Rockstar's "manipulation", "abuse" revealed by former artist

"Manipulation", "abuse", and "deception" created mistrust in Rockstar San Diego.

Red Dead Redemption is one of the biggest hits of 2010 and arguably the sole reason why Take-Two Interactive turned a $42.6 million profit. The game was praised by critics as saving the Wild West from gaming damnation.

But what isn’t known about RDR is how its developer, Rockstar San Diego, did nothing but damn its employees with "deception", "abuse", and "manipulation", according to former employee Zero Dean.

Dean recently posted on his blog about the horrors he and the rest of the Rockstar San Diego team had to endure under management and the studio’s complete lack of efficiency during the game’s early stages. The post, titled "My ‘life’ at Rockst*r Games", has vanished. But if one checks a Google cache, the post’s contents can still be found.

Zero Dean starts the post off by taking a shot at his own credibility, stating how his tale can be diluted because it is a personal recollection and Rockstar Games will certainly have their own separate account of his time there. However, Dean’s LinkedIn profile lists him as the Senior Environment Artist for Red Dead Redemption at Rockstar Games and 11 of his 13 recommendations come from co-workers at Rockstar praising his efforts at the studio.

He joined Rockstar in 2007 after nearly taking a job at Darkstalkers developer Vigil Games. Dean says that he could tell right away that something was "off" with the studio as team bonding was "non-existent" and teams were "disjointed". There were no group e-mails for employees to easily contact each other en masse and a complete lack of constructive criticism amongst peers.

"No one had a clue what anyone else was working on in any detailed sense and there was no feedback loop," wrote Dean. "So many ‘obvious’ things were missing – I thought this had to be some kind of joke – how did this studio function!?" 

He soon wrote a letter to his boss recommending some of these "obvious" changes that he feared would get him fired. Instead the boss implemented some of them, or at least tried, and things improved for a short while.

After a year of working with the studio, its "disjointed" ways had the game falling behind expectations. This was when everything started going south, according to Dean.

"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 stated.

"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)."

The studio started making "ridiculous" cutbacks on things like soda and donuts. Dean commented on what a parody of how a normal studio should run it had become.

"Seriously, 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," he wrote. "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’."

Dean almost left the company, but love for the actual work and some of his co-workers kept him at the studio. It proved a bad decision as things only got worse.

"Hours increased from 8 to 12 – and days increased for 5 to 6," recalled Dean. "Anyone on a salary was not compensated for the additional hours – as far as our paychecks were concerned, we were still only putting in 40 hours per week."

He went on to mention how moral was rapidly dropping amongst the employees amongst the lies. He recalls how everyone was on edge and were talked to in meetings "like incompetent 10 year olds."

Dean was later designated as a team lead and given the Mexico section of the game to work on. The section was the furthest behind because they were left cleaning up the rushed and subpar work done on the section by the same employee Dean had spent his first months at the studio already cleaning up after.

Overworked and underpaid, Dean sent a private e-mail out to three members of his team in an attempt to improve moral and work efficiency. He soon discovered that even private e-mails were being monitored by management at the studio.

"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)," wrote Dean.

He came to discover that the source of the higher-up’s anger was by simply suggesting the six-day, 12-hour work week was "unrealistic".

"How the f*ck dare I say the (obviously unrealistic) schedule was unrealistic to 3 people in a private email!" exclaimed Dean. "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."

Management then "stripped" him of his duties and responsibilities and was told he was lucky for not being "fired on the spot". His role was reduced to that of a "junior artist" while holding his current title and was told the higher-ups wouldn’t "embarrass" him by telling anyone.

"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’," wrote Dean.

"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’."

It took his boss attempting to take credit for his work for Dean to finally decide enough was enough.

"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," he wrote. "I was packing."

Dean was upset with his boss until he realized that incident is what "pushed me out of hell".

"And thank you Rockst*r. You taught me exactly how I don’t want to run a business or treat employees (or human beings) ever," he concluded.

GamerNode has reached out to Rockstar Games for comment and will update this story if a reply is given.

[Google Cache of Zero Dean’s Blog]


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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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