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Team Bondi Lead Rebuts Attacks Against the Company

Lead gameplay programmer Dave Heironymous pens an open letter to the IGDA telling Team Bondi management's side of the story.

"I know, I know. I'll be labelled as 'Brendan McNamara's sock puppet' or worse," begins Dave Heironymous' post on GamaSutra today, "You'll just have to take my word that I'm doing this because I enjoy working at Team Bondi and don't want to see it destroyed by anonymous ex-employees."

Team Bondi's Dave Heironymous says the story of the studio's work practices has been a one-sided argument thus far.

Heironymous is one of Team Bondi's original employees, having joined the company straight out of University as a junior programmer, and eventually worked his way up to a position of team management. He spent the last four years working as L.A. Noire's lead gameplay programmer, and self-identifies as one of the "management goon squad" referred to by the ex-employees of the studio who have decried the working conditions at the studio in recent weeks. Heironymous had much to say on the subject of Team Bondi's working practices, and his own experiences with the alleged crunch hours that have drawn so much ire.

In Heironymous' mind, longer working hours were an inevitability of the development process. Indeed, most developers will tell you that crunching is simply a fact of making a game, but the issue many have taken the studio to task for regards falsified claims of crunch hour needs, pertaining to perpetually missed release dates and milestones. However, Heironymous says that no one at the studio worked any harder than management themselves did, and that compensation for additional hours was routinely given.

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.
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.
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.

In regards to the accusing parties who have repeatedly commented (albeit anonymously) on the dire working conditions at the studio, Heironymous challenged their motivation for coming after the company.

== TEASER ==
If the motivation were to see improvement in the working conditions at Team Bondi, then I'm all for it. I have a wife and friends who didn't see very much of me during the latter stages of L.A. Noire, and I'm lucky my wife was so understanding. All of the management and staff at Team Bondi want to improve our processes so we can make even better games in a decent timeframe, without burning people out along the way. However, some of these comments in recent stories seem to go beyond that. Some ex-employees who left the company years ago want to see Team Bondi destroyed. They want to see 35 game developers out of a job. That seems to me to be a less laudable motivation.

At no point in Heironymous' missive does he lay down any theories as to why former employees would be banding together to ruin the studios' reputation, nor does he address the crediting issues that left a hundred former employees without published credit for their work on L.A. Noire (most recently covered by our own Patrick Klepek here). However, Heironymous does concede that over the course of the game's lengthy development cycle, some mistakes were likely made, and simply asks for the chance to improve on things for the future.

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.
Alex Navarro on Google+
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Posted by Alex

"I know, I know. I'll be labelled as 'Brendan McNamara's sock puppet' or worse," begins Dave Heironymous' post on GamaSutra today, "You'll just have to take my word that I'm doing this because I enjoy working at Team Bondi and don't want to see it destroyed by anonymous ex-employees."

Team Bondi's Dave Heironymous says the story of the studio's work practices has been a one-sided argument thus far.

Heironymous is one of Team Bondi's original employees, having joined the company straight out of University as a junior programmer, and eventually worked his way up to a position of team management. He spent the last four years working as L.A. Noire's lead gameplay programmer, and self-identifies as one of the "management goon squad" referred to by the ex-employees of the studio who have decried the working conditions at the studio in recent weeks. Heironymous had much to say on the subject of Team Bondi's working practices, and his own experiences with the alleged crunch hours that have drawn so much ire.

In Heironymous' mind, longer working hours were an inevitability of the development process. Indeed, most developers will tell you that crunching is simply a fact of making a game, but the issue many have taken the studio to task for regards falsified claims of crunch hour needs, pertaining to perpetually missed release dates and milestones. However, Heironymous says that no one at the studio worked any harder than management themselves did, and that compensation for additional hours was routinely given.

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.
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.
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.

In regards to the accusing parties who have repeatedly commented (albeit anonymously) on the dire working conditions at the studio, Heironymous challenged their motivation for coming after the company.

== TEASER ==
If the motivation were to see improvement in the working conditions at Team Bondi, then I'm all for it. I have a wife and friends who didn't see very much of me during the latter stages of L.A. Noire, and I'm lucky my wife was so understanding. All of the management and staff at Team Bondi want to improve our processes so we can make even better games in a decent timeframe, without burning people out along the way. However, some of these comments in recent stories seem to go beyond that. Some ex-employees who left the company years ago want to see Team Bondi destroyed. They want to see 35 game developers out of a job. That seems to me to be a less laudable motivation.

