Rockstar & Team Bondi Part Ways?

By Lewie Procter on July 5th, 2011 at 2:50 pm.

I think they're about to kiss and make up
Oh dear. Oh deary dear. All is not well between L.A. Noire developer Team Bondi and publisher Rockstar. Rockstar Leeds are busy working away on the PC version, but a report by GamesIndustry.biz, indicates Rockstar have no intention of working with Team Bondi again. Here’s the grisly details:

The damning quote comes from an anonymous ex-Team Bondi staffer, who said to GI.biz:

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.

There also seems to be continued contention about working hours and rates of pay. Team Bondi boss and founder Brendan McNamara told IGN:

There was a bonus scheme for working evenings, and people got a month off for that, 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.

Whereas speaking to GI.biz, the anonymous ex-staffer says:

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.

Even long after the dust has settled on this one, I doubt we’ll get a full picture of exactly what went on during L.A. Noire’s protracted development.

I’d actually quite like to discuss RPS working conditions. They’ve let me come to visit Castle Shotgun for a couple of days, with the promise of playing lots of PC games, and the reward of having a go on the slide if I work hard enough. In reality, I’ve been cleaning out Quinns’ old bedroom most of today, and I’m not even allowed a tea break until 3pm this afternoon. Carrying boxes of discarded PC components to the furnace all day is not in my contract.

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63 Comments »

  1. Baboonanza says:

    HEY ALEC! Lewis is slacking off and posting to RPS when he should be emptying Quinns chamber-pot.
    Get the cat-o-nine tails and stop the scallywag!

  2. Premium User Badge

    Tom De Roeck says:

    ..you sleep where you work?!

    • Baboonanza says:

      More likely, since he’s a games journalist, is that he works where he sleeps. i.e. in bed.

    • Meat Circus says:

      The Hive Mind are like dolphins. They can turn off parts of their brain at a time. This is when they play Call of Duty.

    • Moni says:

      I’m surprised they’re allowed to sleep. How are they supposed to be connected to the games news network 24 hours a day if they’re asleep?

    • 12kill4 says:

      @Baboonanza

      That would explain why so many gaming interviews are so awkward…

    • Xercies says:

      It would also explain all those staring eyes photos!

  3. crainey92 says:

    QQ

  4. Meat Circus says:

    Just you wait until they get you to muck out John’s stables, and feed the manticore in the Youngling Dungeon to stop it from mauling Brendy & Smee.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Paraquat says:

    I’m sure this has been mentioned, but there is some extremely genteel fisticuffs happening in that picture.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Tom De Roeck says:

    Anyway, I dont quite get the point of the story:

    Was Rockstar being unnice to Bondi employees or was Bondi itself unnice to its’ employees?

    Also, I have had heard some bad stories about Rockstar conduct in relation to developers, though it is just stories, so who knows.

    • UnravThreads says:

      I *think* the article’s point is that Rockstar saved L.A. Noire, but it was Team Bondi’s internal problems that caused Rockstar to ‘part ways’ with them, i.e. they don’t want to support such heinous work practices, which is pretty sensible considering Rockstar’s track record.

  7. kikito says:

    That McNamara guy sounds like a total ass.

    • Dominic White says:

      He does sound quite unpleasant in that quote. “Why, in my day we worked 22 hour shifts for no pay! These guys have it easy, actually getting paid now and then.”

      Interesting to hear so much positive said about Rockstar by an ex-Bondi chap, though. Sounds like they really were bailed out by them.

    • Bhazor says:

      @ Dominic White
      “Sounds like they really were bailed out by them.”

      My guess is they were.
      For a while LA Noire was pretty much vapourware. It was originally announced for a 2008 release as a PS3 exclusive and had been languishing in development limbo since then until they secured R* as a publisher.

      Certainly there was no way Bondi could afford all this as an independent when they hadn’t released a game in it’s 8 years of existence.

      http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/i_teambondi
      Heres an interview about LA Noire dated 2004 for an idea of how protracted development was.

    • zbeeblebrox says:

      “Interesting to hear so much positive said about Rockstar by an ex-Bondi chap, though. Sounds like they really were bailed out by them.”

      That is really unusual. Typically, employees of a developer get their biggest headaches from the publisher, not from in-house. To have an ex-employee complimenting Rockstar suggests that Bondi management actually figured out how to be more obnoxious than the publisher. And knowing someone who worked on Red Dead Redemption, I can attest second-hand that Rockstar is very good at being obnoxious. So that’s quite an achievement.

