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The Emails Behind The Whistle Blowing at Team Bondi

Tue 05 Jul 2011 6:45am GMT / 2:45am EDT / 11:45pm PDT
Development

Documents and testimony from L.A. Noire devs expose a broken relationship with Rockstar

Last month a story on IGN called "Why Did L.A. Noire Take Seven Years To Make?" detailed the lengthy process wherein Sydney-based developer Team Bondi worked on the biggest, most expensive video game ever made in Australia. Published by Rockstar Games, L.A. Noire - released worldwide in May - was expansive in scope and revolutionary in concept. 

At the story heart's were eleven testimonials – delivered by former Team Bondi employees interviewed under the condition of anonymity – which detailed the oppressive work conditions that hundreds of staff endured throughout those seven years. Among their complaints were an "ominous crunch" period of development which continually shifted year to year; a studio-wide expectation that staff would work overtime and weekends; a praise-free working environment; and a boss named Brendan McNamara, who one of the sources called "the angriest person I've ever met".

In the last few weeks, the story has been read and reported around the globe. Both fans and the game development community have reacted with contempt for Team Bondi, and for Rockstar Games, who seemingly condoned the Sydney-based studio's incessant whip-cracking. The International Game Developer's Association (IGDA) has declared that they are seeking comments from former Bondi staff as they investigate what they deem to be "absolutely unacceptable" working conditions.

As the original author of the report I've been contacted by developers who have worked under Brendan McNamara at other studios over the years. All have concurred with the assertions made by the Bondi Eleven. "When Brendan came on board, it became clear that he was a huge bully with no talent, vision or management skill. But he really knew how to intimidate," wrote one. "Fits with my experience of McNamara," tweeted another.

Several more ex-Team Bondi employees have also contacted me to express their gratitude. "On the day the article was posted, I had been linked it by a dozen or so other Team Bondi ex-employees in the first few hours, and then it was re-linked on Facebook for the rest of the day," one source told me. "Everyone I've spoken to is really grateful that it's 'out there', and completely shocked that Brendan agreed to the interview."

Two former Bondi staffers, in particular, have supplied evidence which refutes comments made by Brendan McNamara in my original story, and strengthens the validity of claims made by the Bondi Eleven. Between them the pair spent years labouring under the Team Bondi banner. As with the original Bondi Eleven, the pair have supplied information under the condition of anonymity. Their rebuttals to their former boss follow; their evidence includes time-stamped internal emails and staff employment contracts.

Deterioration of relationship with Rockstar

Source: "It's pretty well reported now that the working conditions were bad. What hasn't been discussed yet (from what I've seen) is the relationship between Team Bondi and Rockstar. I've heard a lot about Rockstar's disdain for Team Bondi, and it has been made quite clear that they will not publish Team Bondi's next game. Team Bondi are trying to find another publisher for their next title, but the relationship with Rockstar has been badly damaged - Brendan treats L.A. Noire like a success due to his vision but I think Rockstar are the ones who saved the project. They continued to sink money into LA Noire, and their marketing was fantastic. Without their continued support, Team Bondi would have gone under several years ago."

"Rockstar also made a huge contribution to the development; their producers were increasingly influential over the last two years of the game's development, and overruled many of the insane decisions made by Team Bondi management. At a lower level, Rockstar also pitched in with programmers, animators, artists, QA, etc. Part of the conflict between Team Bondi and Rockstar was due to Rockstar's frustration with Team Bondi's direction, and eventually Team Bondi's management in turn resented Rockstar for taking lots of creative control. It's also worth pointing out that Rockstar used to be very keen on making Team Bondi something like 'Rockstar Sydney' - the more they worked with Team Bondi management, the more they came to understand that this was a terrible idea. I have a few logs that show the relationship souring – see below."

Date: Tuesday, April 06, 2010.

From: Brendan McNamara [Team Bondi founder]

To: Everybody List [everyone who worked for Team Bondi]

Hi Everyone 

I found out this morning that Rockstar have pulled out of the E3 show. I'm trying to find out more information as to why. I don't agree with this decision as I think the case we were going to show is looking great and that we could do some real damage there. Jeronimo [Barrera, Rockstar VP] is talking to the Marketing Team to ascertain what the Marketing Plan is going forward. Once I know what is happening and why I will get back to you. 

Brendan

Source: "The context on this second one is that our Production Designer (Simon Wood) posted an email with links to a new L.A. Noire logo designed by Rockstar (which Brendan hated). The announcement apparently had a Rockstar logo, but no Team Bondi logo alongside it. Brendan's reply was only supposed to be to Simon, but he replied to everybody at Team Bondi by mistake. He claimed he was only talking about commenters on news articles, but it was pretty clear to everyone that this wasn't true."

Date: Monday, October 11, 2010

From: Brendan McNamara [Team Bondi founder]

To: Everybody List [everyone who worked for Team Bondi]

Every dog has its day and there's going to be hell to pay for this one. I'll never forget being treated like an absolute **** by these people.

L.A. Noire continually being 'six months from completion'

Source: "We were constantly told that the project was only six months away from being done to justify the long hours - it was always "the final push". There are so many emails like this talking about a 'final push'; I don't have all of them, but it was a constant theme. Management knew this was untrue, but maintained the lie anyway to keep people working. I only recall one time where a lead confirmed that they knew we weren't going to hit a release date but that they were maintaining the lie to keep the hours up, and it was just in a private discussion, so can't post any email/chat transcripts for you. Our first official internal release date was some time in September of 2008."

Date: Tuesday, September 11, 2007

From: Vicky Lord [Team Bondi general manager]

To: Everybody List [everyone who worked for Team Bondi]

Since January this year, we have been liaising with Rockstar in regard to the release date of L.A. Noire. As we are close to finalising this with them now Take 2 have announced to their financiers where this income will be reported, as they have not yet reported any financials to them so far to-date. This has prompted articles and speculation on the net to develop. Rockstar are close to confirming to us when our release date will be and as soon as we have it confirmed in writing, we will notify everyone.

Jeannette has been working with the Leads over the last couple of months to assess the amount of work still required. As soon as we have the release date, we'll sit down with everyone and go through the plan to get us to the finish line.

Thanks, Vicky.

Source: "The context for this email is that we had our internal release date as September 2008, but there were rumours circulating on the net that the game had been delayed due to Take 2's financials not reporting about it. Vicky was trying to assure us that the release date would still be in that same ballpark, but they just needed confirmation from Rockstar."

Date: Monday, Jan 01, 2009

From: Brendan McNamara [Team Bondi founder]

To: Everybody List [everyone who worked for Team Bondi]

This is the year when we release our game to the world so its going to be very exciting to see what the world thinks of our endeavours. We will be having someone from Rockstar here for most of the year starting in February and will be doing a number of trailers as well as press visits from online and print journalists. Your leads will be working through pay review letters today and will discuss these with you individually hopefully tomorrow.

Brendan

Subject: Getting to the finish line

Date: Tuesday, August 04, 2009

From: Brendan McNamara [Team Bondi founder]

To: Everybody List [everyone who worked for Team Bondi]

Hi Everyone, 

As Naz announced a few weeks ago, we are moving into the latter stages of the game and we are currently in Sub-Alpha. Features are being polished and the game experience as a whole is being pulled together by the gameplay, design and animation teams. The art-team are working on optimization, bugs and adding polish to locations from feedback driven by R* and the design team. I'm working with Oly putting together a plan for motion capture and scanning. 

This is an amazing result for 4 hard years and I'm proud of what we've achieved this far. The game is huge in size and scope and will be a real breakthrough. We have almost re-invented the adventure game whilst including the action elements that people expect in a modern game. Its these action elements that we really need to tighten up. 

That said, anyone who has worked on a game or film before knows that to make a AAA title is going to take a big push at the end to get it complete.  This is not uncommon within our industry and while it's not ideal, it is what we need to do to get a polished result to the standard of the competition. 

To achieve this result we're introducing two new working practices, effective immediately: 

The first is a longer working day, standard hours will be 9am to 7pm.  This will include Fridays and beers on Friday will be available but not until 7pm.  The first day of longer working hours will be Thursday 6th August.  Without this additional time I don't believe that the project will be completed to the standard required within the time we have left.  Many of you already do this on a regular basis (and much more) which is very much appreciated.  Luke, Nick, Steve and Sam, to name a few seem to live here.  As we get closer to the finish line we will need to work Saturdays, and then Sundays as well.  The first two Saturdays that we require you to work are this Saturday (8th August - 10am to 5pm) and next Saturday (15th August - 10am - 5pm).  The reason being is that we have people here from Rockstar and we need to maximize their time with the team.  Obviously some people will have situations that they can't avoid but in general I would like you all to come in.  The hours on Saturday will be compensated through the weekend working scheme, giving everyone the opportunity to take payment at the end of the project, or an extended holiday period. 

