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Employee Exodus at Rockstar Games? 52

hammersuit writes "GameDaily Biz is reporting on recent troubles at Rockstar Games. 'A difficult console transition, FTC investigation, re-rating of GTA: San Andreas and more have put Rockstar and Take-Two in an unenviable position. We've received word that in addition to people who left because of studio closures, even more either fled or quit. Are Rockstar employees jumping ship or is this just a result of cost-cutting at Take-Two?'"
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Employee Exodus at Rockstar Games?

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  • by Rachel Lucid ( 964267 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @05:25PM (#15679489) Homepage Journal
    Come on, after releasing a game like TABLE TENNIS, if employees there are leaving because of anything, it's because they got bored silly programming pong all over again.

    Yes, I know the came's supposed to be incredibly good and realistic, but it's a drastic turn from what they'd been doing no matter how you see it.
    • Re:Over GTA? No way (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Kesch ( 943326 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @05:28PM (#15679519)
      Actually, I thought I heard confirmations that the Table Tennis engine will be used for the next GTA. Which would make the game a sort of marketable proof-of-concept.
      • Re:Over GTA? No way (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Preacher X ( 545221 )
        Isn't that what josh just said? But it is not just about marketing. What better way to publicly beta test a new engine than to release a game that most GTA players and hardcore gamers will never touch? You avoid the "hardcore" crowds criticism if it sucks, and manage to get feedback enough to make sure it doesn't when it hits that "hardcore" market. A brilliant strategy in my opinion.
        • This is a situation where they should have spent $40 to register a bogus business name and release Table Tennis through this "new production house". Don't even tell people it was made by Rockstar, say it was made by "Fuzzy Bunny Games LLC" so people can say "Fuzzy Bunny sucks" while they play their beloved GTA7 - San Snoop Doggville.

          It's kind of like Ford vs Mercury, Toyota vs Lexus.. I mean sure they're the same thing, but they serve different markets just so Ms Cashupmytwat can proudly say "Ford sucks"
      • Re:Over GTA? No way (Score:4, Informative)

        by panic911 ( 224370 ) * on Friday July 07, 2006 @06:46PM (#15680031) Homepage
        You are correct. It is dubbed RAGE (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine)

        More Info @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAGE_(Game_Engine) [wikipedia.org]

        Oh and table tennis is FUN! Great graphics too =)
      • Yeah, the RAGE engine (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (I think)) is going to be used for all their next-gen titles. Oddly enough, the title John Carmack and iD Software are working on is also codenamed Rage. So... Rockstar to purchase iD. You heard it hear first.
      • Ah you mean GTA:Silicon Valley?

        You code your way from moms basement to IPO. Minigames include /. where on the lower levels you just post but on the higher levels you race to beef up your webserver cluster to handle an upcomming slashdotting. The table tennis physics engine will be used in the basement minigame pocket ping-pong (the hot coffee of the game), and in the higher levels you must play squash & tennis with business partners and almost win to close business deals.

    • As Kesch points out, and has been pointed out every time this has come up, the game was a way for them to make money off developing and testing the new GTA engine, while also putting R* product on the shelves and generating publicity by doing something unexpected.
    • After several successful games, it seems natural that their development staff would consider doing other things now that there is a lull in the action. Besides, their resume's can probably get them some great jobs.
  • by Quaoar ( 614366 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @05:33PM (#15679549)
    ...Rockstar's HQ is next to a killing spree spawn point.
  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @05:35PM (#15679563) Homepage
    If the ship is going down, the smart employees would jump first and probably ahead of any disasters in the making. When I left Atari in 2004 after being there for six years, my exit strategy was already planned out three years before. I been told that things got significantly worst after I left as Atari starting selling all there studios and laying people off.
    • by badasscat ( 563442 ) <basscadet75@@@yahoo...com> on Friday July 07, 2006 @05:54PM (#15679701)
      If the ship is going down, the smart employees would jump first and probably ahead of any disasters in the making.

      I don't have a lot of time to write this, so I may expand upon it later.

      I'm about 6 months off that list, having left Rockstar about 18 months ago (maybe a bit more). I know all of the people on that list, and still talk to many of them. (A few of those departures are surprising, though, and I wasn't aware of all of them.)

