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Uncredited L.A. Noire staff reveal frustration at working conditions

Tue 21 Jun 2011 8:29am GMT / 4:29am EDT / 1:29am PDT
Development

Team Bondi was "inflexible and virtually praise-free environment" says ex-staff

Team Bondi developers who claim they were purposefully not credited for Rockstar Games' L.A. Noire have complained of 12 hour long days and a crunch period that lasted over a year - according to new newspaper reports.

Previously over 100 separate staff members have complained of being left out of the credits for the game, which has lead to the creation of the website L.A. Noire Credits.

Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, most of the developers involved did not wish to be named, but the estimate of those left out of the credits has risen to 130.

One unnamed developer alleges that some staff were specifically told they would not be credited unless they remained with the company until after the game shipped. This is contrary to guidelines laid out by industry bodies such as the IGDA.

The list of omitted staff apparently includes one lead engine developer who worked on the game for four years. Another developer who spoke to the newspaper claimed to work on the game for over three years but left because, "I felt as though my sanity depended on it".

Although also unnamed, for fear of the adverse affect it could have on his career, the developer claims he was asked to work 10 to 12 hours almost every day and on weekends, describing Team Bondi as an "inflexible and virtually praise-free environment".

"So, after my wife had been pushing me to quit for more than a year, I did," he said. Although long hours are not unusual in the final weeks or months before a game's completion, the suggestion that a crunch period could last for over a year is unusual.

One source speaking to the newspaper suggested that the omissions occurred because of the many changes made to the game over the course of its development, but the co-creator of the L.A. Noire Credits site insists that many developers are adamant that their work was still included in the final game.

27 Comments

Lee Walton
Co-Founder & Art Director

33 4 0.1
hmm, this is the oldest incentive in the book- that games developers dangle in front of employees: Stay beyond publication and you will stay in the credits. Every publisher I've worked for did this, and the result is lack of "proof" about my involvement in games I worked very hard on for years (concept artists are often screwed on this, as they only work on early phases of games). This is exactly why the Metacritic developer profile idea was dead in the water.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Stephen Woollard
Online Infrastructure Specialist

146 71 0.5
While I have some sympathy for their plight, I constantly wonder why people put up with situations like this. In my time I've worked 18 hour days (in another industry) but I did so because I chose to and I was getting paid a seven (yes seven) figure salary.

If someone came to me on the wages I'm on now and told me to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week I'd tell them to shove it, and before people say "it's not that simple" yes it is.

As long as employees allow employers to exploit them, they will continue to be exploited. I can say with a degree of certainty that if these 130 or however many folks it was had all decided to work to rule then their circumstances would have changed for the better very quickly - even if they had been fired they would have a strong case for unfair dismissal and additionally they would be better off out of that environment, and the negative PR would almost certainly force the studio to change - look at the EA Spouse thing from a few years ago; I can tell you now that EA is a nice place to work these days, or it certainly is from my point of view.

The real problem here is that there are still many many folks in this industry who are so desperate to work in this business they will put up with any amount of crap, especially when told "it's always been like this". The reason it's always been like this is because people continue to make the mistakes of their predecessors because very few have any frame of reference outside of the industry, and even the majority of managers seem to have been promoted from within with no proper management training. Poor scheduling is the key culprit; it seems a lot of so-called project managers couldn't manage a project if it jumped up and bit them on the bum.

It's very simple - you work to live, not live to work. If you're unhappy with your current situation, if you get treated like crap (and I mean really treated like crap, not the myriad of minor whinges we all have) then do something about it. Find out if your colleagues have the same view and if so, document them and take them to your manager. If you get no joy with that then inform them you are requesting a meeting with HR and the GM of the studio to get your concerns addressed.

Importantly though, document everything, save all emails etc, even take photos of any posters or such on the walls if they advocate poor working practice. It's also a good idea to record meetings and so on, but be sure to be completely open and above board about it and make sure everyone present is aware of the recording and agrees to it. If someone doesn't want to be recorded, then end the meeting and again request an interview with HR and a senior manager.

