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Team Bondi Running Developer Sweat Shop?

According to a story on Develop, they very well might be. If you follow the industry at all outside of just playing the games, you know this sort of stuff isn’t all that uncommon. EA took a ton of heat a while back for the same type of thing — EA spouses petitioned the company because their husbands and wives would spent 18 hours a day at the office, especially during “crunch” time. Major burnout was the result.

Sounds like Team Bondi is doing the same — and I think this is just a singling out case because I know for a fact that a “12 hour day” is not at all rare in this business, again, especially in crunch time. Now, that said, the list of accusations is…yeah I wouldn’t want to work there either; I like my weekends…

“There was simply an expectation that you’d work overtime and weekends. I was told that I was taking the piss by saying that I couldn’t give every single one of my weekends away. We were looked at as a disposable resource, basically. Their attitude is: ‘it’s a privilege to work for us, and if you can’t hack it, you should leave’. I heard one of the upper echelons say pretty much that. I thought it was disgusting. I don’t understand how they can’t see that maintaining talent would actually be good for them.”

Says Brian Robbins, chair of the IGDA Board of Directors:

“Certainly reports of 12-hour a day, lengthy crunch time, if true, are absolutely unacceptable and harmful to the individuals involved, the final product, and the industry as a whole. We encourage any Team Bondi employee and/or family member to email [email protected] with comments about the recent past and current situation – positive or negative.”

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Now, if I were a jerk (or Barnes) I would make a snide remark about how those 12 hour days should have been 15 to make LA Noire a better game, but I’m really not that mean. I’m a nice guy, unless you’re seven years old and have a compass whistle.

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

15 thoughts to “Team Bondi Running Developer Sweat Shop?”

  1. OK, so I guess now I HAVE to make a jerk (Barnes) comment! :-p

    Reports of 12 hour days? HEAVENS, the brutality! My wife works in film and television and when she’s on a shoot, 15-16 hour days are the norm. She’ll get up at 5am, come home at 9pm- or later. This is pretty standard in that industry. She had a gig with a major cable network a couple of months ago where she was working 14 hour days _seven days a week_ for three weeks. It’s not uncommon in film and television for shoots to run very, very long and they do not care about your personal life or that you want to get home in time to watch your favorite show on TV…you can’t call in sick, you can’t leave early to go pick up the kids, you can’t just say “OK, I did my job, bye”. It doesn’t work like that. You do that, and you don’t get called back to work for the next gig. If you shot until 3am one day and have a 9am call time the next, you don’t show up late and you don’t complain. You just do it, because everyone knows that’s what the expectations are. It’s worth noting that this is a unionized field, and although there has been occasional outcry about especially long hours it’s simply an established fact that it is not a 9-5 job. If you want that, you do something else.

    These are some of the reasons why I decided to NOT pursue a career in film/TV even though I’ve got the degree and experience for it.

    What I’m reading into this story is- without knowing, of course, how management operates at Bondi or what the specifically substantiated employee complaints are- is that it could be a situation where folks were getting into a high-pressure, high-commitment media/creative environment and expected eight hour work days and weekends off. That doesn’t always happen when you work in these kinds of fields, particularly when you’re dealing with budgets, milestones, deadlines, and so forth. I can totally see an entry level person coming into Bondi being shocked at having to work saturday and sunday and then accusing the company of draconian or “brutal” practices…when in actuality, it’s just how creative media development operates.

    So I don’t know, I have to say that this whole “12 hour work day” complaint makes me nod my head…if you’re getting into game development, you should be aware of the kind of commitment it requires.

    The turnover issues might point to some other problems with management practices…or there again, they could just be from people who didn’t really understand what they were getting into. Or it could be that Bondi needed to be hiring more people to reduce workload.

    Tough call. It’s easy to want to side with the complaining employees, but the fact could be that it’s just old fashioned bitching about work, escalated to “brutal” levels.

    Face it, making games is tough and the pressure to deliver is probably immense. It requires a huge commitment of time and energy and if you’re more concerned about the weekend or having a fun, cushy job then it’s likely not a great field for you to be working at in the first place.

  2. Sweatshops exist in all industries, really. So I’m not surprised at this type of news. I’m not in the industry at all, but I always accepted the fact that the makers of my favorite games no doubt worked thankless, brutal, excessive hours to deliver their product. Now, the accusations of them not including all members, past and present, in game credits is despicable.