      I will just say that this is nothing new at Rockstar, which has always had a ridiculously high turnover. What you don't see on that list is that both of the marketing creative directors (print and online) quit at about the same time I did, along with two of the senior print designers, a game producer and several others. There was a steady stream of departures after I left as well.

      The problem is poor working conditions. It's really got nothing to do with any of the company's recent troubles. We all always knew Rockstar was basically a one hit wonder and could go down at any time; none of us cared about that. What we cared about was working until 2 AM every night and never having any time to ourselves. You've all heard about EA; well, Rockstar is no better (and is probably worse).

      Jen Gross, Jamie King and a few of these others, though, are some pretty big names. They were overworked just as much as the rest of us, though, and being management doesn't mean your mind and body is able to take any more abuse than anyone else. So it's still not totally unexpected to see.

      The company's got some problems, but they're systemic - they have nothing to do with a "sinking ship" that's been caused by Hot Coffee or anything else recent. They're cultural, just as they are at EA and other developers.
      • other developers.

        By which I mean other publishers, of course. Not enough time to think!
      • Depends on how you look at it. A company that needs to work its employees until 2 AM would count as a sinking ship for me, even in the games market. Even when you factor in that the game companies do have a seemingly endless stream of young idealists willing to be overworked just because, hey, making games is cool, the worse you treat them, the faster anyone with marketable skills looks for a job somewhere else. Or discovers that programming some boring java+oracle stuff pays twice the money for half the st
        • Or discovers that programming some boring java+oracle stuff pays twice the money for half the stress.

          That's why I traded being a lead tester to being a help desk specialist. (Not a whole lot different between handling bug reports and help desk tickets if you don't mind being a desk jockey.) It's not cool and/or exciting, but it pays the bills and I can enjoy life.
        • by badasscat ( 563442 ) <basscadet75@@@yahoo...com> on Friday July 07, 2006 @08:28PM (#15680566)
          Depends on how you look at it. A company that needs to work its employees until 2 AM would count as a sinking ship for me, even in the games market. Even when you factor in that the game companies do have a seemingly endless stream of young idealists willing to be overworked just because, hey, making games is cool, the worse you treat them, the faster anyone with marketable skills looks for a job somewhere else.

          Well, yeah, but the point is you're talking about the entire game industry then. There's nothing unique to Rockstar about that, and there's nothing new to Rockstar about that that would warrant a news story about how suddenly it's all gone wrong.

          I totally agree that this is a terrible way to run a company, and I've had conversations with my former co-workers both while I was there and afterwards about how the turnover would eventually bite the company in the ass.

          But Rockstar is a young company even by game industry standards. I believe they were founded only something like 8 years ago, if I remember right. They haven't yet learned all the lessons a young company needs to learn; they don't know anything about retaining top talent, that much is obvious. But the first high-profile defections aren't happening now. The first high-profile defections happened around 2 years ago, when the two creative directors (who were the only creative directors the company had ever known, as far as I remember) left. That was a shock to the system, but the thought was it was an isolated incident. One of them took four people with her, though. Shortly after that, almost the entire web department turned over (including myself) and then it was like the floodgates opened.

          It could be, in fact, that their recent issues are the result of, rather than the cause of, all this turnover. A lot of the things I've seen happen at Rockstar in the past 18 months would never have happened while I was there (not necessarily because of me, but because of all the other people who left at around that time, and before and shortly after). Some of the things I've seen coming out of their PR department lately have left me shocked - after years of running such a tight PR ship, it's like they've got two left feet lately. Their new web site design is at the least uninspired, and a lot of their recent marketing seems to basically be copying past marketing. Their games have lost that trademark sense of humor and are now just mean-spirited, except when they release a game like Table Tennis that just totally breaks their ethos completely. I could go on and on. They really seem like a company that's lost its way and I'm sure it's because the working conditions have just forced out all the top talent. I think assuming these problems are causing the turnover is probably backwards; the turnover was already going on, and it's causing the problems.

          So yeah, you could consider them a slowly sinking ship, but if so, then the same is true for every publisher, and they've had a slow leak since they were founded and never even knew it. The question is whether or not they know it now. You can't consistently run a company forever staffed with 20 year olds that all have to learn the same lessons over and over, and most of whom are not going to be very talented and/or experienced at any given time. There was sort of a "golden age" at Rockstar for a while where a few of the early hires had come into their own, and in turn had trained the new hires well - a period when pretty much everybody was firing on all cylinders. Then people started leaving, and the new hires didn't have any mentors to really look up to, and things started falling apart. There's got to be a concerted effort to keep the top talent around at any company, even if it means concessions to their quality of life.