At no point in Heironymous' missive does he lay down any theories as to why former employees would be banding together to ruin the studios' reputation, nor does he address the crediting issues that left a hundred former employees without published credit for their work on L.A. Noire (most recently covered by our own Patrick Klepek here). However, Heironymous does concede that over the course of the game's lengthy development cycle, some mistakes were likely made, and simply asks for the chance to improve on things for the future.

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.
Posted by Solh0und

This is messed up.

Posted by BaconGames

Whatever anyone thinks of his rebuttal, I respect that he put his name out there knowing the possible backlash he'll get.

Edited by RE_Player1

I'm glad Dave Heironymous came out with these comments but I would have also liked Brendan McNamara make similar comments. Instead he seems like a douche still, to me anyway.

Posted by Bucketdeth

I'm sure their may have been some problems at the studio, but I bet a lot of it was over exaggerated and blown out of proportion.

Posted by Korolev

"I know, I know. I'll be labelled as 'Brendan McNamara's sock puppet' or worse,"

Too right you will mate. I'm not saying he's lying, I'm just saying he's probably lying.

Posted by Vitor

Fact is, he doesn't outright deny any of the more serious allegations. He's just dancing around the issue.

This just makes me further believe that conditions there were indeed miserable.

Posted by Nemesis2K

Heironymous Vs Anonymous? 
 
Really???
Edited by ZombiePie

65 hours per week? He throws that out there as if it isn't a big deal. That's not healthy. Just putting it out there.

Moderator
Posted by Xander

" 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. " 
 
In other words, it's okay to overwork your employees for years, lying to them, so long as you overwork, and also lie to, yourself.

Posted by Veektarius

Whatever stories I hear about their work practices, I'd probably need to start seeing some actual lawsuits (and won lawsuits would be better) against a company before I considered altering my purchasing habits.

Posted by Bestostero

This is just sad, what an ugly story behind a great game, it kinda tarnishes the game imo.

Posted by ADarkMatter
@Korolev said:

"I know, I know. I'll be labelled as 'Brendan McNamara's sock puppet' or worse,"

Too right you will mate. I'm not saying he's lying, I'm just saying he's probably lying.

Then you should press doubt sir.
Posted by SSully

I still think he might have done some unfair stuff, but I do not think he did anything he didn't think was nessecary. I believe that he worked as hard as everyone, so everyone suffered. But that still doesn't make it right.They obviously need to think of a different way to run that company.

Posted by Walreese55

I don't believe him, or the narrative he's trying to push. The crux of the argument is that about a 100+ employees were in crazy working conditions that made them work 80 hour weeks, sometimes 7 days a week. Of course he's not going to agree with that, he still has a job he risks losing. He's trying to back up his company but he has yet to definitely rebut the crux of the argument. Most of the people who have an issue with the company don't take issue near the end of the game, they take issue in the years leading up to the release where they had horrible leadership and no idea when the game was truly going to ship. These people were lied to about ship-dates and yet were expected to work to the bone uncompensated. If you're working weekends, saying you'll get paid when a product ships, even though for the majority of the dev cycle you didn't actually know when the ship date was, is bullshit. Getting paid extra per paycheck is a more instant way to feel the value of your work, that you're not sweating blood for nothing. You want to see what you worked so hard for now, not some time years from now. It's basic decency, I really don't think it's out of line or a conspiracy to demand due compensation for fucking insane work hours.

The company pretty much held a gun to the head of their employees, essentially holding what they earned hostage. That is what people are angry about and one guy trying to save his ass by saying that everyone was working hard does nothing to rebut the crux of the argument

Posted by jozzy

@RE_Player92 said:

I'm glad Dave Heironymous came out with these comments but I would have also liked Brendan McNamara make similar comments. Instead he seems like a douche still, to me anyway.

totally agree with this. this controversy wouldn't have gotten this out of hand if McNamara would have replied in the manner this guy did. If it's the truth or not, this is better than his reply which basically boiled down to an acknowledgement of the accusations with an extra dose of "Deal with it".

Posted by ApolloBob

I don't see anything here that really refutes the worst of the allegations or that really says much of anything besides "We're doing our best, please don't take my job away".

Posted by Mr_Skeleton

A: Truth

X: Doubt

Y: Lie

Posted by Akrid

Seems like this guy is a bit misguided in wanting to keep the company together... Hell, if I was promoted to team lead I would want to stay that way too!

Posted by Curufinwe

Weasel words that just make Team Bondi look even worse.

