourage his three-person team by sending them a private email.

"A few minutes later I was called into a meeting and was subjected to a complete fit of swearing and screaming for about 10-15 minutes," he remembered, "by an '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."

It was at that point Zero Dean realised emails were being monitored.

"How the f*** dare I say the (obviously unrealistic) schedule was unrealistic to three people in a private email?!" he recalls being told. "I was abusing my responsibilities as a Lead (how ironic)! It went on and on. "I felt like I was being dressed down by a drill sergeant - I mean in the most realistic sense. I felt like I'd somehow been transported to the military at that moment."

Zero Dean was nearly "fired on the spot" and "immediately stripped" of his responsibilities. He kept his vapid job title, and was told the management wouldn't "embarrass" him by sharing what had happened.

"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 realise 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," he wrote, "six 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," he added, "It was actually far from OK.

"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 realised I wasn't cleaning it, I was packing."

In retrospect, Zero Dean realises he should thank that his boss who effectively "pushed me out of hell".

"And thank you Rockstar," he added. "You taught me exactly how I don't want to run a business or treat employees (or human beings) ever."

Eurogamer has reached out to Rockstar for comment.

The world that Zero Dean built.

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