Dan Houser, a co-founder of Rockstar Games, is leaving his post in March, according to the developer’s parent company Take-Two Interactive. Houser was lead writer on the multimillion-selling Grand Theft Auto series, as well as other Rockstar hits including the acclaimed western adventure Red Dead Redemption.
In a statement to investors on Tuesday, Take-Two stated that Houser, who was creative vice president at the studio, would leave Rockstar on 11 March after taking an “extended break”, which began in spring last year. Houser’s brother Sam, with whom he co-founded Rockstar Games in 1998, will stay on as company president.
Houser started writing on the groundbreaking Grand Theft Auto series while working for BMG Interactive, which published the first two GTA titles. When BMG was acquired by Take-Two, the Houser brothers formed Rockstar Games to continue the series, overseeing the landmark Grand Theft Auto 3, which drastically improved the games’ visuals and scope. For the next 20 years, Dan Houser was lead creative on the series, working closely with a small narrative team, and also writing for Max Payne and Red Dead Redemption.
In 2018, Houser said that finishing Red Dead Redemption 2 had required exhausting 100-hour working weeks. The revelation caused controversy in the games industry where “crunch culture” – the expectation that staff will work long hours for many months of game development in order to meet deadlines – has become a hot topic. Rockstar later clarified the comments by saying these hours were undertaken by the core writing team and not the whole studio.
The news comes at a time when rumours of a possible sixth Grand Theft Auto title are growing. The series is the most financially successful in video games history, generating an estimated $6bn (£4.6bn) since its inception.
Working alongside Rupert Humphries (son of comedian Barry Humphries), Dan Houser has overseen the narrative design of the Grand Theft Auto titles, drawing influences from cult movies and the street culture of New York and Los Angeles, as well as satirising modern urban life. “For us, it starts with the characters,” he told the Guardian in 2012. “The story is always driven by the characters – it’s always got to feel like someone you want to be propelled through the game world with. Then we’ll find a cool, interesting and amusing cast to juxtapose them with, and make sure we’ve got a good range of types. If the process feels organic to us then we’re heading in the right direction.”
No reason has been given for Houser’s departure. Take-Two is filing its third-quarter financial results on Thursday, accompanying the announcement with a conference call to investors and press where the decision is likely to be scrutinised.