As I said this isn't ideal, but it is typical of what it takes to get a game finished.  It's now time to look at whatever you are working on and say what needs to be done to make it shippable and competitive with the best games that are out there.  We need to iron out sucky controls, animation glitches and bad AI so that the experience is cohesive and the glitches don't constantly pull you out of the experience.  We need to trim the script and make it snappier.  Don't blame Daniel.  That one is with me.

The second new working practice is that we're going to eliminate the lockdowns associated with the weekly build.  We have been sending daily builds to Rockstar for the last couple of weeks, each day selecting a stable build for submission.  From this point onwards we will treat each day as a daily "build day", eliminating the differentiation between this build and the weekly build.  In short this means we do not need to have the restrictions of lockdown, allowing people to work efficiently all week. 

Thank you to everyone for all your efforts. 

Best, 

Brendan.

Source: "This next one is from Vicky. It's from January 2009; you can see she mentions a few topics. She asks for the big push, talks about how marketing is just around the corner (our first real press was in Game Informer's March issue 2010, so 14 months after she wrote the email), and Team Bondi working on a new project at the end of 2009?"

Subject: Summary

Date: Tuesday, January 13, 2009

From: Vicky Lord [Team Bondi general manager]

To: Everybody List [everyone who worked for Team Bondi]

Dear all,

Thank you all for your time this afternoon. To summarise the discussion you all had with your Lead.

We have two milestones left to complete the game content and features before we head into the Test phase of finishing the game. The first one Milestone N10 finishes in six weeks. We will need to have the Homicide and Vice cases in good shape by the end of that milestone. Following that there is a four week Milestone Sub-Alpha period where we will be getting the game ready for Alpha Submission and will mean that we need to complete Arson case revisions as well as any code features and art optimisations. Cut scene and Scripted sequences will be an ongoing process and added to the game right up till Master.

So we are going to change to the way we have completed milestones in the past. It's no longer going be about just completing your schedule for the milestone. We will all be working in the office the last two weekends prior to the delivery of Milestone N10 (21st & 22nd Feb and 27th & 28th Feb). As many of you have families or weekend commitments, we are giving you notice of this to allow you to make alternative arrangements to enable you to be in the office. If we can be of any assistance, please see myself or Denise. During the last week of the milestone you will be required to work through your tasks for N10 and if they finish before N10 ships to keep going on your sub-alpha tasks until the milestone ships. That means that everyone is required to keep going until the milestone ships or your lead informs you that you have done all that you can for N10 and sub-alpha. Specifically this means in the last two weeks of the milestone you can expect pretty long days. It's "one in all in" until we get the Milestone shipped and get the game ready for testing. We need teamwork to get the game finished to  the quality that we are after and that means being here to help a tester, a designer, an artist or programmer who needs your support to get their work finished.

You are not required to work round the clock everyday up until the milestone ships but for the next six months we will need more from you than we ever have asked from you in the past. That's the nature of getting a AAA title out the door and into the hands of the playing public. Getting a result with this game means that the public finally get to enjoy the fruits of your hard work. It also means that we get to take a good break later this year and come back refreshed to work on some exciting new ideas for future projects.

Josh from Rockstar will be coming back to the studio in February to work again with the design team and Brendan has been discussing press activity, which will be starting soon. As soon as we have information regarding this we will communicate to everyone.

For Brendan, myself and the 5 guys who came from London to set up Team Bondi, this is a real milestone for us. To have created something so amazing from absolutely nothing is such an achievement, and we've only been able to do this because of the team that we have around us and effort that each and every one of you continue to give - thank you! We should all be proud of our achievements, and excited at the result to come.

Many of you had questions regarding Alpha, Beta and Master and once we have a breakdown of this we will post it on the intranet.

Thanks everyone, any questions please do not hesitate to ask me.

Vicky.

Team Bondi staff express concerns over their employment contracts

Source: "This next one is interesting for a few reasons. Some employees had kids and wanted to change their hours slightly, e.g. instead of working 'officially' from 9 to 7 they wanted to do 8 to 6, but their requests were rejected. So the compromise was that they could have an hour's flexibility on Saturday. She also mentions some kind of company handbook - no such thing existed at Team Bondi, it was just a bunch of articles on our intranet (which was a wiki). The wording of policies was updated without any communication to employees, so it was a bit dicey."

Subject: Q&A

Date: Friday, March 19, 2010

From: Vicky Lord [Team Bondi general manager]

To: Everybody List [everyone who worked for Team Bondi]

Hi Everyone,

A couple of questions arose from yesterday's meeting which were consistent across the board.  The Q&A written below is designed to answer these questions.  Please do not hesitate to ask if you are still unclear.

Thanks, Vicky.

Am I going to receive, or sign a new contract of employment saying that I am entitled to the scheme? Why can I not have a new contract of employment including the weekend working policy? 

The short answer to this is no, but here's the reason why:

When you commence employment at a company, a contract of employment is negotiated prior to you joining, outlining the employer and the employee's commitment. This includes a negotiation of the salary package, notice period, job description, and many other aspects including visa status etc. The contract of employment is therefore an individual document between you and the company.  

Outside of the contract of employment are a series of policies which the company defines and presents to the organisation as a whole. These are not negotiated between employer and employee and are not individual to only certain employees, but they set a standard across the whole organisation which we will all abide by. For example, the IT policy, and the weekend working policy.

These policies are referenced in your contract of employment under the Duties to Comply with Company Policies section, or the Company Policies section. This is the link between your contract, and the policies of the company, which is the reason why policies do not need to be printed out and signed. They have already been agreed to be honoured by the company and the employee when signing the contract of employment.  

To give you comfort with this, what many organisations do is put together a "Company Handbook". The definition of a company handbook is a single source of reference that contains all of the policies of the company. A company handbook is underpinned by the law, meaning that the standards set within it have to be of equal standard to - or greater than the existing law. The first documents therefore to go in the company handbook will be the weekend working policy, and the IT policy, as more policies are set the company handbook can grow as your single source of reference - a standard that the company, and it's employees will be required to meet.

Why is the hour from 6-7 not paid?

As an organisation we offer a package rate within your contract of employment, for a professional worker, per annum. These days and hours may be varied or extended at times to meet milestones and project commitments. Provision for these hours has been factored into your package rate.  This year we have been unable to increase this package rate, but in previous years we have been able to increase your package rate and generously in many case which have been above the rate of inflation. This has been in recognition of exceptional effort.

To complete the project at this time, we require an extension of the ordinary hours of duty and we are asking people to give more hours. Putting a product to market of this size, scale and quality is going to require extra effort from everyone and while we are asking for it, and not saying it's easy, the company is perfectly happy to be flexible of commitments you have outside of the organisation. We are asking people to commit to the schedule and the goals we've set ourselves to the standard of the Game Informer Demo.  

Flexibility in working hours

I think you will all agree that we have had greater success pulling together as a team than singular or by discipline effort. Many of you work cross discipline and need other employees to fix problems. To have everyone here at the same time means we have strength in numbers, and a solidarity of working together as a team.  These hours are 9-7, with an hour lunch (taken between 12-2). At times some of you will have unavoidable circumstances, which you should speak to your Lead about.

For these first two Saturdays (BM 1 milestone), we will try being more flexible with the working hours on Saturday, and offer either 9-4 or 10-5. In these circumstances lunch will be fixed at 12.30 - 1.30 - so that we ensure as many core/overlap hours as possible within the team.

Communication/Show & Tell

Some of you asked for communication improvement for example in milestone dates etc. The first step towards this was this week. The Leads and Production department have taken you through your schedule and shown you how each of your tasks gets us closer to the finish line. This is an area everyone can always improve on.

Some of you asked about Show & Tells. As our milestones are organised in short, sharp sprints the game is our reference. Every time you play you should see jump forward in progress. Take the time to look, and if you think something is particularly good, improved a lot or on the flip side, something that you struggled with - bring it to our attention. The days of accepting broken issues need to be behind us. Would you look at our game today and spend $100 on it? If not, bug it! This especially goes for build day but should be every-day when you're playing.

In addition, the leads group will be organising more show & tells, but it doesn't have to be restricted to just the leads so if you have something you want to show, please speak to your lead.

Individual questions

Some of you have asked individual questions. I'm getting through them and will continue to do so over the next few days.

