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IGDA to investigate Team Bondi allegations

Tue 28 Jun 2011 1:33pm GMT / 9:33am EDT / 6:33am PDT
PeopleDevelopment

Governing body calls for testimonies from former LA Noire developers

The International Game Developers Association will investigate working practices at L.A. Noire developer Team Bondi.

Following recent reports of extended crunch periods and unpaid overtime, the IGDA has asked Team Bondi's ex employees to come forward.

The IGDA avoided making an official statement until it had a better understanding of the situation, but Brian Robbins, chairman of the IGDA board of directors, has made the body's position on the matter abundantly clear.

"[But] certainly reports of 12-hour a day, lengthy crunch time, if true, are absolutely unacceptable and harmful to the individuals involved, the final product, and the industry as a whole," he told Develop.

Robbins also encouraged former Team Bondi employees to e-mail qol@igda.org "with comments about the recent past and current situation - positive or negative."

24 Comments

Patrick Williams
Medicine and Research

93 61 0.7
While this seems perfectly appropriate considering the recent reports, what is the role of the IGDA in all this? What can it do? Should McNamara care?

Posted:3 years ago

#1

Tim Carter
Designer - Writer - Producer

550 268 0.5
The IGDA is a powerless organization. So what good is it if they "investigate" anything?

Posted:3 years ago

#2

Trevor Sayre
Interaction Designer

4 2 0.5
IGDA has around 12,000 members. That's not powerless. It's put its voice in to the US Supreme Court with their joint Amicus Brief as well as other important endeavors. I feel IGDA taking interest in this is good. Even if they don't have direct ability to make change in this case, they have the people and the power to bring perspective and affect change.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Trevor Sayre on 28th June 2011 6:54pm

Posted:3 years ago

#3

Jeffrey Kesselman
CTO

112 0 0.0
I once worked two months of 100+ hour weeks. It was my choice. My other choices were to either fail at the impossible task set or quit.

if the job was that horrendous, why didn't they just quit? I don't have a lot of sympathy here.

Extended periods of over-time speaks to bad management, but when you have bad management, you find a new job. This just sounds like the whining of people who found it more comfortable to complain then to take charge of their lives.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 28th June 2011 7:31pm

Posted:3 years ago

#4

Patrick Williams
Medicine and Research

93 61 0.7
If you read the interviews quoted that brought about this investigation, hundreds of people DID quit because of the abusive work conditions they faced at Team Bondi.

Posted:3 years ago

#5

Jeffrey Kesselman
CTO

112 0 0.0
So whats the problem? Team bondi reaped the reward of their abuse of their workers by having them leave.

if you want more power then that over your employers then unionize.

End of story.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 28th June 2011 8:37pm

Posted:3 years ago

#6

Barrie Tingle
Live Producer

349 116 0.3
I have worked similar hours to these guys at Team Bondai.
Yeah it isn't great and probably shouldn't happen but sometimes, when a triple A title is on the line you push that bit extra when needed. If that means doing insane hours with no over time pay then so be it.

Maybe that is the wrong mentality to have about it all but that is and will always be a part of being in the games industry with some companies.

Posted:3 years ago

#7

Nick McCrea
Gentleman

177 217 1.2
Sometimes crunch is inevitable, and of course it can be a sign of a very dedicated and motivated team, but that's not what's being described here.

Also it seems to me that a disproportionate number of people who claim it's acceptable in general, as opposed to occasionally, are from one of two groups of employees:

1. Senior management or owners, with clear skin in the game, so to speak.
2. Younger guys without families.

If you're in either one of those categories, you're not really in a position to empathise with those most damaged by crunch - guys in regular positions with families.

Posted:3 years ago

#8

Jeffrey Kesselman
CTO

112 0 0.0
So FYI I've been engineering in this business for 20 years and only been a CTO ( or C anything) for about 4. I still actively code filling in for my teams' needs, stay late with them when that is required, and let them knock off early when that's warranted.

