Over the past few weeks, details have leaked out from former Team Bondi employees, dishing the dirt on alleged poor working conditions during the development of "L.A. Noire." The game has done well, both critically and commercially, but one has to question the studio's methods in getting the product out the door. The original news came through an IGN article by Andrew McMillen, wherein a number of workers claimed that they were forced to work long overtime without compensation, and stated that over 100 contributors to "L.A. Noire" were omitted from the credits.
Today, a follow-up story at gamesindustry.biz reveals some further details from two former Team Bondi employees, including internal emails. Big surprise: it isn't pretty.
Given the long production period – over seven years – it's not entirely surprising that the relationship between Rockstar and Team Bondi was a bit on the rocks. According to employees, Rockstar management was concerned about the direction in which Team Bondi was taking "L.A. Noire," and subsequently started to take a more hands-on approach. Brendan McNamara, often the source of the quoted employees' ire, took offense to Rockstar's creative control, especially when the company removed the Team Bondi name from a redesigned "L.A. Noire" logo.
"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," McNamara wrote in an email.
The relationship between Team Bondi and Rockstar may have been rocky, but what about Team Bondi's employees, who claimed that they had been treated poorly by the studio's management? McMillen's discussions with former employees give the appearance of a company that treats their employees like garbage. The developers were told continuously – as far back as late 2007 – that the game was in "the final push," and that the subsequent six months would require weekend work to get the game out the door. Of course, the game wasn't released until this past May.
"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," one employee told McMillen. "So the compromise was that they could have an hour's flexibility on Saturday."
Employees regularly worked over 70 hours a week, for months at a time across a span of years, in order to get "L.A. Noire" completed. While industry analysts like Michael Pachter have responded to the controversy by stating that overtime isn't necessary for salaried creative jobs, the reality – according to one former employee – is that these developers were also grossly underpaid. One such employee claimed that working 70 hours a week at his salary essentially came to about $9 an hour. A paltry sum for someone living in a city like Sydney, Australia.
Unfortunately, I hardly believe that this type of thing exists in a vacuum at Team Bondi. The game industry is a young industry, both in its existence and the age of its workforce. Like many industries before it, there are growing pains, and the developers – who are the actual backbone of companies like Team Bondi – need to reevaluate their worth. The Brendan McNamara's of the world can't make a game like "L.A. Noire" all on their own, and developers would do well to recognize the importance of their talents in getting those multi-million dollar titles to store shelves.
Conditions like these are precisely what brought about labor organizations for "creative" employees like the Screen Actor's Guild or the Writer's Guild. While the IGDA, an excellent organization, is investigating the allegations against Team Bondi, the development community would be smart to organize themselves into something that takes advantage of their respective country's labor laws, enforcing standards and pay. Otherwise, this cycle will repeat itself.