Vicky Lord

General Manager

Source: "She also mentions increases in pay above cost of living (implying Team Bondi was generous), but these were the typical increases you'd expect to see for employees as they become more experienced - many of the staff were hired straight from college/uni, so there are obviously going to be sizeable increases in salary for the first few years. If anything, Team Bondi's starting salaries for new employees decreased over the years. When I started, a new designer (with the title 'Junior Game Designer') was on $45k. They then invented an entirely new position underneath the existing Junior Game Designers, called 'Junior Level Designer'. It was basically the same role, but an excuse to pay the new hires less, and to give the existing designers a feeling of seniority without necessarily promoting them or paying more. It also meant that when the Junior Level Designers were promoted, they'd only become Junior Game Designers. They were exactly the same roles though."

Source: "Junior Grad Artists and Junior Level Designers were on $32k-35k, including super. These guys were working at least 70 hours a week, which is about $9 an hour.  I often see comments on these articles saying that 'it's a labour of love' or that others would kill for the job, but with everything else going on at Team Bondi it's a whole other problem. With Sydney's cost of living, it's not easy to live off that either."

Weekend overtime

McNamara in the original IGN story: "There was a bonus scheme for working evenings, and people got a month off for that," he said. "And people who worked weekends got paid for it. We brought in a weekend working scheme for that. But contractually, we don't have to do that. Part of the thing is that we pay over the odds, and it says in their contract that if they need to do extra time. I've done 20 years of not getting paid for doing that kind of stuff. I don't begrudge it. I get the opportunity to make these things."

Source: "This quote is definitely misleading. There was no company policy about a bonus scheme for working evenings. Our original contracts stipulated that our hours were 9-6 Monday to Thursday, then 9-4 on Friday. The typical employee worked longer hours than that, especially during crunch periods, but eventually there was too much anger about enforced weekend working so the weekend working scheme was introduced.

"There was no overtime for people working late on Monday to Friday, it was only the weekends, so that contradicts what Brendan said. This isn't a small amount of work either - there were still plenty of people around at 9 PM every single day. The Team Bondi leads would even schedule review meetings to begin at 7 PM during the week, the meetings would often take more than an hour, so it's not like this work was optional. Our contracts were also revised so that the hours were 9 AM - 7 PM mandatory every week day, an increase of seven hours a week with no increase to our salary. I should point out that after the game was released and was successful, management picked several people (about 30 I think) who they felt had worked particularly hard over the project and gave them some bonus time off, so I think that's what Brendan is referring to when he says 'bonus scheme for working evenings'. Personally I sunk in a huge amount of extra hours during the week that weren't compensated - I am okay with that, just want to call Brendan on his bull****."

Source: "The other point that was a huge point of contention was a line in the additional working hours scheme: "Should your employment end, prior to 3 months after the end of the project, it will be at the Company's discretion whether payment will be made."

"This meant that many people felt obligated to continue working under the poor conditions because they feared that the company would not pay up the overtime they had accrued. "Company's discretion" is incredibly vague, so nobody wanted to publicly speak out about the working conditions in case there was retribution from management. Then there was the issue of when the overtime was due to be paid - we (rightly) assumed that people would be made redundant at the end of the project, so would these people still be paid their overtime since they wouldn't be with Team Bondi three months after the end of the project? Also, since the overtime was only to be paid out at the end of the project, it meant that if the game failed and Team Bondi went bankrupt, then nobody would have received overtime payment. Team Bondi being shut down was always a very real possibility for us, it was only thanks to Rockstar's bankrolling that they continued to survive. I mention these points to enforce that it was always very unclear whether this overtime would be paid."

Pay freezes

Source: "We were supposed to have yearly salary reviews. These were fairly standard - cost of living increases plus an additional amount to account for our increased value as we gained experience. These occurred in January every year - so January 2008, January 2009, then in January 2010. Well, we were supposed to be finished with the game on January 26 [2010]. It was clear in December that we would miss this date, but management kept insisting that it was happening... when even that was impossible to maintain, they said nothing. As January progressed, we were all in a state of limbo; officially, nothing had been said about this impossible release date, and when asked about salary reviews, management responded that they weren't sure what was up with that since the game was going to be finished so soon."

"January became February, more assurances that the pay review discussion would happen 'soon'. In March, management finally revealed that there would be no salary increases because the studio was under so much pressure - they couldn't afford it. So all those employees who were crunching every single weekend weren't even given a cost of living increase despite the insane hours they were working."

'Rockstar Spouse' report leaks

Source: "I still remember when the Rockstar Spouse letter came out. We all read it thinking that it sounded so similar to what we'd been through. Rockstar San Diego were a bit further along with Red Dead [Redemption] at that stage, so they had suffered more than us, but we felt like it might bring about change at Team Bondi. I overheard some of our leads talking about the article on the morning it was released, and rather than showing concern, they mocked it."

Shortage of animators

Source: "We barely had any animators for such a long time, it was crazy. People have mentioned how the open world in L.A. Noire is wasted because the world is so boring. The reason was because no animators wanted to work at Team Bondi. There was no Lead Animator from January 2008 until the end of the game, and for large parts of production we only had one animator working on gameplay animations (any others were doing cinematic animations). This meant that there was no way to add life to the world. It's a perfect example of why staff retention is important, was ignored by the leads at Team Bondi, and the game suffered for it."

Finally, as an addendum to the original story, I'd like to share some of the motivations mentioned by the Bondi Eleven.

Whistleblowing motivations

What prompted the Bondi Eleven to share their experiences of working on L.A. Noire under Team Bondi? I received a range of responses to this question. Though vengeance and spitefulness toward their former employer undoubtedly impacted their decisions somewhat, more prominent was the desire to warn others from making the same mistakes.

One of our artist sources – who no longer works in the games industry, and has no intention of returning to it – was motivated to contribute because of the poor attitude he received from Team Bondi towards their artists. "Once 'it's fine because everyone is doing it' starts to become a little more unfashionable, things may change. I might not want to be involved in [game development] anymore, but for the sake of my peers, I'd like to see change. It wasn't that they were working this way accidentally. It was a choice they made; this is their business model, to purposely have low-wage, unexperienced artists that you can pretty much work to death. They'll leave, and you'll replace them. They didn't have much interest in retaining the talent, which is one of the hugest mistakes you can make. A studio is nothing more than a collection of computers in a room. It's the talent that makes the difference."

Another artist replied that "if people will learn from the experiences of others, then collectively, we become powerful. If people read your articles and still want to be part of this industry, then they go in informed and ready. Not like many of my ex-colleagues, who were exploited. I want to contribute to this to make a change; a change that is sorely overdue."

Most of those who contributed to this article expressed the hope that L.A. Noire will perform well in the marketplace, if only for the sake of the Australian game development industry. However, the Bondi Eleven realise that if the game is well-received, the studio's management will claim the lion's share of the glory. One source commented that "unfortunately, it's a two-edged sword; the more successful L.A. Noire is, the more likely that Brendan McNamara and his upper management goon squad will get to work on another project, and the evil cycle will start again. I hope that by speaking out against his treatment of staff that conditions will change in the future – but I'm not so naïve. I hope to at least warn other developers and graduating students to stay away from the studio."

"I can't stand the thought of 'Brendan succeeding'," said another source. "I know that if [the game] turns out good, it will be due to 'Brendan's brilliance'; if it fails, he's going to blame it on the incompetence of others." A gameplay programmer said that, "in all likelihood, L.A. Noire will come out and do at least reasonably well in the market. What that's going to do, is validate in the minds of Brendan and the upper management – and maybe even the people at Rockstar – that their practices are successful, and that they lead to good results. But the truth is that the same results can definitely be achieved more efficiently, without causing so much pain and frustration. Of course, the industry will then benefit from the decreased attrition. Don't get me wrong, I'm not at all naïve enough to think that the guys at Team Bondi are going to learn. They won't at all. But I think it's important that the other side of the story is heard."

"This is one of those things where it's about the truth," replied a former artist. "Team Bondi has the chance to be a great addition to the gaming industry, but I think they're tarnishing it just by taking by so long to finish the game. It's an embarrassment. And also the way they're operating in terms of management. It's unacceptable. They take advantage of the talent and skill of all the people working in the industry. They're getting blood out of a stone, and it seems like it could encourage other studios to treat staff like that. I think that's the wrong way to go about it. You can get a lot more out of your staff by having them more on board, and treating them with respect."

"You earn their loyalty," he insists, "rather than chaining them to their desks."

Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) is a freelance journalist based in Brisbane, Australia.