          I will say that looking at the list of recent defections, I can only think of three people in positions of importance left from the early days of the company, or even from the days when I was there. Almost the entire upper ranks of the company has been replaced.

          I suppose the one good thing about this is that Rockstar North is relatively immune from what goes on at Rockstar Games, so it's still pretty likely that GTA4 will be a killer game.
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @05:37PM (#15679581) Journal
    Jamie King (VP of Development) Jennifer Gross (Director of Marketing) Laura Paterson (Director of Marketing) Navid Khonsari (Director of Development) Jeff Castaneda (Director of PR) Chris Carro (Sr. Pr Manager) Corey Wade (Sr. Product Mgr) Futaba Hayashi (Sr. Web Designer) Todd Zuniga (PR Manager) Ryan Rayhill (PR)

    Is it just me or doesn't there seem to be a single coder or designer there? Nobody who actually makes these games? noNow if people from HR are leaving, then their is a reason to be worried. When HR quits update your resume yesterday.

    • by badasscat ( 563442 ) <basscadet75@@@yahoo...com> on Friday July 07, 2006 @05:47PM (#15679651)
      Is it just me or doesn't there seem to be a single coder or designer there? Nobody who actually makes these games?

      Rockstar Games is a publisher, not a developer.

      That said, they own outright all of the games they have gotten in trouble over, and the creative ideas and planning is all handled by them. So they can't turn around over Hot Coffee and say "it's Rockstar North's fault - they were the ones who developed the game." No. Rockstar Games is either directly or indirectly responsible for all of their own problems. But they don't employ a single coder - though parent company Take 2 does (as owners of Rockstar North and other developers).

  • They fled? (Score:5, Funny)

    by LKM ( 227954 ) on Friday July 07, 2006 @05:46PM (#15679643) Homepage

    I bet the remaining Rockstar employees hunted them down, drove over them, beat them up with baseball bats and stole their money.

  • Sigh (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Honestly the fun of developing games is gone ...

    It wasn't that long ago when every on the team had enough creative control over what they were doing that your fingerprint could be felt on any game you made. Now, if you're an artist, level designer, or scripter you are essentially a factory worker who does exactly what someone tells you to do without any input on your actions. I understand why it has to be this way (because how else do you produce a product with a 60 person dev team that takes 24-30 months)
  • Bully? (Score:2, Interesting)

    A difficult console transition, FTC investigation, re-rating of GTA: San Andreas and more have put Rockstar and Take-Two in an unenviable position. We've received word that in addition to people who left because of studio closures, even more either fled or quit. Are Rockstar employees jumping ship or is this just a result of cost-cutting at Take-Two?

    Maybe, or Rockstar was actually populated with conscientious people and most people didn't know it.

    The development of Bully [rockstargames.com] in which you play a schoolyard thug
    • Re:Bully? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by F_Scentura ( 250214 )
      "Maybe, or Rockstar was actually populated with conscientious people and most people didn't know it.

      The development of Bully in which you play a schoolyard thug who tortures fellow classmates for fun might just have been the breaking point for some of Rockstars talent. It's time to move on when you're asked by your boss to do work that is morally contrary to your beliefs...I think a number of Rockstar's best and brightest did just that."

      Or maybe you're just making shit up out of thin air, which is just as p
    • Hey, quit doing Jack Thompson's work for him!

      I have no logical rationale that equates giving schoolboy's a swirlie to being worse than GTA. If R* could make that look good, I'm sure they can pick up on a fine rationale for Bully too. Give the game a chance to come out before you declare it shit.
      • I dislike Jack Thompson as much as the next gamer, but this game is undefendable trash.
        • Of course it's undefendable, it's not even come out yet!

          As a general rule, you're not supposed to pan something unless you've given it the courtesy of suffering through it.
          • As a general rule, you're not supposed to pan something unless you've given it the courtesy of suffering through it.

            Yep, and the devs have suffered through it and they're jumping ship. You tell me!
        • What are you, on crack?

          Please explain how this game where you might beat some other kids up is worse than a game where you are encouraged to kill people - including women, children, ambulance drivers, firemen, police officers, etcetera.
    • I'll wait for the "school shootings" upgrade pack for Bully, where the goths and nerds get some firepower and take the bully down hard.

