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New Internal Emails Paint an Even Uglier Picture of Team Bondi's Work Practices

Rockstar Games reportedly looking to back away from the studio after a tumultuous working relationship becomes untenable.

Team Bondi developed one of the year's biggest games in the acclaimed detective adventure L.A. Noire. Over the course of the years-long process to bring that game to fruition, the studio appears to have jilted more than its share of ex-employees along the way. And now they're speaking out en masse.

It all started when somewhere around 100 former developers suddenly found themselves uncredited for their work in the game and launched a website to protest this fact. It continued when IGN published a story from freelance writer Andrew McMillen, who took Team Bondi to task for reportedly troubling work conditions at the studio over the course of the game's seven-year development cycle, providing quotes from both anonymous former employees of the company, and even oft-complained-about studio head Brendan McNamara. McNamara's quotes (which halfway confirmed many of the complaints lodged against the company, and simultaneously brushed them aside as simple facts of being a developer in this business) seemed to tell all the story there was to tell at the time, but evidently, McMillen was far from done.

Things have gotten very ugly Down Under.
Things have gotten very ugly Down Under.

In a story published yesterday on GamesIndustry.biz (you'll need a registered account on the site to read the whole thing), McMillen went to town on Team Bondi, bringing to light a lengthy series of internal emails collected by former employees of the studio which depict McNamara and the management at Team Bondi as complicit in grinding former studio workers into the ground with insane hours and minimal compensation.

Without just reprinting the entire series of emails McMillen posted in his story (you should read the entire thing, as it's fascinating stuff), the core issues pertain to McNamara and the studio's upper management, who allegedly dangled L.A. Noire's completion date as a perpetual carrot on a stick in order to secure lengthy, unpaid overtime hours from the rest of the company's staff. Multiple emails from as far back as 2008 show studio management proclaiming the game's completion as projected within a six month window of the email's send date. In nearly all instances, these emails were used as justification for increasing work hours at the studio, many of which allegedly were unpaid crunch hours. Sources then go on to list everything from misrepresented announcement dates (one email suggests impending media coverage a whole 14 months prior to the game's official unveiling in Game Informer last year), to non-existent raises and cost-of-living increases, despite hefty amounts of overtime work by employees across various departments.

The really bizarre thing about this whole story is how closely it echoes the now infamous Rockstar Spouse letter, which took the publisher to task for the alarmingly brutal hours it purportedly required Rockstar San Diego employees to work while finishing up Red Dead Redemption. That particular letter is something that one source at Team Bondi even mentioned as signaling something of an alarm bell for those working at the company. However, according to that source, studio management treated the letter as more an object of derision and mockery, rather than any sort of wake-up call to how their own employees might be feeling.

All these former employees bad-mouthing the company certainly seems like it might hit a little too close to home for Rockstar, though reportedly ties between the publisher and developer were strained long before any of this news hit. Though nothing has been said publicly by either company (and, again, these sources are anonymous, and thus cannot be directly corroborated), one source seems fairly sure that Rockstar's relationship with Team Bondi is merely a one-and-done.

== TEASER ==

"It's pretty well reported now that the working conditions were bad. What hasn't been discussed yet (from what I've seen) is the relationship between Team Bondi and Rockstar. I've heard a lot about Rockstar's disdain for Team Bondi, and it has been made quite clear that they will not publish Team Bondi's next game. Team Bondi are trying to find another publisher for their next title, but the relationship with Rockstar has been badly damaged - Brendan treats L.A. Noire like a success due to his vision but I think Rockstar are the ones who saved the project. They continued to sink money into LA Noire, and their marketing was fantastic. Without their continued support, Team Bondi would have gone under several years ago."

"Rockstar also made a huge contribution to the development; their producers were increasingly influential over the last two years of the game's development, and overruled many of the insane decisions made by Team Bondi management. At a lower level, Rockstar also pitched in with programmers, animators, artists, QA, etc. Part of the conflict between Team Bondi and Rockstar was due to Rockstar's frustration with Team Bondi's direction, and eventually Team Bondi's management in turn resented Rockstar for taking lots of creative control. It's also worth pointing out that Rockstar used to be very keen on making Team Bondi something like 'Rockstar Sydney' - the more they worked with Team Bondi management, the more they came to understand that this was a terrible idea."

This is, unfortunately, one of those ugly situations that we will likely never know the entire truth of. It seems unlikely that McNamara will be giving any more interviews following this latest volley of criticism from former employees of his studio, and while the veracity of their claims seems legit, given the sheer number of different sources (and the at least halfway confirmation of several of the claims by McNamara), it seems even more unlikely that any of these developers will step forward and give their names, either out of fear of lawsuit or blacklisting within the industry.

While L.A. Noire is unquestionably a major critical success, and at least a moderate commercial success, we are sadly now left to ponder at precisely what cost that success came at.

Alex Navarro on Google+