63 Comments

Julien Wera Marketing & PR Manager, Massive - A Ubisoft Studio

9 0 0.0
Just reacting to the "Work of Love" quote : it is very common in the industry to take advantage of an employee's passion for his media and ask him more than he is entitled to give on this basis. Too common unfortunately, and too often backed up by the feeling that "if you don't want to do it, there's a lot of people waiting for a chance to take your job and enter the industry".

Turns out that feeling isn't entirely accurate, and this type of bad management leads to experienced people burned out before 30 and trying to recycle their expertise in other industries which might be less demanding and more financially rewarding, leading to recruitment problem for Senior/Mid-Senior employees.

Fortunately for us, as the industry becomes more established, more and more companies realize that stability also implies a better management of human resources, so we can be hopeful that the situation will improve in the right way...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Julien Wera on 5th July 2011 8:17am

Posted:3 years ago

#1

Dave Gallacher Quality Assurance Engineer, Avalanche Studios

3 4 1.3
I worked on one title that hit the 'big push' and was very hectic during. Even during that time, this level of ineptitude and constant milestone pushing was never done. Frankly, after a set period of "push", the milestone should have been shifted considerably. This is a PR nightmare for Team Bondi, and they will find themselves judged very harshly by future publishers. And as much as I can't say this without having worked there, all signs point to the top as the source of the problem, and that is categorically NOT always the reason for these things.

Posted:3 years ago

#2

Tommy Thompson Studying Artificial Intelligence (PhD), University of Strathclyde

110 0 0.0
A very insightful article. It will be difficult to pick and play L.A. Noire in the future without this article sitting in the back of my mind.

I often find the events highlighted by staff at say Team Bondi and Infinity Ward very disturbing. What I don't understand is why people are insistent on staying in their jobs in most cases rather than walking away? Naturally there are the financial concerns of the developers and the supporting of their families, but still, is this determination to stay with the title a labour of love as Julien suggests? Working in such conditions with no bonuses/pay rises etc is simply deplorable. Sure, where I work in the investment banking sector, they will work you to the bone when the need arises, but often at the expense of rewarding you handsomely to do so.

Many of the developers for these projects have skills that are transferable to other areas of IT. While that may be a step in a direction they do not wish to take, surely it is better to seek stable employment - even on a temporary basis - that does not impact on your personal wellbeing? I would be interested to hear the thoughts/opinions of others on this.

Posted:3 years ago

#3

Liam Jones Game Designer, Just Add Water

1 0 0.0
I don't imagine it's purely the labour of love that causes people to stay in such conditions; it's the promise of future remuneration for their efforts, and the fact that if they leave they will lose that promise.

Posted:3 years ago

#4
In addition unlike the film industry the folks in games production are less mobile and cannot just up sticks and waltz into another job

Posted:3 years ago

#5

Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship

186 286 1.5
The sad thing is, it's highly likely that the Team Bondi management will be in full on siege mentality mode, rather than learning any serious lessons.

Posted:3 years ago

#6

Alex Carter Studying Interactive Media and Commercial Law, Swinburne University of Technology

1 0 0.0
I find this a little disturbing, as it seems to be the start (or even perhaps continuation) of a bad bad trend. The typical "mainstream" end-user is only concerned with the quality of the game's story or graphics; the critique is on the end result rather than the production, the hours that programmers, artists and developers sacrificed. Though in a movie or book, the writers, authors, artists and directors are lauded, applauded and are considered the reason the end result was good.

McNamara has a lot to answer for, the ea_spouse blog (http://ea-spouse.livejournal.com/274.html) ended in EA being sued for the countless thousands of hours they stole from their employees. If he thinks he is exempt because "it's what the game industry is" then he deserves any action taken against him. The gaming industry is a competitive one, but rewarding for those who are passionate about their talents and the medium - it's the Brendan McNamara's that are destroying this, and making the crunch a project-long theme, rather than a last minute dash to the finish.

Posted:3 years ago

#7

Joseph Miles Studying Bachelor of Interactive Entertainment, Qantm College

1 0 0.0
It's just the old attempt at breaking the basic triangle. It can be quick, costly, or quality. But only two of them. A lot of the milestone pushing just tries to cramp everything in and it just has to break.

From the employee point of view it's squeezing blood from a stone, but with the looming threat of replacement if they don't meet the standards, people do what they thing they have to do. Particularly where being fired looks awful from a prospects for future employment POV.

Some do get tied to the project and come to love it, but there's only so much passion some people can have while you're being wrung dry for it. It's expected for there to be a bit of a rush towards the end, but you can't expect people not to get torn down when it goes on for years.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Joseph Miles on 5th July 2011 10:51am

Posted:3 years ago

#8

Kyle Hatch Software Engineer, Pennant International Services LTD

22 1 0.0
Excellent Article, thoroughly thought provoking. I can only hope it's the eye opener the industry needs.

Posted:3 years ago

#9

Mary Hilton Community Manager, Reclaim Your Game

38 20 0.5
It is about time the industry gets a wake-up call about how people are treated, and compensated in their work. Unlike other industries, the gaming area is largely unregulated for working hours and standard compensation. It needs to change. Perhaps by coming forward, the former Team Bondi employees are blazing a new road.

Posted:3 years ago

#10

Steve Pritchard Studio Head, Headstrong Games

6 0 0.0
Far be it for me to be a dissenting voice here, but the majority of comments on this article appear to be coming from people from outside of the industry, or at the very least people who may be studying in an attempt to join the industry. While I obviously don't agree with the methods or duplicity employed by the Team Bondi senior mangement, you do need a level of time and experience in development to see how they came about.

Making games is fun, yes, but it's damned hard work too. And trying to make a game that is not within a standard mould, pushing boundaries and trying new things, means that progress is less predictable, less measurable. This is where slippage starts and it takes good analysis and foresight to prevent slippage become months' long crunch periods. Sometimes even that doesn't prevent some crunch being needed.

So yes, this is a pretty horrible story in general, but I do think that it is very easy to judge this particularly harshly if you have never found yourself in a similar situation. We all want to and try to avoid this sort of thing happening within our studios, but sometimes we all suffer a little. Not to the extent written here, but we all feel the same pain at times.

It's been a tough couple of years for a lot of the industry. We're now starting to come out of that and opportunities are once again growing for those working within it. Studios that did feel that it was okay to abuse employees with inappropriate demands on their time will find their talent taking flight to places that are less demanding and more rewarding. Those that deserve better will get better as a result.

Posted:3 years ago

#11

Alex Weekes Community Specialist, Gamania Digital Entertainment

1 0 0.0
As an Aussie by birth and the first 28 years of my life (and having worked for an Aussie game developer/publisher for a short period) I've followed this with interest.

Having read this article I finally found myself driven to update myself on the "fair work" laws/regulations in Australia, and while I'm no lawyer it looks to me as if at a minimum from Jan 1st 2010 Team Bondi could well have been in major breach.

I would strongly encourage everyone who worked for, or still works for, Team Bondi from 1st Jan 2010 onwards to get in contact with the Fair Work Ombudsman. I've only taken a brief look, however the 9am-7pm contracted weekly hours appear to be outside the regulated 38 hour max work week. Further, the enforced and constant 'crunch' also appears to be outside the regulations and the emails I've read here would appear to provide proof of inflexible management of work hours that falls outside the regulations.

Posted:3 years ago

#12

Oui Biensur Marketing

1 0 0.0
Reminds me of the old Ubi Soft days, at the end of the 90's, with the virtual union thing ("ubifree") that made the management freak out. Unpaid extra working hours were common and young and unexperimented people's passion were kind of exploited by management, until...
So all in all, wouldn't that be something typical of young structures, especially when hiring a lot of fresh graduates that 1. have very little experience 2. are so happy to work in the gaming industry 3. still have a lot of energy and passion 4. don't know well what the law says?

Posted:3 years ago

#13
I think that need for crunch is a result of bad management. The development schedule is unrealistic to start with and that leads to problems when it is realized that there is not enough time to finish the project. If company operates within laws and regulations, then crunch is just temporary speed up in the dev cycle. If employees put in extra hours, company would have to pay for overtime or at least compensate with free time after the project.

