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Exploitation of developers has gotten worse, says David Doak

Dealing with "psychopaths" at exec level forced Free Radical co-founder to leave business

David Doak, co-founder of defunct UK studio Free Radical Design, believes that the exploitation of developers by the big publishing companies has worsened since he left the business in 2008.

Speaking of the development behind TimeSplitters, Second Sight and the shelved Battlefront project for Lucas Arts, Doak said that the pressure from execs, their constantly changing demands and refusal to honour contracts caused him to have a breakdown and leave the business he helped create.

"The dream job which I once loved had become a nightmarish torture"

David Doak, Free Radical Design

"Everyone knows all the horror stories about development," said Doak in an interview with "And it's a real shame, because it turns people off it in the end.

"There's this aspect open to exploitation where because it's your dream job, doing something you really love, you should endure all kinds of abuse to do it. Having watched it from the sidelines for the last few years, it seems to have gotten worse. It's just this big furnace that burns people. It's like that thing, where if you enjoy sausages you shouldn't see how they're made. That applies to games."

Last month GamesIndustry International spoke with fellow co-founder Steve Ellis, who revealed that Free Radical Design was working on two Star Wars games for LucasArts before a change of management at the company prompted it to axe staff and shelve multiple projects. Ellis, Doak and other Free Radical employees claim Lucas Arts resorted to dirty tricks in order to delay and eventually shelve Star Wars Battlefront III and avoid paying the studio what it was owed.

"My role at Free Radical meant that I was simultaneously involved in these unpleasant 'high level' discussions with psychopaths who wanted to destroy us, and then the next day sitting with our dev staff at their desks trying to boost people's morale," recalled Doak. "Helping them to pass milestones that I knew would subsequently be manipulated to cause them to fail.

"It's like you're in borstal. Getting held down, beaten around the head with a cue ball in a sock"

David Doak, Free Radical Design

"It was the most depressing and pointless thing that I have ever been involved in. The dream job which I once loved had become a nightmarish torture. I found it impossible to reconcile that situation in my head and I had a nervous breakdown. I had to stop and take time off for the sake of myself and my family - ultimately I left the company I founded feeling like I had failed it."

It isn't just Lucas Arts that Doak has strong feelings of resentment towards, but also EA Partners, who worked with the studio on TimeSplitters: Future Perfect.

"It was a bit like being groomed, you know. Here's all these friendly avuncular people that will give you all the love and attention you need to get your game out, and then after a while they go away and all the bad guys come around and it's like you're in borstal. Getting held down, beaten around the head with a cue ball in a sock."

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Matt Martin avatar

Matt Martin


Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.