Midnight Club canceled at beleaguered Rockstar San Diego?

Apparently disgruntled game-developer spouse blasts severe quality of life infractions at studio; commenter claims racing franchise is no more.

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Source: A blog posted to game-industry news site Gamasutra.

What we heard: In 2004, someone claiming to be the spouse of a developer at Electronic Arts issued a now-famous manifesto that brought to light quality-of-life concerns at the publisher. The blog post was issued alongside class-action lawsuits filed by employees at EA over unpaid overtime dues--suits that each resulted in multimillion dollar settlements.

Midnight Club: LA may be permanently garaged.
Midnight Club: LA may be permanently garaged.

Now, a similar online denunciation has been leveled at Rockstar Games and specifically its San Diego studio, which is prepping Red Dead Redemption for its April 27 release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Posted in the blog section of industry news site Gamasutra, the missive was issued by "Rockstar Spouse" on behalf of the "Determined Devoted Wives of Rockstar San Diego employees" in an effort to "assert their concerns and announce a necessary rejoinder, in the form of an immediate action to ameliorate conditions of employees."

According to the lengthy post, conditions began to deteriorate at the San Diego studio in March 2009, as management at the outfit began enforcing mandatory 12-hour workdays and extended the work week to Saturday. "The managers at Rockstar San Diego continue in their dishonesty, pushing their employees to the brink [by] promising temporariness, fully equipped with the knowledge of another deadline just around the corner," the post reads.

Rockstar Spouse goes on to note that the studio has also cut benefits at the studio, including promised time-off credit, milestone bonuses, and cost-of-living raises. "This is especially unjust to those who significantly contribute to projects," Rockstar Spouse wrote. "Further than unappreciative, employees are disrespected when lied to as a whole on how Rockstar games [do] not generate money and, as claims of justification for unappreciated employees are made, [point] to the deficit, meanwhile the last Grand Theft Auto game made over a billion dollars of revenue."

Rockstar Spouse ends the post by threatening legal action against Rockstar San Diego, but the allegations against the studio continue into the comments. Corroborating Rockstar Spouse's claims, a poster by the name of "BitterPartyOfMany" offers other condemnations against the studio that range from overtime exploitation to fiscal irresponsibility.

"Where is the detail about people getting performance warnings for not working 11hrs+ a day?" BitterPartyOfMany wrote. "The running joke is that donuts were taken away every other week (about $200 in savings per month), yet Rockstar flies in people from all the other studios (Vancouver, Leeds, Toronto, New England, etc.) and puts them up in a luxurious rental home, gives them per-diem, and rents cars for them. How about the temporary appointment of a new studio president who spent thousands at a time on drinking outings, only to give up the position after a few short months?"

BitterPartyOfMany also claims that Rockstar dismantled the San Diego studio's Midnight Club team. "Please, someone explain why the profitable and very functional Midnight Club team was ripped apart, their technology thrown away (after Midnight Club Los Angeles), and everyone who wasn't fired or quit was shoved onto a project that has been struggling for well over 4 years?" the posting states.

Another commenter posting under the handle "Code Monkey" claimed to be a current employee at Rockstar San Diego and also offered damning words against the studio-level and corporate management team.

"We're producing a fantastic game right now, but in times past, it seemed to have little in the way of direction or conception," Code Monkey wrote. "If it did indeed have these attributes, they were largely lost upon the majority of the development team, and many of us had little knowledge of what kind of product we were actually trying to put out there. I think we all do now, but it's in no thanks at all to any concerted effort whatsoever to actively motivate the team and evangelize the product to the developers themselves."

The words echo other statements made by BitterPartyOfMany, who claimed that Rockstar's New York division has done away with the San Diego studio's top managerial talent.

"They have fired and demoted all the best and most well respected managers," BitterPartyOfMany wrote. "They lost some of the best graphics and optimization people in the industry because of their attitude and management style. What they're left with are a few managers who nobody believes deserves their position, or who nobody likes/respects, and some very talented developers who are just waiting for the project to end so they can move on. You're just not going to get the best work out of people when they don't like/trust/respect their managers."

The official story: Rockstar had not responded to requests for comment as of press time.

Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus that somebody is mighty steamed at Rockstar San Diego. The gaming industry has developed a reputation for its exploitative work schedules, especially in the lead-up to a game's ship date, and many commenters on Rockstar Spouse's entry concurred with the assessment at the studio. However, it remains to be seen how the working conditions will affect Red Dead Redemption or any future installments in the Midnight Club franchise.

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