So there's no extra input in long term, only temporary higher gear. Only way to get extra is when employees are screwed over and not compensated for the overtime they sink into the project. Like it evidently was with Team Bondi. From company owner's point of view it is of course good business if you can degenerate your employees to little more than serfs. Then again, in the long run, as someone already pointed out, game developing company's value are its employees and their talent. One experienced and motivated senior can be as productive as three juniors who suffer from stress, sleep deprivation and personal social problems (that are a direct result of such a working conditions).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Kim Soares on 5th July 2011 2:09pm

Posted:3 years ago

#14

Terence Gage Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
An interesting and eye-opening article, albeit pretty disgusting business practices. Although it's nice to think that industry-wide practices might change after this, I doubt it will - after all, not much seemed to happen after the EA Spouse incident, and similarly the R* Spouse story caused a lot of controversy last year, but everyone (broadly speaking) seemed to forget that, and only remark how RDR's such a great game.

Is crunch deeply-seeded throughout the whole industry? I'm aware that part of Relentless' mission statement is that they do not do crunch, but are there other companies which follow this example? I remember reading years ago that Bungie had fantastic working practices and people could go into the office when they liked and if they felt inspired, as long as they worked their core hours, and Insomniac seem to have an excellent attitude to their reputation and staff (I believe they're the only videogames developer to be listed in a 'Best small companies to work for in America' awards, so I assume they must have good working practices).

Posted:3 years ago

#15

Kaye L Elling Studying Lecturer in Computer Games, University of Bradford

8 4 0.5
I worked in dev for 13 years at a variety of games companies before defecting to University lecturing. From my experience as a team member and as a manager, it really does come down to whether you're working for a company who actively tries to avoid this kind of thing in their company strategy and ethos, or one that doesn't. I've worked for both.

This commitment to staff and their work/life balance is hopefully going to be one of the defining differences between the "old guard" of industry heavyweights who have worked with this destructive model for years, and the new breed of independent and/or innovative developers who are reshaping the industry in new ways to suit their own needs and ideas. The mere fact this article is such big news is encouraging, and maybe in the future when developers are burning the midnight oil, they'll be doing it on their own terms and for their own benefit.

Of course, this would be a lot easier if the industry had a union. :) *waves flag* Who's with me?

Posted:3 years ago

#16
I know several people that have worked at Team Bondi, and the verdict was unanimous: it was not a good place to work, and there were many stories of both personal & technical fail. It didn't take long before people were desperate to leave.

At this stage, I'll be really interested as to who stays working at Bondi - and which publishers (if any) want to work with them.

Posted:3 years ago

#17
@Kaye: Yes! Union is needed. Though games being so international industry, I guess all countries are for themselves on this matter.

Posted:3 years ago

#18

Justin Titus Writer

13 0 0.0
This isn't exclusive to the games industry, this is becoming more, and more a common practice in almost all forms of "corporate work".

Posted:3 years ago

#19

Lewis Brown Snr Sourcer/Recruiter, Electronic Arts

199 56 0.3
I read this with great interest working in Recruitment/HR im not going to pass comment as my knowledge of Aussie law is non existent, but this is certainly very interesting!

Posted:3 years ago

#20
Uber-crunch ain't all about bad planning, there's a hundred causes - one bad one I often see is a refusal to cut elements of projects when shit does happen. Yeah we must accept that long hours is part of the process and has to be sucked up if you're serious about making great stuff. A seven year dev cycle with years of crunch, however, is a black parody of that fact and seems a sign of a plain baaaad managment team who really aren't aware of how good they need to be at their own jobs and instead concentrate on everybody else's. I believe they're called Bullies :P


Even here though people have a choice - over 100 people did leave Bondi to their batty moods lest we forget. And without tipping the talk into a "but games are art" tedium-fest, making videogames isn't really like a corporate office job. The mentality is more like being in a band or on a movie set, where the team members pour their own personalities into what they create collectively. In my experience people don't leave these problem workplaces because there's a bit of themselves in what they do, and they don't want to leave behind their hard, and possibly great, work to be replaced by some random plant who doesn't give a hoot about anything but a 9-to-5 paycheck. And never underestimate the power of a good team - working with skilled peers making top-drawer games can override almost any managment insanity.

Bosses know all these things very well, but also so do any employees with a bit of brains to them. I guess unless they turn it around, it seems Bondi are just another vestige of the Bad Old Ways, waiting to die.

Posted:3 years ago

#21

Matthew Brackney Character Artist

1 0 0.0
I've been working for an advertising company as a flash programmer building websites, and I see a similar "management" problem.

They have months to get these websites built, but the management spends most of that time bainstorming and thinking of off the wall ideas until it comes to the last couple of weeks, where they try to rush design and implementation, AND debugging into a few days - while still changing things designwise until the last minute.

Sure, the time and work scales are different for my industry, with the projects being smaller, but it's the same idea. Time is being squandered by poor management and the end product suffers from the crunch that results.

Posted:3 years ago

#22

Jason Marchant Editor/Journalist/Copywriter

8 1 0.1
It makes me think the games industry needs some kind of international union. I know I could have done with one during my redundancy process from a major platform holder. There's a reason generals coined the phrase "divide and conquer". Good luck to the wronged TB staff.

Posted:3 years ago

#23

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,132 1,164 1.0
The most interesting facts is certainly Rockstar and the programmers at Team Bondi both expressing their frustration with Team Bondi's management publically. With both sides establishing a common bad guy to blame for whatever they did not like about the past project, it seems they have quite some common ground. Put the programmers of Team Bondi and the management of Rockstar in one room and the problem will most likely solve itself. Rockstar gets a fine Australian developer and the guys at Bondi get management they seemed to have liked far better in the past.


At the same time it is cheap claiming bad working conditions are a result of the nature of the industry itself. Developers with good working conditions are out there and in the end it will be them sucking up all the top talent as a result. As the article said, Team Bondi did not have a lead animator for a reason.

Posted:3 years ago

#24

Dan Whitehead Managing Director, Word Play Narrative Consulting Ltd

51 198 3.9
Film and TV are heavily unionised. There are still places that will take advantage of new hires - ask anyone who's worked as an aptly-named runner - but the games industry often seems to have more in common with the music industry or even modelling. All that stuff about "this is what it takes to make it, you'll do it if you want to make it" sounds a lot like a grubby photographer insisting that you have to take your top off to get noticed.

The really weird thing is that it doesn't sound like the so-called groundbreaking stuff in the game - the motion capture - was what caused the problems. It was basic gameplay, world building and mission design. Maybe that's why outside of cutscenes and interviews so much of LA Noire plays like The Getaway: 1940s Edition...

Posted:3 years ago

#25

Vitalii Moskalets Game Designer, GameLoft

27 0 0.0
Well, to change constant overtimes and make working conditions normal, every company which have overtimes need to accept that this is wrong situation, find reasons (which commonly: bad skills of developers or bad skills of management) and then work on solution of how to fix the situation.

There are nothing hard to remove overtimes and be effective company, the only problem is that nobody usually want to work on this topic

Posted:3 years ago

#26

Jonathan Kerr Artist

2 0 0.0
For me, the main issue isn't so much the working hours of the project. Yes, they're terrible, but in some industries like Investment banking, 75+ hours a week isn't uncommon for junior/mid-level employees.

The problem is that game employees are on much lower wages. If junior/mid level artists were on salaries like investment bankers and had suitable rewards and holidays, then they would probably put up with the poor conditions. Considering how much a hit game can make for a company, higher wages could be justified. I know many coders who left games to work on writing bank software for 3 times the salary and cruisy hours.

However, when you get poor conditions and poor wages, you end up with 5 page articles on GamesIndustry.biz

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jonathan Kerr on 5th July 2011 4:27pm

Posted:3 years ago

#27

Thomas Puha Visibility optimizer, Umbra Software

1 0 0.0
Terence, by and large, and I havent worked there, but both Insomniac and Bungie have had a lot of problems during Resistance 2 and Halo 2 development, turnover etc, but they've seem to have learned greatly from happened.

Posted:3 years ago

#28

John Kauderer Associate Creative Director, Atari

32 5 0.2
"When Brendan came on board, it became clear that he was a huge bully with no talent, vision or management skill. But he really knew how to intimidate,"

Ouch, harsh tokes!

Posted:3 years ago

#29
Relentless is not the only non crunch studio. Firebrand has been like that since the start. We have had issues with some crunch needed of course but crunch does not make for quality games or happy people. The person that said a studios is just computers but talent makes the games is right. The people are what makes Firebrand what it is.

We make mistakes but from the top down we do everything we can to avoid crunch, so if extra work becomes necessary it is the team that make it happen rather than 'management' forcing it. We all want the best games possible and often get pulled in other directions. BUT I strongly believe that by supporting my staff and their work / home balance, I benefit more as does Firebrand because burned out people leave or produce poor work.

