Team Bondi has been getting a lot of heat recently for inhumane work conditions during the development of L.A. Noire. After an eye-opening piece was published on IGN, many ex-Team Bondi employees have come forward to back the allegations about Team Bondi’s management, specifically boss Brendan McNamara, being slave drivers, demanding employees work ridiculous hours for fear of losing their jobs.
This has lead to an IGDA investigation into the matter, with the organization asking Team Bondi employees (both past and present) to submit letters detailing their experiences at Syndey’s Team Bondi studio to get to the bottom of the matter. One such letter was submitted by Dave Heironymus, Lead Gameplay Programmer on L.A. Noire at Team Bondi. But Heironymus didn’t just confidentially submit his story to the IGDA, he also wrote a blog post for Gamasutra where he presented the letter in full for the entire internet to read his side of the story and get a better sense of the whole situation. Because as Heironymous states in his blog post, he quite enjoys working for Team Bondi and doesn’t want to see the company sink because of a few disgruntled ex-employees.
After a lengthy opening paragraph about how Heironymus worked his way through the ranks of Team Bondi, he finally gets to the meat of his letter, detailing the working conditions of the studio, even covering what it was like during peak crunch hours when the development house was gearing up for a milestone or demo showcase.
“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.”
“Towards the end of the project I was probably working (on average) around 65 hours per week. Apart from a few isolated cases (various demo builds) this was the highest my regular hours ever got to, and at no time did I ever work 100 hours per week. If you think about it, that's 14 hours per day, 7 days per week, which is huge. I can't say that no-one ever worked 100 hours per week, but those sorts of hours were not encouraged. In fact, if someone on my team was working that hard I would have done my best to stop them.”
Heironymus then goes on to discuss the reward incentives that Team Bondi instated for staying late on weeknights and weekends, which as Heironymus’ states, were rather generous.
“Recognising that working on the weekend was inevitable, Team Bondi put in place a scheme to (generously) reward employees for their weekend days spent at work. Additionally, in the last 6 months of the project a scheme was put in place to reward employees for staying back late on weeknights, and this resulted in myself and most of my team getting an additional 4 weeks of leave upon completion of L.A. Noire, on top of the weekend working payment.”
As Heironymus begins to wind down his letter he mentions that he never expected more from his employees than he expects from himself. As he puts it, the management at Team Bondi was not up in an “Ivory Tower” watching the grunts do all the hard labor.
“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. The management team at Team Bondi was not ensconced in an Ivory Tower working normal hours while everyone else crunched. Brendan 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.”
Finally, Heironymus is not afraid to admit Team Bondi still has things to learn about the development of games. In no way does Heironymus believe crunching is a good thing, but it's a necessity when you get down to the eleventh hour. That’s honestly the case for all game development. If anything, this whole situation has taught Team Bondi valuable lessons that they will carry over to their next project.
“Saying all of this, 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.”
“Please think about that when you talk about boycotting L.A. Noire or about how heinous Team Bondi is. There is a team of dedicated game developers here in Sydney that look forward to learning from their mistakes, improving on their successes and taking on the world again next time around.”
So what say you? Which side of the story do you believe, the disgruntled employees or Heironymus’? Or, as stories of this nature tend to go, does the truth actually lie somewhere in between? Sound off below!