    It’s free market capitalism at its finest. Why put up with experienced blokes with expectations for fair treatment when you can hire eager green talent fresh off the commencement podium for a fraction of the cost. Does it lead to delays, bugs, and shoddy products? Undoubtedly. Unfortunately it’s just the sign of the times. Greed is good. Very few corporations put an emphasis on employee retention and creating a corporate culture that values their employees. I’m sure most of you would agree that our many of our parents were “lifers” at this company or that company. That doesn’t really exist anymore.


  3. I also think the 12 hour day thing has something to do with location — Australia. Not sure if the 12 hour day is as common there as it is in the States. My wife is the same — leaves the house at 7 and is home by 7 and her laptop is always on when she’s home. If you count her “couch work time” it’s easily over 60 a week.

  4. I do agree with your view of “Know what you’re getting into or GTFO” approach. I don’t necessarily think that mentality is an excuse for what amounts to mentally and verbally abusive management practices (judging from some of the accusations against Bondi). Still, I do think it all comes down to big industries… like finance, movies, TV, game dev, etc… just treating their workforce as expendable because their positions are in high demand. RETAIN YOUR FRIGGIN TALENT, PEOPLE! Pay for their cab fares! Let it slide if they’re 15 minutes late one day here and there! It’s honestly the little things. I probably wouldn’t mind a 12 hour day as much if I was treated like an effing human being.

  5. This is a good point, and there have been some comments made about McNamara’s management style that definitely might bear some investigation. I do agree with what he’s saying “this is not a 9-5 job” and so on and I’d be willing to bet that he’s at the office every minute the doors are open because that sounds like the kind of person he is…but I do agree, you’ve got to treat employees like people regardless of expectations.

    So if the accusations come down to bad HR practices, deliberately abusive or exploitative management…then yes, I’d agree that this is a different story.

    It also would explain the 7 year development- if you’re constantly shuffling talent in and out because they don’t want to work with you (and not because of a bunch of fresh-out-of-college 20 somethings that demand to be off on Friday night to go out), then that’s a different issue.

  6. This is a good point too, and McNamara alludes to this in some of his comments…that he doesn’t understand why Australian developers aren’t willing to work like folks in other countries and on a more “international” schedule. It could very well be a cultural issue underpinning this whole affair.

  7. “Now, if I were a jerk (or Barnes) I would make a snide remark about how those 12 hour days should have been 15 to make LA Noire a better game, but I’m really not that mean”

    It probably would have been a better game if they were 5 hour days. Bone-tired devs aren’t going to do good work; you can see them rubbing at their eyes and saying “screw it, just have the suspect run again.”

  8. Ha! Too true…there are more runners in that game than a season of Cops!

    They just needed some dude to mysteriously lose his shirt and pants while fleeing.

    You are right though…I think it accounts for how disjointed the game is…possibly also explains why the narrator at the beginning disappears…too tired to finish.

  9. You’re basically saying that these guys shouldn’t complain because other people have it worse. If that’s not your argument, I’m sorry. If that is your argument: fire truck female sheep.

    It is one thing to say that there are certain rare cases where a team will have to step up. It is something else entirely to set a routine expectation of a 12hr day. When management makes decisions that poor, it means they’re trying to balance their books on the backs of their labor force. Very few things make me unfurl the red banner quite like seeing unpaid overtime or other bad management habits.

    The idea that any non-emergency response job can demand more than half your life is frankly inhumane. ” that’s what the expectations are. […] You do that, and you don’t get called back to work for the next gig” Screw that! If that’s what exceptions are- and if management has the power to threaten the livelihood of who aren’t willing to put up with it- that is an indictment of the system.

    The only people who should ever have to be on call 24/7, who should ever have to give half their life to a job, are those for whom snap decisions are time-critical. Doctors? Sure. Soldiers? Absolutely. Politicians? 100% agree. But the dude coding the art behind a planter box on a budget FPS? The only reason that’s not a 9-5 gig is because management has the power to decide it’s not. Since they have that power, they’re going to save themselves some money.

  10. No, I think you’re misreading me. I’m not saying that at all, really. What I’m saying is that these people are in a job where long hours and a very high degree of commitment to a project are expected. And this isn’t uncommon in creative fields. Don’t think for one second that a feature film crew, during shooting, are working eight hour days. I’ve been on a set where we shot for damn near 20 hours- two days in a row. I’ve been in an editing bay for 18 hours straight- for four days. Like McNamara said- this is not a 9-5 job. It’s just not the way it works to get this stuff made, Puns. It’s not about other people having it worse.