I wish I could say we NEVER do overtime, but I think we do our absolute best to avoid it as much as possible. If you treat people like they are valued the majority of people will pay that back in kind. Not rocket science but to me its obvious.

Release dates and market pressure do sometimes force unreasonable demands on teams, so I think the only way to work things is for management and the team to work together on a solution. Extra hours are sometimes necessary but saying you WILL work 6 or 7 days a week produces crap games, burnt out people and team churn. Keeping a quality team together pays huge dividends in that everyone knows what the team is capable of. So it is actually a good business decision for both the developer AND the publishers to resist crunch. Work more intelligently, rather than longer.

Posted:3 years ago

#30

Stefan Pettersson Specialist Consultant, Fat Tuna

77 19 0.2
Jeez, I thought slavery was forbidden but I guess Team Bondi's management found a loophole in Australian law.

Posted:3 years ago

#31

Mikolaj Macioszek Translator, Big Fish Games

14 0 0.0
Cautionary tale for anyone in this, or other industry.

Posted:3 years ago

#32

Eugene Tan

2 0 0.0
Is it possible for the (ex-)employees to take this to court? What kind of labour law do they have over there anyways?

Posted:3 years ago

#33

Jeffrey Kesselman CTO, Nphos

112 0 0.0
Constant crunch means bad management and serious job underestimating.
Having said that, this is hardly the first company with terrible engineering management and I think its up to the individual employees to decide for themselves what they are and rean't willing to do and leave when it crosses the line. There are no slaves here. Every employment contract I have had was terminable at any time by either party.

Someone who is as bad a manager as is alleged here wont survive long in this industry. Its a small industry and people talk. Karma takes time but it does work.

I think crunches are inevitable but good management will balance that with time off at more relaxed times. And there should be more relaxed times then crunches or your doing it wrong.

Posted:3 years ago

#34

Jeffrey Kesselman CTO, Nphos

112 0 0.0
Eugene,

I don't know about Australia, but in the US there are little protections for salaried employees. It is assumed that salaried employees have the leverage of a professional skill set and don't need direct government intervention in their job situations, which is more or less correct.

Posted:3 years ago

#35
It's terrible that things like this still happen, but I'm thankful that articles like this exist in an effort to raise awareness in order to make smarter employees.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Kortney Terry on 5th July 2011 10:16pm

Posted:3 years ago

#36

Richard Underhill Development Director, doublesix

1 0 0.0
I'm pretty much with Mark Greenshields on this. It's all about sensible balance.

We have guys in at the weekend (generally Leads) by their own volition, as they want to work on something while no-one else can check it out and break it. I would probaby ask folks to do this if we were submitting to platform or needed to deliver a strong Alpha/Beta in a few days, but as a matter of policy then I can vouch by many years of experience, that it is generally very counter-productive.

If you're faced with excessive crunch for major periods of the project then that is symptomatic of a larger problem and more concerning for me means there is no acceptable margin of error to operate in. If something goes awray even further then you are screwed....

By the way I used to work for Brendan McNamara at Psygnosis many years ago, but I will keep any views I have on that subject to myself.

Posted:3 years ago

#37

Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus

451 710 1.6
All I'll say is this:

If this is the routine in this industry, the entire industry and its mindset have to change from the top on down. That includes from the consumers, who are alternatively demanding, selfish, and gullible. It's a vicious cycle.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Christopher Bowen on 6th July 2011 12:12am

Posted:3 years ago

#38

Ben Howse

9 0 0.0
And for those just graduating with a degree in the games industry and looking for work, like myself, this makes me extremely regretful that I chose to follow my passion. Degree in Business is looking excellent right about now...

Posted:3 years ago

#39

Cristiano Garibaldi VP Asia Pacific, mobile streams

3 0 0.0
7 years to make a game... with overtime and weekends... is a clear sign of bad management, nothing else... rockstar saved team bondi...
I doubt team bondi will be able to find finance or make another game...

Posted:3 years ago

#40

Hakki Sahinkaya

43 32 0.7
I think it's safe to assume this is why Sony dropped this game - it needed a lot of support, and the management was useless.
Good work by Rockstar, and although they are not much better at human resource management (the RDR thing), they at least made the game good.

The industry needs a huge lift, and I think it'll come.

But, I think I will put my knowledge to use developing applications as a freelancer, rather than games. :)
Which makes and backs up the great point that, this is very harmful to the industry in the long term (i.e: no-one wants to work for you). In this article alone the guy says animators were staying the hell away, so it already started.

Wise-up and grow up studios before we have another gaming crash.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Hakki Sahinkaya on 6th July 2011 2:10am

Posted:3 years ago

#41

Dennis Wan Game Designer, Nanyang Polytechnic

18 0 0.0
This work-till-you-die/deliver mindset seems to have stemmed from the Japanese game development culture. I was the producer/game designer for a Nintendo DS project that was in crunch time, the whole studio had worked till 2am and I sent them all home to get some rest before coming in again tomorrow, and the boss calls me at 2.30am and yells "Why's everybody gone home?! I don't see anyone online! Have you all finished the work?" Crunch is crunch, but human limitations and the ROI of overtime still needs to be taken into consideration.

Posted:3 years ago

#42

Curt Sampson Sofware Developer

596 360 0.6
While the Japanese certainly have a culture of working long hours, the "death march" project, as it's referred to in the IT world, has been around for decades. A lot of people in the games industry seem to be treating this as something new and unique to the industry, rather than as something that's happened before in the IT world.

IT also being a creative (though in a different way) industry, it has many of the same kind of project management problems that the games industry has, particularly in terms of not being ablle well to define projects in advance, feature creep, finding out that something you've spent a lot of time on is wrong, and so on. We've developed systems such as Extreme Programming (which, despite the name, is very much about project management and planning) and other agile development methods to tackle these problems. The games industry will eventually start using these techniques as well, I'm sure.

Basically, this is neither a new nor an unsolved problem. These things come up in the Games industry in part due to lack of knowledge of better practices developed elsewhere and in part because, no matter if there's a better way, some managers simply don't want to manage that way.

Posted:3 years ago

#43

Brad Bouwers 3D Artist/Modeller

1 0 0.0
When developing student games in a University course last year, my team documented everything through a tracking system. In meetings, we would add every new task to the tracking list and set a date for it. Then we went through the list, revised dates on existing tasks, and checked off completed tasks. Everyone knew what needed to happen for the game's completion, and it helped us prune unnecessary features; thus, we could reach our goals in time for launch. In fact, most of the team did not even have to come in for 'crunch hours' since it was mostly up to the level designers to fix the bugs.

It boggles my mind that a company would be so vague to its employees about important dates. It's one thing to ask passionate people to work overtime; it's quite another to skip yearly pay increases and tiptoe around launch delays. If Team Bondi wants to improve their PR, they should be more transparent with their employees, so that everyone is on the same page concerning the workload ahead.

Posted:3 years ago

#44

Darren Hedges Game Director

1 0 0.0
The sad thing about all of this from my 20 odd years in the industry is the bad managers who believe that is is the norm and that "everyone does it" more often than not fail upward in the industry and then have more influence to ensure that this practice continues. Project Management, coupled with effective change management can negate half of these issues if the Snr Execs in studios/publishers stop micromanaging and believing that they are Miyamoto or Warren Spector and stop adding unneeded design scope.

Posted:3 years ago

#45

Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany

819 652 0.8
Heh, nice way of detroying his career what this McNamara guy did.

Doubt anyone will ever hire him again; if "mouth-to-mouth" reputation is pretty common between us testers when going from one company to another, I doubt it would not aplly to team leaders.

Posted:3 years ago

#46
I think its great the guys came out albeit anon. But its common knowledge that shipping a game involves serious crunch time be it AAA or not.

The really interesting thing is that the compliance factor affecting the staff producing LA Noirre is not the big beast MacNamara but the little fact of future job opportunities with a CV that reads AAA on it.

This isn't 3rd world sweat shops where these guys have no future. The game industry is alive right and I'm sure each one of the guys on the staff knew were the exit door was from the studio, but was stopped from opening it because of the value of writing "Professional Experience: LA Noire"

Posted:3 years ago

#47

Torgeir Hagland Sr Programmer, Gaikai Inc.

18 0 0.0
favorite quote "we are currently in Sub-Alpha"... what does that even mean :)

Posted:3 years ago

#48

Lol Scragg Co-Founder & Director, Binary Pumpkin

8 4 0.5
there seems to be an acceptance that 'crunch' is caused exclusively by bad management. Now, bad management does indeed lead to crunch but there are other causes as well. If the project is via a large publisher then having a poor publishing Producer can be the death of any game - random decisions being forced upon the team with no additional budget increase is devastating.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is employee's causing the need for additional hours themselves. Not every developer gives 100% and is the perfect worker - there are actually some that scrape by doing as little as possible and given current UK employment law, moving them out of the company can be time consuming.