Posted by justin3d

"They want to see 35 game developers out of a job."

So is he saying there are only 35 devs left at Team Bondi? That seems like a really low number.

Posted by Rick_Dakan

No mention at all of the not paying people for overtime if they left or were fired before the game shipped. That, to me, is the most egregious sin here (out of many). The hours are terrible in and of themselves, but not paying people for them is plain evil.

Posted by rogsim

I'm picturing this guy sitting there with McNamara's arm up his backside controlling his every mouth movement as a pre-recording of "Towing the Company Line 101" plays in the background.

Posted by hermberger

Can we be done with this yet? Evil people are never as evil as you think they are (Bondi) and good people are never as good as you think they are (pissed off employees). Both sides have their reasons/gripes for what happened, the only thing they can do is try to keep this from happening again. Hopefully people will calm the fuck down, and maybe get back to making some really awesome games again.

Posted by Bwast
@Mr_Skeleton said:

A: Truth

X: Doubt

Y: Lie

I use intuition!
Posted by buft

Its all well and good to debunk these claims on the basis that the people involved are "anonymous" but the only reason that they have to do it that way is because whistle blowers in the industry tend to find no one will hire them after.

Posted by benu302000

Doubt.

Posted by TheHT

 

Posted by Little_Socrates

Inclined to press truth in this case without seeing his face, and unless another exec comes out and has a similar response I'm gonna assume he's the nice guy working on the Death Star, if you understand my meaning. Certainly, Team Bondi is getting a slightly worse rap than it deserves, as otherwise I have to imagine some of the high-profile actors and actresses starring in the game would have come out about this by now; they have no real stake in the games industry, so if the motion-capture process is as much worse than the rest of the development as Hieronymus implies, then the actual development can't have been as rough as you might imagine. I can say the crew probably had it a lot worse than those actors and actresses, but, again, this is a question of overtime and interaction with management more than anything else.

With this one, I'm ready to stop thinking about the situation at Team Bondi. If LA Noire's development had a dark side, then that truth comes across in a game in which every person has something to hide. It's a brilliant piece of work, with all but a few poor decisions towards the finale of the game catapulting it towards a memory as one of the greatest games I've ever played.

Posted by BoneChompski

I come from a culture of working ludicrous hours (farming) and I can tell you that all work and no play make Jack a medicated boy. And it's not like you get rich with these type of hours to compensate for your lack of social development.

Edited by Franstone
@ZombiePie said:

65 hours per week? He throws that out there as if it isn't a big deal. That's not healthy. Just putting it out there.

When I did QA for Atari they had a mandatory 60 hour work week.
Was pretty crazy but was willing to go through it to get in the biz...
Then the bastards laid every1 off right after Christmas of course.
Eeeeeevil.
Prob needed to cut cost due to horrible decision making from higher ups who wanted to save their own asses.
: )
Posted by Mr_Skeleton

@Bwast said:

@Mr_Skeleton said:

A: Truth

X: Doubt

Y: Lie

I use intuition!

X: Doubt

Y: Lie

Posted by SeriouslyNow

Yep, standard passive management mouthpiece malarkey. "I worked my up from the bottom and I survived" mentality coupled with management pattern blindness to what was going on around him.

@Tuffgong: What does his name matter when he's management? He's just doing what he's been told to do to protect the company image. This is little more than a signed press release defending company practices - hell it's almost boilerplate. It doesn't even address any of the complaints which have been proved and only gives the standard 'crunch time' excuse for extended work hours.

Posted by Jimbo

"However, Heironymous says that no one at the studio worked any harder than management themselves did, and that compensation for additional hours was routinely given.

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."

I suspect management were earning significantly more money for their time than the rank and file though -which makes it easier to swallow- and given the project apparently took 7 years, you can't exactly say that management were doing a particularly good job can you? Manangement may have been putting in the same hours, but everybody else there was suffering for their inability to do their job very well.

So only in the last 6 months did they decide to start 'rewarding' people for their overtime, and even then they only got to collect their reward (time off) if they happened to still be in the job upon completion. That was big of them. I don't really see that he has offered much of a rebuttal to anything. Most of this was known, he's just spun it a bit.

I've worked 80 odd hour weeks before on occasion and tbh it's pretty stupid. Productivity and work quality just go through the floor eventually, especially if you're trying to do it for weeks at at time. You might get a bit more done, but it's unlikely to be anything like twice as much as a 40 hour week, at least in my experience.

Posted by aceofspudz

The situation is volatile enough that I don't believe anything is being said without the aid of company lawyers.