      • From what I understood that's what the game is about in first place, you are a victim and organizing your revenge.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 07, 2006 @06:20PM (#15679871)
      Uh, please don't base your whole post off of your assumptions and 3 screenshots on their site.

      E3 preview of bully
      http://ps2.ign.com/articles/611/611166p1.html [ign.com]

      excerpt:
      "It follows the story of a troublesome schoolboy in reform school as he tries to _stand up to bullies_, gets picked on by teachers, plays pranks, and even tries to get the girl. All of this takes place in the fictional Bullworth Academy."

      Emphasis mine.

      Don't listen to Jack Thompson, k? He has no clue what he's talking about.
      • excerpt:
        "It follows the story of a troublesome schoolboy in reform school as he tries to _stand up to bullies_, gets picked on by teachers, plays pranks, and even tries to get the girl. All of this takes place in the fictional Bullworth Academy."

        Emphasis mine.

        Don't listen to Jack Thompson, k? He has no clue what he's talking about.


        My apologies. Well this is what forums are for, getting to the heart of things.
    • wait wait wait...

      a game that doesn't have guns, cars or any severe violence is WORSE then a game where you can go around killing people for no reason? if anything I would think they would stay for Bully and leave over GTA.
  • Can you pick out one person from this list that is invaluable? Hell, they're all upper managers and marketing/PR flunkies. Getting rid of them can only improve game development.

    * Jamie King (VP of Development) * Jennifer Gross (Director of Marketing) * Laura Paterson (Director of Marketing) * Navid Khonsari (Director of Development) * Jeff Castaneda (Director of PR) * Chris Carro (Sr. Pr Manager) * Corey Wade (Sr. Product Mgr) * Futaba Hayashi (Sr. Web Designer) * To
    • As Jason Rubin phrased it (in his now moderately infamous call-to-arms speech):

      Imagine there are two 747s taking off. One of them is full of the best games developers in the world - coders, artists, designers. The other is full of the best marketing and PR people in the games industry. Now imagine one of these planes crashes. Which plane crash would be the biggest disaster for the games industry?

    • Can you pick out one person from this list that is invaluable? Hell, they're all upper managers and marketing/PR flunkies. Getting rid of them can only improve game development.

      And you hereby demonstrate your utter lack of knowledge of the game industry.

      What exactly do you think upper management does at a game company? Who do you think manages development of the games? What do you think the title "VP of Development" (it's actually VP for Development) means? What do you think product managers do? Do you have any idea?

      As for marketing, Rockstar has always been about image, and it's now lost almost all of its image makers. The image any company projects comes from its marketing and PR departments. Rockstar's fall in public perception (including among hardcore gamers, as this submission demonstrates) is directly related to the loss of a large part of that marketing department, and the entire PR department (two times over, in fact).

      People like you apparently think the world would be a better place if it was just made up of a bunch of coders. Where do you think all the artwork for Rockstar's games come from? It comes from the marketing department, which is where all the designers are. Ditto for the music in the games; the soundtracks for all the GTA games comes from marketing. Who do you think makes sure the games hit their milestones? Who do you think project manages, produces, writes the scripts, hires the voice talent, does the recording, does the game testing? It ain't the coders.

      Every single one of the people on that list was important. These were some of the top people at Rockstar, responsible for making decisions both big and small. A coder can be replaced in a day. A good manager that has a larger understanding of the industry and the company is almost impossible to replace in any time frame.
      • Where do you think all the artwork for Rockstar's games come from?

        The artists in the development team.

        the music in the games; the soundtracks for all the GTA games

        Usually outsourced to a third party sound engineer, though some teams do have their own full-time sound guy.

        Who do you think makes sure the games hit their milestones?

        The internal producer.

        Who do you think project manages, produces

        The internal producer.

        writes the scripts

        The designer - though which designer depends on the complexity of the

      • You are just about completely wrong. Management, marketing, and PR have an important place, especially for a company like Rockstar. But they don't do the things you say. They don't do it at Rockstar and they don't do it any other game company in the industry, including the large ones (of which I work for).

        The core of a development team is programmers, artists, designers, producers, and testers. None of these people have anything to do with management, marketing, and PR. 80% of what a game is comes from thes

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