  8. Cinnamon says:

    Such lazy ungrateful peons. They should have worked harder and paid him for the privilege of helping bring his glorious artistic vision to life. Ayn Rand said as much or something.

    • Adam says:

      I know right? What do they think they are, like ppl with lives outside of game development. U N I O N? Sounds like they were worked to the bone.

    • Gigs says:

      I’m fairly certain Rand had issue with the people who didn’t want to work, not the ones who worked without getting paid. She was all for people gaining (and keeping) their wealth from work.

    • Cinnamon says:

      I was more making fun of people with contradictory Randian fantasies than trying to unpick any philosophical Gordian knot that she created.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Some_Guy says:

    ah so you the replacement then? will every other post have bargins at the end? :)

  10. TrevHead says:

    I didnt know there was a Rockstar Leeds! (checks address) wow I live near there.

    They had better make a good port of LA Noire. Its up to them if I send round strippers or pizza :p

    • Vague-rant says:

      Isn’t one of those meant to be a disincentive?

    • Premium User Badge

      Malibu Stacey says:

      He means strippers from Leeds.

    • Bonedwarf says:

      My gaming claim to fame is I live in the city where Bioware reside! A friend actually worked for them.

      Speaking of, if you had any issues with clunky dialogue from 2005 to about 2009 in a Bioware game, he was partly to blame. (I think Dragon Age was his last Bioware title. He then buggered off to go work for Zenimax/Bethesda on the Morrowind MMO.)

    • Saldek says:

      Don’t forget, after visiting the UK, Adorno commented: «In angelsächsischen Ländern sehen die Dirnen aus, als ob sie mit der Sünde zugleich die Höllenstrafe mitlieferten.», which translates roughly as: «In Leeds the whores have the aspect of those that do offer deadly sin in inseparable conjunction with ze torments of purgatory.»
      Quite the disincentive!

  11. Kadayi says:

    Sounds like a case that Rockstar want to distance themselves from McNamara given his apparent unrepentant Bully boy ways and all too obvious managerial incompetence (7 years…JFC… ). IIRC there was a bit of episode a while back with the staff at Rockstar San Diego (the guys behind Red Dead Redemption) and ‘problem’ management and likely albeit the Housers have money hats the size of ocean liners and give a shit what the gaming press write, they probably do want to curb the associations of R* = A lousy place to work, simply from a recruiting future talent perspective.

    Without a publisher I suspect Bondi will go to the wall in short order (and given McNamara’s reputation I doubt anyone will likely return his calls..save maybe Bobby K at a pinch) . Perhaps then once rid of Mr M, Rockstar might clean up and form Rockstar Sydney from the fallout.

  12. RQH says:

    “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.”

    This attitude is precisely what’s wrong with the games industry. They make a product that many of their employees are, on some level, passionate about making, and then they exploit that passion until it runs dry. Meanwhile, the mantra is “this is just the way things are done.” “Crunch is unavoidable,” etc. In reality, crunch is a self-perpetuating cycle, as the work done by exhausted, stressed, and increasingly passionless employees in one crunch period takes longer than expected or needs to be outright fixed, requiring another crunch period and so on.

    Money is a good start, but when it comes to required, nearly-perpetual crunch, the extra money stops being psychologically interpreted as an incentive for extra production, but as part of the regular paycheck, just as 60 hour work-weeks are part of the expectation for work. But the money aspect is still important–if games companies won’t plan better and consider the health and well-being of their employees, then it’s imperative that crunching teams for extended periods of time be more costly on the balance sheet than slipping a release date or hiring more employees.

    • Kadayi says:

      Agreed. I think there are enough examples out there of development studios who achieve results without killing their staff in the process to disprove the ‘work em till they drop’ approach. The worst thing any company needs is a high staff turnover, because it’s not just skills you lose when someone leaves, it also their understanding of the project, their working relationships within the team and studio methodology. That’s not the sort of thing you instantly buy in, even with experienced outsiders.
      Irrationals approach of planned crunch seems like a good one, where in everyone is aware that a big push is due every few months and are able to not only mentally prepare for it, but also know that it has an end date.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Quite.

  13. zipdrive says:

    1) I think this is the first time shit publicly hits the fan over the development of a highly successful title.
    2) For the life of me, I can’t understand how game developers work in such conditions. They only need to glance sideways and see the working conditions in corporate software development or IT industry, or chip design and see how much greener the grass is. Continuous Crunch is a hallmark of bad project management, not just dedicated workers.