    I think you’re wrong about completely blaming management when hours go past the 9-5 norm for most of the workaday world. When you’re looking at tight budgets, tight schedules, and an impetus to deliver a multilayered, creative project that requires so many different stages and teams working in concert, it’s not always a manager’s fault if someone is working on saturday. If you’re looking at hitting a milestone in a week and it’s going to take everybody on a team working two or three more hours a day…well, the whistle doesn’t blow at 5 o’clock.

    I think you also don’t quite understand that when you work in these kinds of environments, it’s a mutually shared expectation _between workers_ to put in this kind of time. Like my example that you quoted, it’s not a director, producer, or client that’s dictating these kinds of hardline attitudes…it’s the people you’re working with, too. Plus, it’s also a competition issue…if you’re the guy complaining about the schedule, then the guy that didn’t is the one that’s going to be called back for the next gig.

    I do agree that it’s bullshit, don’t get me wrong. But I also walked away from all that. If you have the drive to work in jobs like this and want to be there for them…then you just do it. My wife does it, but she’s also incredibly passionate about it and dedicated to it…and she’s become one of the more respected and sought-after people in her specific area in Atlanta. But she’s got to bust her ass like everyone else, and hustle to get jobs. And part of it is dealing with this kind of work/life imbalance.

    So it’s not just “the suits” fault. Now, if the management is exploitative and there’s assholism involved or unfair/unreasonable/unexpected demands made- that’s a different issue where there may be abuse. And then, yes, these people should be raising hell. Working these kinds of hours with a shitty boss, yes, that could be brutal.

  11. I have the same opinion as you Barnes. I work in security, and whether it be private or public security, days are just long and thats how it goes. If you want to work in any area, research it. Don’t assume it’ll be a cushy number and complain when you get a wake up call.

    This week. I was working at a Bon Jovi gig for two nights. I was there at 2 pm. I then had my various duties of giving directions, removing unruly patrons and crowd controls. We were told we’d be working until 10:30, straight through, usual breaks (That means enough time to run to the toilet and drink a coke, maybe chance a cigarette. If you’re not back in ten minutes, a supervisor hunts you down). We were all told ten thirty, we’d be out.

    Bon Jovi decided to play until eleven without warning. We were working an extra hour. That meant that ten of our security team were left stranded, as public transport shut down for the evening by the time we cleaned up, secured the area and locked up.

    Next week, I’ll be working twelve hour shifts at a music festival for a week. We’ll still only get the usual ten minute breaks, and that’s only if we don’t get forgotten, which a lot of us will. Put simply, we’ll be on our feet for twelve hours a day, with no breaks for some. It’ll then be back to our tents (That we had to buy ourselves. Apparently, the office thinks we’ll be fine sleeping in an empty field) and try and sleep up for the next day.

    We don’t complain, because this is the nature of the job. It’s there in black and white in our contracts. It sucks, but it’s our job. All we can do is buckle down and work hard. If people complain, we recommend they either go to a supervisor or quit, because the last thing we need is a twelve hour shift with someone bitching in our ear at hour eight about how their feet hurt.

    If it’s an issue with contracts, then Bondi staff should bring their employers to court. If their contract says otherwise, they should have read it first. All I’m seeing is the usual, staff who signed into a tough job thinking it’d be all smiles and fat pay cheques and got a horrible shock when it got hard.

  12. This is, in part, why we see more devs trying to go the indie or XBLA/PSN route. Smaller teams, more focused projects.

    This has been going on for years and if not for the love that a lot of the devs have for making games, it wouldn’t fly. A lot of developers put up with a LOT of shit to create videogames for big publishers.

  13. “those for whom snap decisions are time-critical.” Security? Yeah, I’ve done that. And yes, you need the same people on call throughout the event. There is simply nothing about a coding gig that ought to require someone to work routine 12hr days. Crunch time? Sure, maybe. If management screwed up enough that they didn’t set aside enough dev time during the cycle.

    Let’s be clear on that, though: management knows- or ought to know- how many person-hours they want to spend on a game. They have can decide to spread those hours among enough people to shorten dev time to fit a time-sensitive schedule. Or they can lengthen the project cycle time to keep the team small. Management elects instead to crunch time and personnel into the smallest box it will fit.

    My bet? If coder’s were paid by the hour, with OT kicking in after 8hrs, you’d see a lot more of options A and B.

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