What appears to have happened at Bondi is inexcusable. However let us know think that the only reason for crunch is bad management. There are many other reasons it happens.

(As an aside, during the 5 years that Cohort ran, you can count the amount of weekends worked probably on one hand - and even then it wasn't compulsory. Sure we did a fair few late nights, but no all-nighters and we tried to keep the extra hours to a minimum. Indeed, our HR used to track hours worked and we did speak to people telling them to reduce their weekly hours at some point. Not all games devs crunch their guys to within an inch of their lives!)

Posted:3 years ago

#49

Stephen Woollard Online Infrastructure Specialist, Electronic Arts

146 71 0.5
@Torgeir - it may well be different in some places, but I assume they're talking about pre-alpha, the stage where you move from production milestones and begin the run up to declaring alpha.

@Stephen - "But its common knowledge that shipping a game involves serious crunch time be it AAA or not." this attitude I'm afraid is exactly the problem. Crunch comes from one thing and one thing alone - poor scheduling. There have been some comments on here that it is sometimes unavoidable. I disagree. Crunch is always avoidable if you have the correct contingencies built into your project plan, especially when you know it's likely to happen.

The reason crunch happens is because it's always happened, and people have gotten used to it. As has been said, it's way too easy for unscrupulous managers to exploit young and naive, or indeed not so young but still naive employees and make out like this is the way the world works. Couple this with people's desperation to get into the industry and it's a recipe for disaster.



I'm sure there are many companies out there who treat their staff well, and good for them, but believe me when it comes down to it, any company will put itself before it's employees.

Oh, and the comment about how we need a union? Forget it. The first thing that will happen is companies will not employ anyone who is a member, and unions ultimately become self defeating. The unions in the UK are precisely why we no longer have any heavy industry.

Now I've depressed everyone, I'm going for a break.

You're welcome :-)

Posted:3 years ago

#50
@Stephen I have to disagree though - if you believe crunch is always and everywhere avoidable then you're probably not trying hard enough sir :P I don't think you can fully plan a great game, or perfectly plot out 2 years of great game mechanics development. You can decide to chop and stop, which is a different way to control crunch, but if I've put in a year of work I don't begrudge a month or two of harder work to ensure the game/art/whatever is polished as it can be before the off. Don't get me wrong - I'm a lazy twat at heart and avoid faff like the plague but at the same time this is more than just a job for me. Peeps are different.

And for the sake of perspective, I have to say some of the best times I've had in my working life was pulling late nights and all-nighters - Sorry :) It all depends what motivates us individually and sometimes I'm more motivated by wanting to make the best possible job of it. I don't view that as a weakness, pulling out all the stops when it matters sometimes ensures years of hard work is not pissed away. It's an annoying but practical solution - this is nothing like what was happening at Bondi.

And Unions - what have they ever done for us eh? Well I do know unions dragged the underclass of the UK kicking and screaming into decent wages for backbreaking work, into primary and seconday education, into a modern society, into the NHS, into safe working practices for all and equality before the law for a poor citizen. Oh and dynamiting forever the 1000 year old feudal system that existed for 90% of the population of Europe before the 1st world war. But that's not the point. The reason UK heavy industry went overseas is because dirt poor countries will allways have an even more shagged underclasss than the UK, with our fancy-schmancy fetish for basic human rights, literacy, minimum health and not dying in gutters. Getting those jobs back means recreating a despicable world - a world you wouldn't want your kids in, and if you did you'd organise a union to get the f*ck out of it.

Posted:3 years ago

#51

Vitalii Moskalets Game Designer, GameLoft

27 0 0.0
There could be also one another solution. Usually management salaries are much bigger than other team members, and of course, stakeholders and other similar guys salary/income is much higher. So, the solution is that management income is can't be higher than average salary of his subordinates. The same for Snr Execs and stakeholders - their income can't be higher than average salary of all other subordinates. That will increase caring about the team and their compensations. Now I doubt that any executive spend same time and does same amount of work of usual developer.

And of course, all overtimes needs to be compensated.

But why it will not happen? :) Because of simple greed of people who ownes companies

Posted:3 years ago

#52

Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship

186 286 1.5
"The unions in the UK are precisely why we no longer have any heavy industry."

I'm afraid this just isn't accurate. Germany is one of the most heavily unionised countries in Europe, and has an enviable manufacturing base. It actually still makes things like cars, ships, trains and all manner of high end industrial goods, unlike the UK. They are an accepted part of doing business in Germany. It's interesting - there is a far, far less adversarial relationship between unions and management in German companies, they have a much more consensus driven way of doing business.

In point of fact, France, Norway, and Germany are just 3 examples of highly developed economies with significant union membership with a significant manufacturing base. The more interesting question is, why does Germany still have a HUGE manufacturing sector, when it has unions, significant employee protection laws, high amounts of regulation, and all the things we're told are BAD for business?

Unions are not an unmitigated evil. They evolved for a reason. I don't think that there is a snowball's chance in hell of spontaneous unionisation actually occurring, so it's a moot point. Unions arise and are either effective or ineffective out of a complex interplay between many social, cultural and economic factors, none of which seem to point at impending, effective unions occurring within the games industry any time soon, but I just felt it's worth pointing out some counter examples to the perceived US / UK wisdom on unions as the refuge of the unskilled or lazy. Case in point - there isn't a more powerful union in the UK than the doctor's union, a profession which is neither unskilled nor lazy, and not coincidentally is also the beneficiary of some of the best conditions of employment in the country.

Posted:3 years ago

#53
Well, I am part of the BMA and one some aspects, they helped junior doctors improve the working conditions, advance continuing education, on the other hand they are a bit toothless, powerless in others eg. Governmental mass overhaul of junior doctor training (circa 2007-2010), they introduced the horrible ST system whereby, training numbers were messed up, training became a postcode lottery system, because we are part of a union, we agreed to not strike ever.

Current health care issues that got wiped out:

- Free choice for doctors of form and place of work

- European Working Directive (under Labour govertment, BMA voiced its concerns and impact on junior doctor training, to no avail. Labour just steamrolled any concerns and started implementing a 48 hour working week in phases. This translates to NHS trust trying to figure out how to make existing junior an senior doctors cover the same amount of work, but technically do less work on paper. They invented all sorts of crazy shift patterns. This leads to horrible quality of life for health care doctors and nurses. There is no longer a simple 9-5, it means working all hours of the day, and if you have a family - the NHS is not for you. If you wonder why training and quality of NHS is downhill, there are less sociable hours, less hours to train, less experience, and more paper pushing on every front. Treatment of a patient could take 40minutes, paper pushing just as long or longer.)

- Revalidation: due to the Shipman inquiry, every doctor has not twice to treble the amount of hoops and paperwork to jump through, to be considered a safe doctor. Half of these do not help produce a better doctor or clinician, nevertheless it is a face saving gesture to show our doctors are up to date, and for senior doctors, this may be all too much. The BMA union helps to fight for some of the rights, but in reality it gets whitewashed by whitehall to a large extent.

- Junior Doctor training: is still a disaster, the older Calman system was safer, logical and had a variety of options to allow a doctor to finally specialist in a specialism of their choice - and thus be a true consultant, associate specialst, etc. Every spectrum of medical training was catered for. With the current ex-laboru workign frameork, medical students are encouraged to jump through hoops, and as junior doctors apply for postcode lottery training and decide they wanted to be specialist XYZ before they had any real exposure to the wide range of choices in medicine. The reality is, sometimes it takes 3-4 years after graduating to really find your calling.

- Medical IT upgrades: because whitehall believed in the power of IT (but hired some tom dick and harry outsource provider, the medial upgrade of patient files and junior doctors were a fiasco. You ever wonder why MOD can loose 6bn assets, well NHS the sacred cow is a gigantic event horizon which has vast issues the size of Greece's debts. It would take 3-4 consecutive governments to decide on something sensible, and not jsut pleasing sound bytes to the joe public.)

So, long and short. Unions can be good, but in UK - those invovled in manufacturing and agriculture have a very torrid nasty good for nothing approach that is not pro business but pro self interest at heart.

Posted:3 years ago

#54

Isaiah Taylor Writer/Photographer

25 0 0.0
It's just so much. I wouldn't even know where to start as far as deducing where everything went awry. One thing's for sure, I've become more and more interested in the difference in how smaller-versus-larger games are made.

