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GTA’s Co-Creator Leaves a Complicated Legacy in Gaming

At Rockstar Games, Dan Houser developed two of the industry’s most valuable franchises, but the company drew criticism for overexerting workers.

Dan Houser, co-founder of Rockstar Games, the team behind Grand Theft Auto.

Dan Houser, co-founder of Rockstar Games, the team behind Grand Theft Auto.

Illustration: 731/Getty Images

Dan Houser has spent nearly a year on what his company, Rockstar Games, describes as an “extended break.” It’s apparently the longest period Houser has been away since starting the video game label with his brother in 1998 and co-creating two of the industry’s most valuable—and controversial—franchises, Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. Some of his colleagues at Rockstar and parent company Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. have kept up with his family’s adventures through updates to his wife’s Instagram: a visit to the Roman Colosseum at dawn, green drinks on the beach in Turks & Caicos and a horse-drawn carriage ride through the snow-thick landscape of Deer Valley, Utah.

The sabbatical officially comes to an end Wednesday, when Rockstar will part ways with Houser, the co-founder, vice president of creative and the primary plot designer for its games. During his career at Rockstar, Houser became to gaming what Martin Scorsese is to film. Grand Theft Auto V, his biggest hit, brought in more revenue than the last 10 James Bond films combined and is still a moneymaker almost seven years later thanks in part to online sales. Houser’s final game, Red Dead Redemption 2, generated $725 million during its opening weekend in 2018, exceeding the debut of the Avengers movie that came out that year.