    • Premium User Badge

      Malibu Stacey says:

      Quite simply this.
      The company I’ve been working at for the last 5 years make commercial software. Sure we have a bit of crunch time around releases but there’s very little in the way of features which can’t simply be pushed back to the next service pack or major release (bugs are the exception).
      We have a handful of developers who have worked in the games development industry & they all swear they’ll never go back. They like being able to leave the office around 5pm every day, pick up their kids from after-school care on the way home & spend time with their families in the evenings & weekends.
      Even some of the younger guys who originally wanted to work in games development have changed their minds as many of the people they were at University with got positions at games dev studios after they graduated & have since started to envy their peers who ended up in commercial development.

    • Shuck says:

      When a game fails, people dismiss complaints as blame-shifting, and when a game is successful there’s usually enough rewards for the surviving developers that they’re private in their complaints. I think the big difference in this case was that although the game was financially successful for the company, no rewards were reaped by a large number of the developers, either financially or in terms of credit on the game (which is really the ultimate way of screwing over employees). There was a lot of churn/layoffs, and it sounds like both the overtime pay and game credit were tied into being at the company when the game was released. Since a lot of people worked at the company for at least the equivalent of a full development cycle and were no longer at the company when the game was finished, I can imagine they’re feeling pretty angry (and rightfully so).

      “For the life of me, I can’t understand how game developers work in such conditions.”
      The game industry lives off the blood of the young. More experienced developers burn out and leave the industry at a huge rate, replaced by naive young developers who are willing to put up with more. Until they’re not and they leave the industry (or end up as managers).

    • Wanoah says:

      In every industry there are going to be times where you need to ask your staff to work a bit extra to cope with extraordinary workload, and as long as it is *extraordinary* I don’t think most people have a problem mucking in to deal with a crisis of some kind. When crisis is a routine event that’s considered part of your product lifecycle then your management is broken, your processes are broken, and so will your people be broken in short order. 60 hour weeks are death to productivity, quality and creativity.

      Still, devs only have themselves to blame. Man up and master the art of saying “No!” In the UK at least, we have employment laws to back you up.

    • Jimmy says:

      Exactly what you said. I remember in webdev company during the dotcom boom the same type of immaturity and bad management passed off as young, fresh, exciting. Developers did continuous crunch cycles and when the crash was foreseeable, the management announced they were moving from a vertical strategy to a horizontal one, which meant they would sit on the float until it sank.

      Crunch cycles were in-built but this is not always a very effective form of exploitation as noted here. It was a lack of experience and maturity at the management level with people employed for their attitude and not for their real skills, buoyed by misplaced market confidence.

  14. DeanLearner says:

    McNamara: DO YOU WANNA WORK IN THE GAME INDUSTRY OR NOT?! TAKE IT OFF!

    *Dean Learner slowly takes off t-shirt while whimpering*

  15. 12kill4 says:

    Sure. They ‘told’ you those boxes were full of old computer parts… but REALLY you’ve been carrying out Alec’s failed attempts at building a Robot Quinns as a replacement! *what a twist!*

  16. Freud says:

    When reading the quote by Brendan McNamara I picked:

    Truth
    Doubt
    Lie

    • Bonedwarf says:

      HAHA! Well played:)

      LA Noire has its good points, but the Homicide desk ending really derailed my love for the game.

      Plus uiltimately I’m amused that my two year old could play it and have a 33% chance of being correct during interviews.

      Really should complete the game, but I won’t buy any of the DLC. Rather like the original Portal, it’s fun, it’s inventive, I enjoy it, and I never want to play it again once I’m done.

  17. Milky1985 says:

    So this would be the third game rockstar have been working with that has been linked to bad working conditions, considering the reports after GTA4 of bad working conditions for developers and then the reports after red dead repemption for the same thing.

    Might not be purly there fault this time but a pattern is emerging!

  18. Pijama says:

    Sir Procter is in for a more permanent basis? LOVELY.

    Also, in regards to this newspiece, I will just say:

    Why the fuck programmers do not have a trade union? For fuck’s sake, sometimes I think they are asking for it!

    • Nalano says:

      Because unionism is a dirty word in today’s politics. Unfortunately.

    • Pathetic Phallacy says:

      Because the current political landscape favors business over people on the ancient, unproven belief that maximum profits, at the expense of low wages, is what is best for everyone.

