Team Bondi Investigated

When L.A. Noire came out, its technical accomplishments were impressive. Hours of dialogue. A giant swath of picture-perfect L.A. to play around in. Revolutionary MotionScan faces that evinced more emotion than ever before seen in a video game.

Then grim reality set in. The L.A. Noire was harshly criticized. And now, weeks after the release, the game is embroiled in two serious controversies. A website, lanoirecredits.com has demanded redress from creators Team Bondi, claiming the Australian studio unfairly omitted developers’ names from the game’s credits, apparently due to the fact that they left the team before the game was completed. Even more disturbing is the revelation, made to IGN, that working conditions at Team Bondi during the game’s epic seven-year development were downright unbearable.

Hard deadlines and “Crunch Time” working conditions are de rigeur in the game business, but former employees spoke to IGN about working 60, 80, even 100 hours in a week to meet milestones that never seemed to dissipate. Staff members were tied to byzantine contracts that only paid out overtime when the project was completed. Office culture was also described in less-than-glowing terms, with Team Bondi head Brendan McNamara singled out as being “verbally abusive.” Employees were allegedly reprimanded for being “15 minutes late,” and dragooned into “crunch time” regimens for manufactured or misleading purposes.

The good news it that today the International Game Developer’s Association resolved to look into these incendiary allegations. Such action has precedent: a 2006 decision awarded around $15 million to EA employees who were denied overtime while working under similarly brutal conditions. Instrumental in bringing the injustice to light was a blog written by “EA Spouse,” a.k.a. Erin Hoffman, then-fiancee of EA programmer Leander Hasty.

Though many gamers benefit from the scale, scope, and ambition of games like L.A. Noire, it is of paramount importance that the talented people who make them are treated with dignity and compensated fairly for their efforts. The easy stereotype of game development as the “most fun job ever” is dramatically punctured by the reality described above. While there are certainly two sides to every story, it is good to see IGDA do their due diligence.

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