I got to CTO though by being willing to go the extra mile and a half both on the job and off, where I often had side projects as well learning new technologies.

In many jobs I worked extra hard to make important targets, but when I felt I wasn't getting what I wanted out of a situation, I left and found one where I could.

Ultimately you need to decide how far you want to go and how hard you are willing to work for it. But one thing this, or any other creative business is not, is a 9 to 5 job. If you want that, I suggest you look into enterprise computing.

Edit: Btw, just to make it clear, I don't believe burn out schedules are good for a company, its employees, or its products. I believe the majority of the value of any code is in the head of the guy or gal who wrote it. Burning out your employees is toasting your most valuable asset. But I also believe this is a job we do for love as much or more then the paycheck, and if you dont have that fire in your soul to go the extra distance when it makes sense, I'm not terribly interested in you as an employee. If you don't feel *you* have a vested interest in the product you are making, your the wrong man for the job.

And I *know* for a fact that in this world, in the end, no one will look out for you as well as you can for yourself. Which is why I don't have much patience for people who want to be seen as victims. Unless you were chained to that chair, or put in fear of your or your families immediate death if you didn't work, you made your own situation for better or worse. And if its worse, its up to you to make it better.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 29th June 2011 1:32am

Posted:3 years ago

#9

Florian Dhesse
Senior Game Design Manager

7 0 0.0
Managing people and leading a game's vision are difficult to balance well. Some people do it really well though.
If McNamara is such an imposing creative guy, is that really a fault? Many creators in other media or arts had a terrible reputation too.
He should have been balanced by a powerful management team. Apparently he wasn't. I don't think he can the only one to blame here.

Posted:3 years ago

#10

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

765 574 0.8
If this is saw as something "Acceptable" then we are as guilty as the companies using this practice. This kind of behaviour towards your workers is just plain wrong.

If proved true I will even feel bad for buying the game.

Posted:3 years ago

#11

Christopher Bowen
Editor in Chief

400 523 1.3
Here's a legitimate question I have:

Was "crunch" of this magnitude a problem in the 80s and 90s, when the technology and resulting code were similar, and there were memory and space limitations on the games that were being produced? This seems to me like something that has grown uncontrollable as the technology and the budgets have raised, but as I was a teenager back then, I don't have much to look back on personally.

Posted:3 years ago

#12

Alex Comer
Technical Designer

9 14 1.6
"But one thing this, or any other creative business is not, is a 9 to 5 job." Who decides this is so? Do you have actual evidence, that it is impossible to both be creative and work 9 to 5, or is this pure ideology?

Personally, I expect to work longer hours at times and to go the extra mile, but I choose to do so because I take pride in my work. We should all expect our projects to be well managed, our targets attainable, and our overtime kept to a minimum.

Posted:3 years ago

#13

Nick McCrea
Gentleman

177 217 1.2
Jeffrey, I wasn't criticising you directly, I think your points are entirely reasonable. This is a creative industry, as you say, we all expect to work hard (and on occasion, very hard).

You (correctly) contend that we are all responsible for our own careers / job satisfaction etc. This is entirely true. No one owes a person a good job. I don't particularly feel that a union would serve my interests better than I could myself, therefore I explicitly take responsibility for my own career. If I end up somewhere shit; I move.

BUT. I don't believe that whistleblowing in this situation is an illigitimate thing to do, nor is it necessarily indicative of someone who is a victim, or expects to be handed a perfect job. Where I disagree with you is in the assertion that an employee only has two choices - put up or shut up. They don't.

It seems to me that complaining publicly about this kind of working practice is actually an effective strategy to affect change. The opprobrium generated for the management of Team Bondi has not been insignificant - they may find it harder to recruit. The EA Spouse episode by many accounts made EA a better place to work. We've all heard stories I'm sure of various studios we'd be reluctant to work for, based on people we've spoken to, articles we've read etc. This stuff has an effect.

What I'm trying to get at is that I disagree with the implication that the people who publicise these events are driven by a victim mentality, and are therefore not go-getting, hard-working, self-motivated workers.

