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Senior management blamed for RTW collapse

Tue 24 Aug 2010 4:00pm GMT / 12:00pm EDT / 9:00am PDT
PeopleDevelopment

Former staff allege bosses at fault, while final month's wages remain unpaid

While the precise events that led to Dundee studio Realtime Worlds going into administration last week remain unclear, various former staff have been telling their side of the story.

Former employee Luke Halliwell, who worked on procedural generation technology for Crackdown, APB and Project: MyWorld, has revealed that many staffers were not paid for their last month's work.

"It felt like we were being let go decently," he wrote on his personal blog, "and then BOOM – not getting paid anything, owed last month’s wages, our notice periods, redundancy pay and unused holidays. A substantial amount of money, all told."

Halliwell's wife Lucy later appeared in the post's comments thread, claiming that Realtime Worlds senior management should and could have done more to help.

"Dave Jones and Ian Hetherington have pissed away millions, they are getting away with not paying over 200 employees for the work that they have done and have fiddled their way to being able to buy back Project: MyWorld for cheap," she alleged.

"Moreover these very people have enough personal wealth to pay the money owed to the individuals and families whose lives they have left shattered, heck Dave could probably pay them all just by selling one of his beloved cars."

The situation was worse for American staff who had emigrated to Scotland, claimed her husband, who now found themselves forced to return home within a month without assistance.

While Luke Halliwell was careful not to lay blame at any specific feet himself, he claimed that the studio's problems were not purely financial.

"We made a lot of other mistakes too, most of them more interesting and deserving of analysis than a failure to count how much money we had left in the bank – and at many different levels in the company. You don’t get to burn through $100m without, shall we say, some opportunities to have done things differently."

Comparing APB's high cost and long development cycle compared to the fast, cheap turnaround of social games, "It started to feel like Realtime Worlds was a massive dinosaur, building these massive things that nobody wanted."

However, he had nothing but praise for the staff themselves. "You couldn’t wish to meet a more intelligent, fun, warm-hearted and open-minded group of people."

1

Administrators today claimed that APB has 130,000 registered users.

Halliwell has now left the games industry, and is moving to an undisclosed new role in the US. Lucy Halliwell was distraught about the effect the impending emigration might have on her children, such as parting them from their pet horse.

"So Dave Jones, if I end up having to put a bullet in my own horse’s head because no welfare charity has space for him," she wrote, "I am going to barter my last possessions to have a fork lift driver dump his 800kg bloody carcass on the top of your favourite car."

An anonymous poster purporting to be a former Realtime Worlds employee shed further light, if less anger, in a comment on gaming blog Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

Claiming that decisions about the game's divisive business model were made too late in the day, he or she alleged that "Many of us within RTW were extremely nervous at APB’s prospects long before launch, and with good reason, as it turns out.

"The sheer time spent and money it took to make APB is really a product of fairly directionless creative leadership. Certainly Dave [Jones] has great, strong, ambitious ideas for his games. But he’s a big believer in letting the details emerge along the way, rather than being planned out beyond even a rudimentary form."

While the alleged employee levelled "a huge part of the blame" at Jones for not lending APB his full attention until later in development, "I can’t emphasise enough how nice a man he is personally."

Claiming that APB's failure to scrape the top 20 in the UK charts was a death knell, the poster felt that the game "torpedoed the company, and it failed largely under his creative leadership. It has other issues (technical, for instance), but the design and the business plan are largely down to him and the board, and they are what have failed so irrevocably for the rest of us."

Despite the criticisms of Jones' business, GamesIndustry.biz received further suggestion today that the GTA co-creator had good intentions even when faced with difficult redundancy decisions. "Dave Jones told us in person in the canteen area, with every single member of staff present."

APB continues to operate for the time being, while at least 23 staff have been re-hired to work on Project: MyWorld.

16 Comments

Stewart Gilray
Managing Director

33 29 0.9
I wish I could comment on this. >-(

Posted:4 years ago

#1
It's a serious point about non-European staff. They don't get full redundancy payment from the state. In USA, worker's compensation insurance should pay (I think?) but in UK, only EU staff get redundancy pay. It's not very fair. The US staff should still apply, because they may get payments, but not as much. I have certainly heard of non-EU staff getting paid redundancy through the scheme, but a reduced payment.