Posted by Bwast
@Mr_Skeleton said:

@Bwast said:

@Mr_Skeleton said:

A: Truth

X: Doubt

Y: Lie

I use intuition!

X: Doubt

Y: Lie

Lie? No, doubt. Or maybe...it could be...lie? No no no, doubt. Definitely doubt. Doubt. Final answer, Regis.
Posted by mutha3

Sorry, but I take the voices of the 20 odd people on the other side coupled with the fact that 139 people are left uncredited and  Brendan's own words

Posted by N7

This is just a mess right now. I feel bad for the guys at Team Bondi who had to put up with all of this crap. L.A Noire, while flawed, was an innovation and really stood out among the rest. It's a shame that it had to be completed under such harsh conditions.

Posted by Bravestar
@justin3d said:

"They want to see 35 game developers out of a job."

So is he saying there are only 35 devs left at Team Bondi? That seems like a really low number.

35 devs and 100 unpaid interns.
Posted by Dany

@Bwast said:

@Mr_Skeleton said:

@Bwast said:

@Mr_Skeleton said:

A: Truth

X: Doubt

Y: Lie

I use intuition!

X: Doubt

Y: Lie

Lie? No, doubt. Or maybe...it could be...lie? No no no, doubt. Definitely doubt. Doubt. Final answer, Regis.

You have to do better than that detective.

Posted by TheKreep

I don't think this is meant to be a rebuttal as much as it is an explanation, to give a little bit more context for those of us just reading about it on the internet. 
 
It seems to me like the higher ups at Team Bondi were trying their hardest to keep the company's shit together; it was an honest effort, regardless of how (un)successful they were at doing it. 
 
Think about it: L.A. Noire was the studio's first game. REALLY think about that. One of the most ambitious projects in recent gaming history was the game that those guys CUT THEIR TEETH on. OF COURSE it was never going to go smoothly. 
On top of that, it took them seven years for them, as a company, to see a full production cycle end to end. I can only imagine how hard it is to learn from experience when things are moving that slowly. 
 
Cut 'em some slack, I say. We can't all be perfect! And I can only believe that their next project is going to be run a LOT more efficiently, and in turn, less brutally. 
 
My two cents!

Edited by FluxWaveZ
@TheKreep: A ton of people were left uncredited. Rough development doesn't excuse several external factors that revolve around this controversy.
Posted by depecheload

Wow, management saying that masses of workers are lying. Big shocker.

UNION.

Edited by Mr_Skeleton

@Bwast said:

@Mr_Skeleton said:

@Bwast said:

@Mr_Skeleton said:

A: Truth

X: Doubt

Y: Lie

I use intuition!

X: Doubt

Y: Lie

Lie? No, doubt. Or maybe...it could be...lie? No no no, doubt. Definitely doubt. Doubt. Final answer, Regis.

@Dany said:

You have to do better than that detective.

Posted by csl316
@FluxWaveZ
@TheKreep: A ton of people were left uncredited. Rough development doesn't excuse several external factors that revolve around this controversy.
That article also said, in a brief sentence, that they knew leaving would forfeit their credit.
Posted by FluxWaveZ
@csl316: Yes, but in this article, he doesn't even address the "rule" that isn't an ethical one in the first place.
Posted by HrMagni

I find it funny/sad when managers says they never expect more of the employes than they do of themselves and at the same time time i doubt if the employees did do as much as the management, they would get same kind of salary, credit and compensations as the managers. But alas this is the way of the world, for now.

Edited by Aetheldod

 A lousy administered development team ..... never again I will get a Bondi/McNamara game (if they ever make one) , and still they had to pay the fair share to the folks who worked their asses off , NO MATTER if they didn't stayed till the end. People need to get paid for their work , also hey if you want to crunch cool yo but you can't force overtime into people because you do it too , even more so without instant compesation.

Posted by Da_Madness
@alex said: 
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.
I find it extreamly interesting that people were being rewarded for working weekends only AFTER LA Noire was finished. If you were told that you would get some extrea leave if you did weekends and then worked your butt off thinking you'd be able to take that extra long holiday or spend more time with the kids thinking the game would be finished soon you'd be bloody pissed. 
 
Lets remember this game took SEVEN YEARS to finish.
Posted by TheDudeOfGaming

Why you should not be a game developer...right there. Now, if you'll excuse me, its time for me to try to apply to the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, after which i will become a movie director who will get fucked by any and all creditors/producers, and a movie director who will never be able to actually share his vision.

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