The reality is that crunch is sometimes a part of this industry. We all understand that. A second reality is that super-excessive crunch and bad management will, in this day and age, get called out and it will damage your reputation as an employer. Some people, when faced with this, will just walk away. Some will put up with it. And some will speak about it, either before or after leaving. All of these courses of action are entirely legitimate, in my eyes.

Posted:3 years ago

#14

Morgan Owen
Studying Electronic engineering

12 0 0.0
I forget how easy it is to quit and grab a new job to support a new family! Why don't you think before you make a self righteous comment like that.

Posted:3 years ago

#15

Jeffrey Kesselman
CTO

112 0 0.0
My average job in the industry has lasted 2.5 years. This is a volatile industry. If you cannot handle that you should not be in it.

Period.

And I think my 20 years of experience and success in it gives me the credibility to make such statements. I see you are a student, so be a student, drop the defensiveness, and learn from those with the real experience if you want to succeed.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 29th June 2011 3:54pm

Posted:3 years ago

#16

Jeffrey Kesselman
CTO

112 0 0.0
Nick,

Thanks for your well reasoned reply.

The question is, how valuable is any sort of whistle blowing if that whistle is blown all the time and for trivial reasons?

The fact of the matter is that bad management in engineering is a problem that you run into in any part of engineering. Its not just hours. Bad managers can make a strict 40hrs a week a living hell. I've worked in such places (and not in the game industry, in this case, but in the related field of 3D animation.)

And this is far from even the most heinous example of work hours. As i already mentioned at another job early in my career I worked a 2 month stretch of 14+ hour days 7 days a week because my boss was a total moron who promised things no reasonable person could deliver. But it was my decision to do it anyway.

You don't have to leave your job to find another one. In fact its easier to find a job if you already have one. I stuck out one "in hell" job for a year while I looked for another one. (That second one, btw, was great and more then justified my work in finding it.)

But all employment i have ever had has been explicitly on a "by mutual satisfaction" agreement where either party is free to terminate the relationship at any time for any reason. Just like an abused spouse who stays in a bad marriage, an abused employee who stays in a bad employment relationship in the end does so out of choice. Slavery was made illegal a long time ago in this country.

And making all sorts of noise about how horrible the abuser is or was is just making excuses for your own bad decision making if you don't start by acknowledging your role in staying in the situation. And I don't know what they expect the IGDA to do about it. Except give their egos a pat on the head and say "oh poor you."

Rewarding people with attention for playing the victim just teaches them to be victims in the future. Thats called "learned helplessness" by psychologists and is ultimately a very self-damaging thing.

There will always be bad jobs. There will always be people who don't have the guts to leave them. AND there will always be people with *no* job who wish they had that bad job. Thats the way of free market capitalism.

Edit: it should be noted however that the *worst* job in this industry is still better then ANY job down in the coal mines of Kentucky. Some perspective is also of value.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 29th June 2011 4:58pm

Posted:3 years ago

#17

Jeffrey Kesselman
CTO

112 0 0.0
One more comment... far from helping, I think this whole thing actually *damages* the credibility of stances for reasonable employee treatment.

This is an industry that apes financial success, and LA Noire is looking to be a *very* financially successful game. I can easily imagine the next time I put my foot down over burning out employees someone in the room saying. "Why not? LA Noire did and look how much money *they* made!"

The examples of *failed* projects that did these sorts of things are *much* more valuable in ensuring the decent treatment of workers then cases like this.

Posted:3 years ago

#18

Daniel Brown
Information Manager

3 0 0.0
Well... That's all fine and Dandy but from what I understand this "Crunch" period lasted over a year. It all only really started when they noticed their names were not on the credits because they quit due to bad workplace conditions. All they want is to get paid for the countless extra hours they worked and to be properly credited, is that really so much to ask for?

