Cheats and Walkthroughs
The most compelling story in gaming these days isn't taking place on any console; instead, it's the back-and-forth between anonymous employees (and ex-employees) of Australian developer Team Bondi and their bosses (or erstwhile bosses, anyway.) The Team Bondi employees allege workplace conditions leading up to the release of LA Noire were akin to a 21st century sweatshop. Management, on the other hand, contends that the disgruntled workers are at least overstating their case. Today, Dave Heironymus, lead gameplay programmer at Team Bondi, in an open letter to industry watchdogs, told management's side of the LA Noire development story.
"I never (and in my experience, neither did any of the other managers) expected anything from my team that I didn't expect of myself," Heironymus writes. "Brendan [McNamara, Team Bondi founder] himself worked very long hours and few of us here in the studio are aware of how grueling the DA and motion capture shoot in LA was."
Heironymus' letter gives some interesting insight into the development of LA Noire, and sheds some light on what it's like to work on a game that continually misses deadlines.
"During the early years of L.A. Noire, we generally worked 9 to 6. Occasionally we'd do some late nights towards the end of a milestone, but by and large it was pretty smooth sailing. Unfortunately as time went on we failed to make as much progress as we'd have liked and there was growing pressure to work longer hours. It was not any one person's fault that we weren't making progress, responsibility for that has to rest with the entire team. There were times when it seemed too hard to keep on going. Work kept piling up, potential release dates slipped by, and frustration grew. At these times we lost people, who legitimately decided that they weren't willing to keep on pushing
That having been said, Heironymus takes a conciliatory tone in the letter as well, acknowledging:
"No-one at Team Bondi is under the illusion that crunching is a good way to work and we're actively working to learn from our mistakes for our next project. The people at Team Bondi are great to work with and I'm confident that we can make Team Bondi a leading game studio on the international stage."
I've reached out to Heironymus to get a little more detail on the situation, and I'll let you know when/if I hear from him.
As more "sides" are being heard from in this story, we're getting an interesting window into what it's like to make AAA games, both from the point of view of the heads of the companies and the foot-soldiers who churn out the code, but there's little in the Team Bondi story that's surprising; the history of labor discord in the game industry, goes back a long way, with notable instances including 2004's "EA Spouses" matter, where Electronic Arts' employees eventually filed three class action lawsuits against the company which awarded the plaintiffs USD $14.9 million for unpaid overtime.
More recently, the wives of LA Noire publisher Rockstar Games' employees threatened legal action against the company, claiming working conditions during the development of Red Dead Redemption were so hard, many employees were driven to depression, and one was diagnosed with "suicidal tendencies."
If long hours at crunch time are the industry standard for game making, is this "fair?" Should employees be expected to work long, hard hours for months at a time, provided they're paid fairly and given the opportunity to work on exciting video games? Or does the industry need a guild or union to keep employers fair? How different are video game working conditions and "typical" white collar jobs?
We'll be certainly hearing a lot more about these practices in the future.