Above all be polite and respectful at all times - do not get into slanging matches or arguments. Do not do anything that can be used to cast you as the bad guy, and never exaggerate - stick to the facts.

Lastly it helps if you can go in mob handed. One person alone will be facing a wall of management, but ten or twenty or a hundred people mean business. Don't forget there is strength in numbers.

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Terence Gage
Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
I don't work in the industry Stephen, but that's a really good post. I'm sure this kind of thing happens quite often, and if employees were ever to have a plan to counter crunch times and poor treatment, well, I think that's a damn good place to start.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

gi biz
;,pgc.eu

341 51 0.1
@Stephen: I couldn't agree more with you. You have no idea of how many times I heard the sentence "after all if you want to stay in the industry it's not so bad here". I simply leave when people try to exploit me, or when I see there is no respect for me and my work.
Unfortunately I seem to get a lot of silly offers lately, like no or almost no holidays, compulsory and unpredictable crunch time, bad wheather, small city and very very limited freedom, for average salaries. So I can understand what keeps one from moving straight away from a given place - you don't want to move just to discover the new place is just as bad and you'll job hop again in six months time.

This is very useful news anyways, given that I would've liked to work at team bondi. The offers on their website seem very friendly indeed. I'll make sure I'm staying away from that!

Posted:2 years ago

#4
Some good words from Stephen really about the industry in general.

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Lewis Brown
Snr Sourcer/Recruiter

194 41 0.2
I agree, Crunch is crunch and at the end its unaviodable in most situations, but a 1 year crunch is unacceptable and suggest they were simply understaffed.

As a recruiter Id like to point out another thing, I dont spend hours checking the credits to see if someone worked on a title. If you were at the studio did the work and can articulate that in an interview and convince our Engineers you have the skills then I wouldnt not hire someone based on some credits. Especially considering the poor quality of some indidivduals I have seen with an excellent list of credited titles.

My point is it shouldnt stop your Career although that doesnt mean you shouldnt get the credit you deserve.

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Jack Molloy
Studying BTEC Level 3 Art and Media In Games Developemt

15 0 0.0
I can understand the stress of the work pressure and then not being included would be quite frustrating but you go to work to work, when taking a job in the games industry you should of realised the pressure which comes with the role.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jack Molloy on 21st June 2011 1:26pm

Posted:2 years ago

#7

David Blewett
Lead Artist

6 0 0.0
@Jack Molloy - Jack, all due respect to you for your comment, but you appear to be a student right now. I feel you might need to understand a bit more about it first.

Crunch time is a part of the job, this is true. Anyone entering the industry thinking its an easy gig is mistaken, its hard work, but also rewarding too. So you are correct there.

However, *nobody* should be expected to work crunch time for a year, that is totally unacceptable. Most of the veterans on here will attest to that. The smallest thing that can be given to a games developer is a credit. We used to get our names in the printed games manuals, but we dont even get that anymore, just in-game credits.Its cheaper.

As a developer who has worked more than his fair share of crunch in the past, I hope that in your future career it never happens to you. You may show a little more understanding for those that have been through it, and nearly had their lives wrecked by it.

Posted:2 years ago

#8

gi biz
;,pgc.eu

341 51 0.1
@Jack: I assume you do want to play games from time to time, go out for shopping and get a new back-lighted keyboard, the special edition of your game and have fun with it for a bit. Or maybe you just want to go out and have a drink with friends before going back home, or such things.
No one is a machine, even if it may appear to you that you should be, and having no weekends and never having time to spend with anybody that is not your co-worker has a very negative impact on your work. People that make you feel as a noob all the time just because they want to keep your wage low have a negative impact. Going back home with a stomachache has a bad impact, and being underpaid - guess it? - has a bad impact. Companies that strive for providing the best work conditions are not making too much of a gift, they do get something back. And after all, you want to get into the industry because you want to make games - how would you feel if once you get in, you meet people that make you wish you picked another job?