Seems like the risk is coming at a steeper price these days.

Posted:3 years ago

#55

Stephen Woollard Online Infrastructure Specialist, Electronic Arts

146 71 0.5
I didn't say unions were a bad thing, I said British industrial unions are a bad thing. When the Labour movement first started in this country it was definitely needed for all kinds of reasons and indeed did a fantastic job of improving the lives of millions of people.

However, I am talking about the militant, self serving unions we've had in recent memory. You only have to listen to the likes of Bob Crow et al banging on about class war to see what I'm talking about. They don't give a stuff about their members, they're just looking for a fight at every opportunity.

The militant trade unions were broken in the late 70's and early 80's and they took our manufacturing base with them because they went on strike at the drop of a hat demanding basically a fair day's pay for a fair hour's work - that is why we couldn't compete with overseas competition, why we're still buying coal from France instead of mining it here, the reason our shipbuilding industry is on its last legs and why the steel industry has all but gone.

Yes we would have lost out to the likes of China and India, but if handled well we could have kept a reasonable slice of the pie, but instead, as today, the unions refused to see the reality of the situation and demanded the status quo be maintained. No innovation, no progress, nothing that might possibly reduce overheads and improve productivity if it meant even the hint of a redundancy, and we still see that today.

@Barry - if you choose to work longer hours because you enjoy your job then I am genuinely very pleased for you, and I'm sure it's appreciated by your managers. I myself regularly work longer than I'm contracted for. There have been numerous occasions where I have worked 30 days straight or worked a 36 hour shift to support a press event or something, but the important point is that I did that because I chose to do it, and what you have to be very very careful of when doing that kind of thing is that people will very quickly come to expect it of you, and then start adjusting your workload accordingly, albeit sometimes without even realising it themselves.

I used to work with a guy who used to stay in the office every evening until at least 9pm because he enjoyed his work. After a year ot two of this he got a new girlfriend and wanted to spend time with her and started leaving at 6pm like everyone else. The trouble was, his manager was so used to him being in til 9pm he had been gradually increasing his workload to take advantage of those extra free hours of labour, and suddenly this chap's workload was too much for him and he was having to stay late to get it all done.

All I'm saying is be careful people don't start to take advantage of your generosity...

There's an old saying - you have no friends in business. It holds true.

Posted:3 years ago

#56

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,193 1,170 0.5
All this reminds me of the 70's when comics crusaders were fighting for more creator rights and recognition/ownership of certain creations. Cracking a whip is never a good idea at any workplace, even when the results are as stellar as Noire is. And a few years of whip-cracking is going to make a LOT of people sore.

Still, I wonder how Michaelangelo on his back for ages painting that damned ceiling would have treated about 200 assistants under him if he knew how he'd be respected in the future. Then again, I also recall that scene in the original Mummy flick ("First, they killed the diggers...") and there's that "a-ha!" moment on how the workplace has indeed changed over time. Now, the whipped have a voice and don't need to leave graffiti scratched into stone to be uncovered centuries later...

Hmmm... I'll stop here before this turns into a Futurama gag...

Posted:3 years ago

#57
After having worked at 6 different Australian studios (including my own), I can make a couple of general comments:

- "crunch" is pretty much an excepted behaviour within the games industry.
- overtime is never paid, best I ever had was some time off in-leiu.
- the "better" (more successful?) studios tended to have less overtime/crunch. If a studio/project is managed well enough, its possible to do away with it completely.
- long periods of crunch always end up costing more than it generates (burn-out, low productivity, lots of sick days, ruining corporate culture)
- entry level wages can be pretty poor, but senior positions get paid similar amounts to other industries

IMO, the real challenge is to keep employees happy and motivated. Once that fails, the chances of making a successful game (or a successful studio/company!) slide. No doubt, the only thing that saved Bondi was Rockstar pouring money into the game.

Posted:3 years ago

#58
@ Michael - Incidentally, what is the satus of Australian Game development atm. Circa 2009-201, things were pretty grim. Have things improved? Last i checked, only a handful of studios were in semi robust health. Eg. THQ, 2K marin canberra...

Posted:3 years ago

#59
@Chee Ming - without trying to sound negative, I think its extremely unhealthy at the moment. A lot of the bigger developers have fallen over recently (Krome, Transmission, etc). What is really stinging at the moment is the Aussie $ - which at $1.05US, is the highest its been (by modern standards anyway), when we are used to having it around 70-80c. (Melbourne was yesterday ranked the 7th most expensive city in the world to live in, and Sydney the 6th!).

The positives are that several of the companies that remain are pretty solid (i.e. Firemint, now part of EA), and there is plenty of quality games-labour now in the market.

Bondi worries me though - being potentially the biggest game ever developed here, it could damage the reputation of Australian development - and end up sinking itself.

What I would love to see is another one of the bigger publishers opening a studio here, it would really help the market.

All that said, I think the "micro" studios are thriving - AppStore and so on.

Posted:3 years ago

#60
@ Michael - thanks for the update. based on that I would say

1/ The Aussie economy is strong, and thus hurts exports of the service sector (i.e games)
2/ Large studios in itself are collapsed, and those that remain are probably more robust.
3/ The bondi situation - has potential to be negative. at first glance, it was a real positive upbeat for the Aussie market. The bondi situation was very similar to the Fuzzyeyes situation.
4/ Micro studios are parallel to the situation in UK. I think over here, the slight plus is that alot of large indie companies had experienced staff that went on to form small 1-2 man studios to mid sized startups. So in itself it still means something, and hopefully in both countries (aussie and UK) some good games that people want to play can be had.
5/ There seems to be a range of service, outsource and work for hire studios in Australia able to help provide additional services. Perhaps motion capture, animation, audio, voice acting can be a good inbetween - which serves both the games and movie industry well.

Posted:3 years ago

#61

Mike Arnold Editor

3 1 0.3
I perfectly understand why the abused and crunched stayed or left after a longer period. Having sent more than 400 applications world wide to no avail, fear of deprivation and destitute is the main reason for accepting harsh inhumane conditions like that. This is not only an uncanny feeling of feebleness but all the same intimidating and q.e.d it worked for Bondi and will work for any other company in any given field.

I have been poor all my life and accepted it, others may not.

M

Posted:3 years ago

#62

Sam Henman Senior Artist, Team Bondi

2 0 0.0
I worked at Team Bondi for 7 years as an artist and I think it's only fair to tell the other side of the story. Everyone at the company would completely agree the development cycle was too long- it's a hard ask to maintain enthusiasm and morale after so many years of work but there were a great many people who thrived on the project and had a very different experience to the 'bondi 11'.

La Noire was an exciting opportunity for me coming out of an Australian college and I found Team Bondi to be a friendly, supportive and motivating company to be working at. I felt very passionately about the way the game was shaping up and very much enjoyed the periods where we all pulled together to move the game towards a milestone. Being asked to work one extra hour during the week nights seemed like a reasonable ask to me. Especially when we were also told very clearly in a company wide meeting that evening work time would be rewarded with a month off at the end of the project (which came about 6 months after that meeting).

Working weekends also wasn't an issue for me as every hour worked was logged and fully compensated. The management spelled out exactly how the overtime hours would be paid out and posted it in writing on the Team Bondi intranet for all to read. I agree there was some confusion and skepticism about the clause that the overtime would be paid out 3 months after the projects completion- but the management responded to this by agreeing to pay out the full amount in 3 regular installments before the project completed. They honored this in full (a good 6 months before the projects completion).

A lot has also been said about Brendan's management style being very direct with the staff- that he would go to individual members of the team to work on parts of the game. For me I very much appreciated the opportunity to work directly with the games director. Some of my most fond memories on the game were throwing ideas around with Brendan and discussing the strengths and weaknesses in the game. Team Bondi was a very open office to work in. None of the leads or producers had separate offices from the staff- we were instead all working together in a large open plan office where we were encouraged to collaborate together and see what other disciplines were working on. Reading the article I can see some people obviously didn't like working like this but there were a great many of us who jumped at the opportunity to have such a hands on approach to the games evolution.

I agree that mistakes were made along the way but I wouldn't expect a brand new company with new staff, new IP and a new game engine to get things perfect. I have only respect for the people who didn't like the office environment and chose to respectfully move on to other things. But I'm very saddened by those who vindictively seem to want to pull down the company after it's success on LA Noire. For myself and a lot of friends still working there, I'm sure the worst part of working on this project has been the taint put on it by some of the comments.

Posted:3 years ago

#63

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