Posted:3 years ago

#19

Jeffrey Kesselman
CTO

112 0 0.0
In the case of pay, AIUI the were all exempt employees, so the answer is yes its unreasonable. Professionals are not hourly workers and don't get paid by the hour. Instead they get a fixed salary and benefits, the total of which is generally significantly higher then hourly workers make. Thats how it works. Thats the deal they signed up for.

The other part of that deal was that they were free to leave at any time. They chose to leave, that was their right and privilege. The company also had the freedom to try to entice them to stay and decided it was not worth it. That was the company's right and privilege.

In the second case, yes its also unreasonable. They quit the project. It is entirely unreasonable to expect to get credited. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people who see these projects through don't get manual credit, why should those that don't get such?

What they *need* to do is get over it and move on. Life in general and employment in particular is full of decisions, not all of which you will make optimally, and disappointments in the results. Those who function highest are those who chalk such up to experience and move on.

A piece of advice from a veteran you can chose to ignore at your own peril: As I mentioned before, this is a very small industry. You want to be very careful who you sling mud at because (a) you will stand out as mud slinger yourself, which is not a good thing, (b) you *will* meet these same people again in some capacity if you stay in the industry and (c) right or wrong, all a future employer is going to care about is "will this person make problems for me if they are unhappy?"

During my one sojourn at a big company (Sun Microsystems) we used to call this sort of thing a "career limiting move."

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 29th June 2011 6:23pm

Posted:3 years ago

#20

Jeffrey Kesselman
CTO

112 0 0.0
One more thing to remember: while there is such a thing as karma, it takes awhile to operate. And no one else cares what you personally think is or isn't fair.

Posted:3 years ago

#21

Nick McCrea
Gentleman

177 217 1.2
I'm certainly in agreement about the potential *perils* of whistleblowing; as you say it's a small industry, but then that's also an argument for treating employees well. It's no surprise the allegations were all made anonymously - though Mr McNamara's own statements do much to validate them. And certainly what I would consider a reasonable threshold for going public is high; there's clearly a danger there. But my argument would be that this incident is *qualitatively* different, as demonstrated by the specific allegations, and the reaction of the studio head. This kind of incident doesn't really swirl around every studio out there, though there are no doubt isolated disgruntled employees of every studio in the world. We don't need to hear about every petty squabble, I agree! People must look to their own conscience.

LA Noire is a success, but 7 years is a long time to make a game (though it was more accurately set up a studio AND make a game), there are arguments to be had about whether it was as successful as it could have been with some more project management sanity. Pure speculation on my part.

I think the best counterpoints are those studios where we have great success, coupled with high levels of employee satisfaction and reasonable working practices - there are certainly plenty to be had.

For my own part, I think if I found myself in the situation, I would, as you would, just find something better and walk away. I don't really begrudge others their right to vent publicly (with certain provisos), and I do think it does serve some use. We can agree to disagree :)

Posted:3 years ago

#22

Jeffrey Kesselman
CTO

112 0 0.0
Agreed, Nick. And we DO agree on most of the important points.

(1) Its good business to treat your people well. A good rule of thumb is to treat them as you would truly like to be treated.

(2) Burning people out is short-sighted and generally a result of bad management.

(3) If you find yourself in a bad job situation, look for a better one.

(4) Its a small industry. Stay classy and just expect that what goes around, comes around, because sooner or later it will. Time wounds all heels.

And I didn't know they were at it for 7 years. yes, the bad management definitely cost them, then.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 29th June 2011 10:32pm

Posted:3 years ago

#23

Daniel Brown
Information Manager

3 0 0.0
Indeed I you make valid points but one problem I believe they might have had if/when they decided to quit is the availability of jobs. Perhaps there were many other employees who were looking for jobs while all this was going on but to no avail? Perhaps this is why they had to endure this horrendous treatment? I'm not really sure what the state of the video game industry or similar is in Australia and I don't really know much about the industry as a whole anyway so bare with my stupidity.

But indeed like you said, if you find yourself in a bad job situation, look for a better one.
I only wonder if they could find a better one...

Posted:3 years ago

#24

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