Posted:4 years ago

#2

Jonathan Lindsay
Creative Director

17 0 0.0
Something is not right when a management team, with personal wealth in the millions, are able to buy back one of their projects on the cheap (Project:MyWorld) instead of being forced to pay money owed to their employees (final months wages, holiday money and real redundancy money). I hope the management team feel ashamed, though I've yet to see anything in the press from them, no apology, nothing.

The strange thing is, people are still willing to work for these guys...

Posted:4 years ago

#3

Anon Anon
Ex RTW Staff

1 0 0.0
I suspect it'll be some time before most people feel in a position to comment on their perceptions of the failings, and how they were personally affected - at least until they're secure enough to buy food and pay their bills. It's certainly safe to say that dozens of lives are in complete tatters now, there were only 24 hours notice given that there would be no pay this month, one week before pay was due. Those on low incomes and/or people without any savings find themselves in an horrific position now, I know of several people who are having to give up their homes.

*Paragraph edited*

Those who are staying on during the administration process find themselves in another horrible situation - *edited* They end up in an even worse situation, as any local jobs will already be gone by the time they're looking.

Non EU citizens who upped sticks, sold off their homes and possessions, and moved to Scotland find themselves without pay, in a foreign country that they're no longer allowed to stay in, with no plans and in some cases no place to go back in their home countries, some of which have zero welfare system.

During the speech in the canteen where Dave Jones, Gary Dale, and the administrators informed staff that Realtime Worlds was entering administration, Dave said that Realtime Worlds has always prided itself on being a family, and treating its staff exceptionally well. I can only imagine he didn't fully appreciate the magnitude of the bad situations some people find themselves in now through no fault of their own. He's a lovely guy, but it seems that when you get to a certain level of wealth, you don't really appreciate what even a few hundred pounds can mean to a person, and their ability to live.

I myself have moved out of the industry, and indeed the country, and found another (exciting) job quickly - I'm in the minority in that respect, but still don't feel comfortable posting as myself - I wouldn't want my current employer to see me badmouthing my previous employer, however justified it may be. The dust will have to have settled for quite some time before most are happy to do that.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by a moderator on 24th August 2010 6:56pm

Posted:4 years ago

#4

Private
Industry

1,176 182 0.2
That sounds very bad hope the people find something new fast and get the money they deserve soon.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Private on 24th August 2010 6:37pm

Posted:4 years ago

#5

Steve Pritchard
Studio Head

6 0 0.0
I hope the RTW staff can grab hold of the positions they'll find themselves being offered quickly enough to offset any potential long term financial damage - certainly I'd encourage any of them to fire CVs our way if they have problems locating work. London is a fair old relocation distance though.

Any company that, on hitting hard times, cannot properly remunerate their staff when they are forced to make cuts, should really be able to explain how they ended up in that position. Those charged with developing and creating that which is the financial lifeblood of a company have a right to feel that they are both valued and protected by their employer. Redundancies happen, but there is very little excuse for them to do so in a fashion that is so devastating to employees.

Posted:4 years ago

#6
I know where the employees are coming from on this one. My wife was working as an animator at a studio doing cartoons for kids. Normally, they were paid by BACs, but at the end of May they got paid by cheque. In June, one of our friends, a lead animator, bought a new house, and a week before specifically went to the studio head to check that the studio was okay and that there wouldn't be any problems with being paid in the coming months. Needless to say, he was told everything was fine. So he went ahead and completed on his house. Again, a couple of days before the end of June, he went to ask if his team's wages would be paid as normal, and was told they would. At 5pm on the last day of the month, cheques were handed out - so no BACs, and too late in the day to bank them. They were told it was a book keeping error, everything was fine etc.

Three days later, they were all told the cheques would bounce, and they should go home as the studio had run out of money and was searching for new investors. Two months later, the company is STILL "searching for new investors". Most of our friends (including my wife) have now found other gigs (and, to be fair, probably much better ones - sometimes it really DOES just all work out), although they're still awaiting owed wages, but it still sucked. We're lucky, as we have two incomes and were okay, but a number of our friends had recently relocated to the area (in rural Worcestershire) and were still one income families - they really struggled. We're waiting to see if the studio goes into administration.

So yeah, here's hoping the RTW staff all find something soon. And while some may have gone back to work on MyWorld, they could be forgiven for continuing to look for other jobs.

Posted:4 years ago

#7

Tomas Lidström
Lighting Artist

16 0 0.0
For every company that goes into administration theres always former employes badmouthing the company, and more often than not what they say holds value. Of course its coming from someone who is upset and feel they have been wronged, and sure they often use ahem... "colourful words" but that in no way takes away from the value of what they are saying.