Posted:2 years ago

#9
By no means I intend to undermine the credit these people deserve for contributing to one of the most interesting games this year.. and I have to say that a FULL YEAR of crunch time sounds more like insanity than project planning.
But in all honesty, what employer bothers to look up the credits in a particular game to see credentials for a potential employee. Isn't this why we have LinkedIn?

Posted:2 years ago

#10
Historically, crunch is generally a two pronged affair in our industry which is somewhat of a chicken or egg question. On the one hand we have too many indie developers desparate for contract work willing to under cut any other developer just to win the contract. They then work 80 hour + weeks for the duration of the project. This sets a precedence for publishers who then expect the same kind of features for the same ridiculously low budgets from other developers in the future. It's the same problem the music industry has had for over 100 years. Too many musicians are willing to work for free just to get the gig. This has never been solved in the music industry and probably won't be in the video game industry. One way out is for the indie developer to generate successful titles and then make sure to quote accurately enough to keep the overtime reasonable. You'll lose some projects but then you probably don't want those anyway. Overtime happens in all industries, not just the video game industry. Every studio i've heard of that has started with the mandate of zero overtime has failed. It's just not realistic in our creative industry where you just don't know if something is going to be fun until you write some code, create some content, etc.. Generally if you take some risks (i.e. Develop on a new platform, new genre, etc.), which we need to in our industry to move forward, the risk of severe crunch increases dramatically no matter how well you try to prepare for it. Regardless, excessive overtime is not something that can be sustained, is not healthy for the affected individuals nor the industry. To solve this problem is not as simple as it sounds. The other side of the zero overtime quotient is shipping a bad game which doesn't do anyone any good either. What it will take to keep overtime manageable is publishers who really do understand what it takes to develop high quality games, the associated risks and not just go for the lowest development budget. It also requires developers who won't just "play for free".

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Wolfgang Hamann on 21st June 2011 4:41pm

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Jamie King

1 0 0.0
I'm planning on going to Abertay next year to study game design so i don't have inside knowledge about the industry but this seems horrible. I hope Team Bondi is a rare case as I don't think I could cope with 10-12 hours every day for a year. I've wanted to do game design for years but this article has really put me off the idea.

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Keldon Alleyne
Handheld Developer

423 362 0.9
Desperation and uncertainty are a very strong incentives, so when presented with an implicit choice between accepting an unreasonable crunch and leaving, most will opt for the "safest" option and stick with the problematic position.

I quite like the philosophy of treating others as you would like to be treated. Thankfully in my last position when we had crunch everyone, including the producers and people who 'technically' weren't on crunch would crunch. But I hear that that is the exception rather than the rule, apparently - but a lot of companies could learn from them.

@Steven, I hear what you're saying about it being "that" easy, yet in many people's minds there are logical reasons not to take that approach. Lack of leadership and vision makes them blind to the possibility of successfully making the change, plus the confidence in the powers with the opposing views disparages any motivation of pursuing anything and results in further submission. Then consider the doubt employers have on being able to work without crunch and you can see why many will presume they have a losing argument.

Byron Atkinson-Jones wrote a great article over at Gama Sutra regarding scheduling (My Producer Hates Me).

@Steven (again), considering you were earning a 7 figure salary, could your role (and possibly the skills required to land that type of position) have given you a much different stance in these matters? I'm thinking of goals and vision, which many lack, resulting in mundane life choices and complacency in ones ambitions. Robert Kiyosaki breaks down the differences in various career-related mentalities very well.