    • zipdrive says:

      Also, the fact that worker unions have a history of calcifying into powerful bureaucracies choking the company they work for to death.

      Balance is a tricky bitch.

  19. Jimbo says:

    I wonder if McNamara was the inspiration for Cole Phelps’ constant shouting, no matter how inappropriate the situation.

    • Grayvern says:

      That’s a great angle, but Phelps seems to have some redeeming qualities, Maybe MCNamara likes puppies or something.

  20. Dances to Podcasts says:

    Human beings are most efficient at around 40 hours per week.

    Henry Ford knew this about a HUNDRED YEARS AGO.

  21. johnpeat says:

    Anyone working in any “Project delivery” situation who expects to have fixed working hours is deluded to say the VERY least…

    Throughout commercial IT, working hours are pretty much seen as a ‘minimum’ – you expect to work longer hours when needed, you expect to have to do some weekends (outside the public sector at least, which isn’t, technically, the real world).

    If you don’t like that idea – if you want to work 9-5 (bit earlier on a Friday perhaps) – then go work in a shop or somewhere else things which take an undefinable amount of time to ‘get right’ aren’t being done – a job where you start at the bottom of the hill EVERY DAY.

    The whole idea of ‘crunch’ sounds nasty BUT so few people understand how hard it is to take something as undefinable as a ‘game’ and get it to state which can be considered ‘finished’. Sometimes, the only way to do this is to stop pissing around and work your eyeballs out until you’ve dotted most of the is and crossed most of the ts…

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      More or less all of us are acknowledging that crunch and OT are necessary, what we question is the constant and perpetual crunch, which is a clear indicator of bad management, bad checkpointing, and bad planning. Crunch is to be expected at milestones, crunch longer then a week or two at a go is weapons grade idiocy.

      LA Noire was announced in 2008 but they first started development in -2005- for the PS2. Then the next hardware cycle came out, they scrapped, and began work on the PS3 version. THEN came the face capture technoligy which many millions were sunk into. Bondi went through at least one other publisher and 3 itinerations of the game until it was finally completed when Rockstar started sinking money into it like a videogame development speedboat (The two happiest moments in a boat owners life are when he buys his boat, and when he SELLS his boat/ A boat is a hole in the water you throw money into etc etc).

      Simply put, LA Noire was an auteur dream project that was heinously mismanaged, ran up such a large bill that EA dropped it midway, and suffered from feature creep for half a decade until Rockstar locked down on it. This game would’ve been a disaster without rockstar. Their money saved it from oblivion, their marketing and their name recognition made it sell.

    • zipdrive says:

      I work at the IT industry and I call bullshit!

      Overtime and crunch are NOT a must, if a project is planed out properly, and time is allotted for unforeseen issues. It should NOT be standard practice to work weekend near milestones, because that just means you’ve misjudged or misrepresented the work involved.

      Granted, every so often there’s a surprise difficulty or a change of plans than requires some extra effort, but it not NOT be a regular part-and-parcel of the development process and MOST DEFINITELY not a continuous state, as happened at Bondi and other places.

  22. WJonathan says:

    Perhaps it’s not so much Rockstar’s disgust with Bondi’s working conditions as it is with their time management skills. A developer is only as good as its ability to transform concepts into playable code. The Getaway games were a mess from a gameplay persepctive, partly because they wasted too much time photographing cityscapes and playing with autocad. Possibly they learned nothing, and Rockstar tired of having to constantly reel Bondi in and make LA Noire playable.

  23. Talorc says:

    Quite frankly, if management can get away with sending emails like that DEMANDING and requiring employees to work, extra hours then weekend (for no extra pay), I really have lost faith in my country (Australia) having an essentially “fair” set of workplace laws and customs

    • drinniol says:

      Here in Aus we have just about the tightest workplace laws and union-friendly government in any developed country.

      My take on this;
      McNamara is a textbook office psychopath. Quick to furious anger and very adept at taking credit for other’s work.
      There is a legislated maximum work week as part of the minimum employment standards. If workers are too gutless to insist on their rights for fear of being fired, I mean seriously come on, grow a pair.

      If one of the programmers got fired for demanding their rights and pay as contracted then they’d have a nice juicy case for their union (and they have a choice of three; Association of Professional Engineers Scientists and Managers, Australia (APESMA)
      Australian Services Union (ASU)
      Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU)) to take to Fair Work for a wrongful dismissal claim.