I would love to sit down and have a good, long discussion with CEOs and upper managment to get a better understanding of what they are thinking and their reasons for doing stuff like this. It has happened in this industry one too many times and it just leaves me baffeled each time.

We're all in the industry because we love to make games but stuff like this makes alot of people question if its worth it, myself included. Peoples lives get thrown upside down and its forcing good talent out of the industry as a result.

Posted:4 years ago

#8

Terence Gage
Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
This whole thing is just bullshit really. I hope everyone who's now without work manages to find new jobs, and the recruitment drives by other publishers/developers manage to support a lot of people. I've been made redundant in the past, but never as coldly and harshly as is being depicted here, and luckily my fiancee has a decent income which we could rely on in the short term.

Posted:4 years ago

#9

Sandy Lobban
Founder and Creative Director

314 206 0.7
In my own personal opinion......
Lots of game suffer from not being well designed and thought out first, but any experienced developer who has been involved in the making of a game with a huge sandbox enviroment should know the associated problems that come from trying to realise a game like this. It usually goes like this.... Lets make a "living" "breathing" city, and then we will be able to build in as many missions as we like within this free, self managing world. This unfortunately is where alot of the trouble starts and where I assume lots of money was wasted at RTW. Its difficult to plan for all of the potential conflicts that arise from a loose design like this, once you start adding bespoke content. You waste alot of expensive time and money simply on managing this go anywhere, do anything environment and you end up with alot of unneccesary tasks in order to always keep the whole thing "feeling real". All time and money that could potentially be better spent on a more well defined game that does less things, but well. No reflection on the talent at RTW. its just a massive unweildly undertaking to achieve this.

Posted:4 years ago

#10

Paul Wrider
Director of Game Design

7 0 0.0
To the person who asked why someone would still work there, the answer is: steady paycheck. As a Yank who was on MyWorld, I'm going to be pretty hard up, and I'd have taken a role if I had been on the list of retained staff.

Posted:4 years ago

#11

Stewart Gilray
Managing Director

33 29 0.9
@Anon Anon... Dreamworks?

Posted:4 years ago

#12

Mario Rizzo
WW Studios, Head of Free-to-Play

4 0 0.0
@ Khaled Al-Hurby: Apologies, am I reading this correctly... are you saying the problem with the development of APB project was that they needed to be more "innovative"? Funnily enough, I sort of think the opposite. These guys had extremely ambitious plans to create a "GTAish" MMO (as well as a project about mapping the entire world to play games within social networks). Maybe I am a dinosaur but that sounds pretty ambitious and innovative IMHO...

To me it's clear these were both ambitious projects that were targeting big risk versus big reward. These tend to be the types of ventures that VCs target for investment.

@All my former colleagues from Realtime Worlds I was very sad to hear the news and wish you all the best of luck in your new endeavors. You are some of the most talented developers I had the pleasure of working with and you no doubt will find find great opportunities soon.

Posted:4 years ago

#13

John Bye
Senior Game Designer

480 451 0.9
As I've said before when other companies have gone under without paying their staff, this is something the industry should look long and hard at. It's unacceptable that a company can get itself into a situation where it's unable or unwilling to even pay the salaries it owes, let alone any redundancy money.

I appreciate the desire to keep the company going as long as possible in the hope of turning things around, but if you don't expect to be able to cover your next month's payroll unless something miraculous happens, it's well past time to start winding things up gracefully to ensure you can meet all your obligations to your staff, instead of letting the company go to the wall and leaving everyone out of pocket.

If the reports are correct, Realtime Worlds employees have effectively worked for the company for free for a month, and although they should eventually get the money they're owed (including any redundancy pay), it's going to take a while to process the claims (causing hardship to former employees, particularly those who have relocated to work there), and it's ultimately going to come out of the British taxpayers' pockets.

Posted:4 years ago

#14

Mike Reddy
Programme Leader BSc

30 0 0.0
The long term consequences to Abertay University's standing as a premier games degree provider is what concerns me.

Posted:4 years ago

#15

Jonathan Lindsay
Creative Director

17 0 0.0
Abertay won't be affect much by this, if at all. They are well organized and have many many partners. Projects like Dare to be Digital are much more important for Abertay's standing.

Posted:4 years ago

#16

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