But something needs to change; where there is not an abundance of jobs for people who want to break into the games industry it seems very unfair for desperate and ambitious employees to be exploited in this way. Investors need to take a different stance on the industry and also gain more understanding on how crunch negatively affects productivity and greatly affects health. There needs to be greater empathy in the industry.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Keldon Alleyne on 21st June 2011 6:17pm

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Matthew Bowman
Product Coordinator

2 0 0.0
While the economic value of being included in the credits is debatable the satisfaction that many people feel from being included in them and the warm feeling of recognition for a job well done is not.

Considering the financial costs of including someone's name within the credits is 0.1p per SKU (a rough calculation) leaving names out of even a 'Special Thanks' section seems just selfish and vindictive, especially for those who worked for as much as four years on the project.

@Jamie, don't worry, it isn't all like that. Other industries have their tales of woe too, its but you frequent games industry websites so you hear about the games industries woes more than anyone else's :)

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Joe Winkler
trained retail salesman

162 1 0.0
@Jamie
Don't paint it all balck already. Don't throw away your knowledge because of some "bad examples".

The posts above are very open and honest for people that are not in the industry. That's what I love about this page. I never had the chance to start at a game studio, so I started to combine my hobby with work from the other side up. I sell video games in a large retail company, manage the advertisments, getting in contact with game companys and blah blah ;)

And if it (hopefully) will change your thougts a bit, we have a crunch time aswell. Last time we opened a new store, we have been working 12-14 hours a day, 6 to 7 days a week for one month. It was "just" a month but it was the month before december wich was the next stressfull season.

To sum it up: Every employee has to go through rough times once in a while.. as long as it doesn't end like in the case above, just see through it. Cheers.

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Stephen Woollard
Online Infrastructure Specialist

146 71 0.5
@Keldon - That's precisely my point. I came into this business from an unrelated industry (security) where I spent nearly twenty years working with some of the biggest companies in the world (try rolling out software to 165k employees in 120 countries ;-P) and many of the major gov organisations of the western world.

As a result, I like to think I have some idea of what I'm doing, and it is precisely that lack of experience that is really hurting our industry and leads to situations like the one in the article; poor management decisions lead to poor scheduling, which leads to overworked and under-appreciated staff and a "them and us" culture where insecure managers will see any perceived dissent as an attack on their credibility and staff see their bosses as uncaring slave drivers.

For example, what many people I know now call delegation, I call "getting my subordinates to do my work for me". Proper delegation is about empowering your staff, giving them enough responsibility to feel valued and important but not so much they get snowed under while you're sitting with your feet up on the desk.

Another one is the ubequitous "working from home" which seems to have become a euphemism for taking a day off. Perception is the key in business - it's not what you do, it's what you're seen to be doing that counts. You might work your socks off at home but your staff see you buggering off early and that breeds resentment.

Basically, happy staff are productive staff, and are far more likely to willingly go the extra mile for a manager they know has got their back. Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm the most caustic bugger you're ever likely to meet, but anyone who has worked for me will also tell you I will move Hell and high water to shield my staff from inteference from further up the chain and if you want my guys to work overtime at short notice you'd better have a bloody good reason :-)

Posted:2 years ago

#16

Chris Gilroy

10 0 0.0
As a student, it's reassuring to know that stories like this are extreme cases and don't represent day-to-day life in the industry. I've no objections to working longer hours and weekends if deadlines need to be met - if it's organised properly (last year my dad's office had catering provided) it can even be enjoyable. A year-long crunch is unhealthy and plain ridiculous, however.

Posted:2 years ago

#17

Tim Carter
Designer - Writer - Producer

538 224 0.4
Time for a union.

Posted:2 years ago

#18
I agree Tim but I am really pessimistic that something like this is possible, because unions in general have bad reputation with most people. Maybe, in 10 or 20 years, if we are lucky.
I live in Chicago, and here in US most people dislike unions. They think that workers in unions are lazy and that unions are corrupt.
I think that situation would have to get much worse before people realize that they need to unionize.

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Haven Tso
Web-based Game Reviewer

255 8 0.0
I have sympathy for these people. The thing is the gaming industry in Australia is even smaller and having such an items on their CV is very important for them to find the next project. I sometimes do feel shocked by the ethical standards in the gaming industry when it comes to be "fair trade" issues.

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Andrew Whitehead
Journalist

9 0 0.0
@stephen working in the press side I feel so out of the loop about the behind the scenes stuff. Thanks for the awesome post.

I'm disappointed this happened in Australia. It may sound odd, but I had a small sense of pride that this game was made in my home country. Now it feels tainted. Still a fantastic game, and I reading this post I knew it wasn't the first or last time this would happen. But it's still sad.

Games need to be more regulated. Stuff like this is harder to get away with in the movie industry it seems. I'm not saying any industry is perfect, but look at developers like Tose who make entire games and NEVER get credited. I know that's their thing, but it's not right. It's almost plagiarism.

Posted:2 years ago

#21

Nic Wechter
Senior Designer

27 46 1.7
Not being credited is just a dick move by a dev and one that seem to unfortunately becoming more common. Its just plain mean and unprofessional since it costs nothing to give people due credit.

I'm just thankful I've never had to fight to get credited on any title I've contributed to.

Hopefully the Noire credits will get updated via a patch at some point.

Posted:2 years ago

#22

Nick Ferguson
Senior Producer

48 9 0.2
The old adage "You don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate" springs to mind.

Please don't take this comment as a defense of Team Bondi's behaviour, but the simple fact is that game companies are not required to give credit (unlike film and TV, where allocation of credit is very clearly defined).

One thing to consider in your next role would be to ask the company to add a clause to your employment contract that defines a minimum credit in the event you contributed for a certain amount of time.

If the company declines to give you due credit, you should define some kind of acceptable compensation in lieu.

If the company refuses to agree to this clause, they you get to make an informed decision about how important credits are to you.

(DISCLAIMER: I Am Not A Lawyer)

Posted:2 years ago

#23

Nick McCrea
Gentleman

163 185 1.1
Seems to me like the negative publicity consequences of failing to give due credit overwhelms their use as a staff retention tool.

Posted:2 years ago

#24

Craig Tongue
AI Programmer

5 0 0.0
The idea of working for free (unpaid overtime) and negative holiday allowances (working weekends) are the two things that put me off the industry despite wanting to be a programmer since the age of 6 and being games designer for life. I have 100s of game ideas a written up and yet spend my days wasting away in finance because of the ' at least we are getting paid to do what we love' attitude that everyone in the games industry seems to have. Add such industry champions add Bobbie Kotik (sp?) and I begin to feel sorry for you all.

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Keldon Alleyne
Handheld Developer

423 362 0.9
The old adage "You don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate" springs to mind.
Do we really need to exploit weak negotiation skills and perpetuate this type of notion in the gaming industry?

If the company refuses to agree to this clause, [then] you get to make an informed decision about how important credits are to you.
Do we need to present such false dilemmas to justify non-inclusion in credits?

This is very much an issue of corporate values, what lengths is one willing to go in order to achieve their goals? Do we knowingly commission unfair trade (like a year's worth of crunch with no inclusion in the credits) and waive all responsibility without making efforts to operate by other means?

Posted:2 years ago

#26

Jeffrey Kesselman
CTO

112 0 0.0
I spent a good part of my career in the industry doing tool and library work.

I have lots of major hunks of code in games I wasn't credited for. Credit was the rare exception. I think I've had manual credit twice. (The Fords credited me on The Horde 'cause they are damn nice guys.)

Honestly, the picture Im getting of the LA Noire team is a bunch of whiners.

I suspect management made that situation. Whenever there is a failure of teamwork its a management failure, but there are still more and less classy ways of dealing with it.

The industry is small, people who matter will know who you are and what you have done. They will also know what attitude your bring.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 29th June 2011 3:02am

Posted:2 years ago

#27

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