IGDA Investigating Team Bondi Over 'Unacceptable' Work Practices

IGN's extensive, in-depth feature on Team Bondi's extreme work practices, in which 11 ex-Team Bondi employees spoke out about incredibly punishing crunch times and 100-hour work weeks, has resulted in the International Game Developer's Association looking into precisely what happened during development of the game, reports Develop-Online.

"[R] eports 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," said Brian Robbins, chair of the IGDA Board of Directors.

“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.”

Punishingly long hours seem to be the norm in the games industry, but perhaps something positive can come out of this story - hopefully an increased level of accountability when it comes to the way individual game developers are treated in the workplace, and a reshifting of the incredible expectations placed upon workers in this industry.

Industry outrage at 'brutal' Team Bondi crunch [Develop-Online]


Comments

    12hr days are normal in my town... lol, I personally work 13hr days on Friday/Saturday.

      yer so true this sadly has become a norm in australia.
      THANKYOU JOHNY HOWARD
      & maybe Tonys abbots

        Incentive is a cruel thing.. Socialists society is so much better...

        BWAHHAAHAH.. noob in the real world it seems.

      With all due respect Mick, that maybe the norm for you, but I don't think it makes it any less an issue that should be addressed. If you are happy doing those types of hours, then I tip my hat to you. The employees (or ex-employees as the case may warrant) at Team Bondi obviously aren't.

      Live to work; Work to live. We all have our choices.

      I blame the unions winning us all a 38hr work week.

      We all work 50hrs (and then some) but still get paid for 38!

        That's not the unions' fault. Legislation is for 38 ORDINARY HOURS. You are supposed to be compensated (either in an above-award hourly rate or through overtime payments) for extra hours you work. If not, talk to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

    Oh no! Here comes the IGDA! I'm trembling in my little booties.

    I can tell you that 12 hour days suck some serious arse... but the thing is that its been revealed by 11 ex employees... it would be a lot more believeable if it came from some annonmyous employees who still work there. They could be disgruntled employees who got fired for some reason.

    100 hour work week is about 14 and a half hours a day for seven stright days... if true then i feel sorry for them i have experienced torturiously long work week myself, but i am remaining skeptical that its only some disgruntled employees.

      You should read the story dude - Brendan McNamara practically admits the whole thing.

        He even justifies it with the sentiment that it is impossible to make a game on such a scale without those working conditions, which is scarily somewhat true.

          Awesome quote I read somewhere that I'll paraphrase - people build rockets and aeroplanes. Things that are way more complicated than video games without working 100 hour weeks. The fact is that so many people are desperate to get a foothold in this industry and they're being taken advantage of.

            Too true. The really terrible part of these extended crunch times is they're simply not effective, it becomes a death march where people stop caring, and when they stop caring they start making bad decisions. By the end of that kind of crunch you're spending most of your time fixing problems rather than actually improving the product itself.

            Not to defend these working conditions or make light of the work of rocker scientists and aeronautical engineers, but as part of a billion dollar entertainment industry with shareholders to worry about and all the other associated hang-ups, wouldn't game designers be pushed much more? With ridiculous pressure, staff turnover and deadlines to reach, the stakes might be a little different.

            Yes.

            This is the risk when you work in any job that you are passionate about, especially if there are a thousand other people who would gladly take your place.

            The risk of course is that you get paid peanuts, and your company will work you like a slave, but in the end you're doing something you love.

            I have pretty good wages and conditions, but dislike my job intensely. Who's better off? Hard to say, really.

            That said, I'm all for these guys getting better working conditions in the future - I think everyone deserves that.

            I'm not so worried about them being treated badly, a similar vein apprentices get treated like crap and get paid poorly.

            We all have a choice in life, if your choice was to stick it out and you now have L.A Noire on yur resume other doors will open.

            I've worked under terrible conditions with a boss who in my industry was a known prick. Once I finished up there it was noted in several interviews the time I'd spent there and the good work I'd done despite the circumstances. Putting in those hard yards really helped me along. If it's a competitive industry you have to work hard to rise to the top.

        Yeah... sorry about that folks, i am pretty bombed out at the moment, i have a bad case of the flu and have already taken 4 cold and flu pills this morning.

        I know thats no excuse.

      Probably a good idea to read the article first..

    Only 12 hrs? I did 5 16hr days last week (usually I do only 3). I might smell blood when I breathe but I got the job done for an ungrateful client! Seriously though, we know nothing of the crunch.

    7 years with that many hours a day and it was still a shit game.
    Damn.

    If the 100 hours work week were common and prove to be true then that really sucks McNamara should get his arse kicked.

    But 12 hour days sitting at a desk with their pay? I'd take that over 10-13 hours a day on my feet when I worked in an abattoir.

      The pay on offer there wasnt all that great (Financial services IT pays double with less hours). Also it's more than just sitting, sure abattoir work can be mindless standing around but i assure you people at Team Bondi worked for their measly pay packets.

        Yup on all accounts. I work in Financial services IT...

        And there's the fact that they worked so many overtime hours without getting paid.. and most of their weekends..
        I'm not going to get all up on my horse here, but it's insanely hard to work in a creative industry like that for 12+ hours a day for 5+ days a week.
        i knew 1 or 2 that worked there and they were fresh faced from Uni and got burnt out from the experience. It's horrible. Brendan McNamara deserves a punch right to the testicles.

          Overtime without pay?

          We got any proof of that?

            "Another issue raised by several of the Bondi Eleven related to overtime. "No overtime was officially paid in the three years and three months that I worked at Team Bondi," one artist told us. According to this source, staff contracts were worded in a manner which ensured that the only way employees would be paid for their overtime would be to wait until three months after project completion. Those who left the company before this time were not entitled to overtime payments."

            Taken from the IGN article, page 2. Not complete proof, but wouldn't surprise me. 7 years of development means stretching your fund extremely thin.

              Wow, people were dumb enough to sign a contract with that in it? They must've been real hard up for work.

    wtf is the solution.
    1. Publishers wont invest in Australia generally because...well why bother.
    2. The developers they do invest in, go through hell, doing backflips to meet the demands of the publishers.
    3. Then if the game is actually released and is given a bad wrap, the community and critis generally blame the developer. So they don't get publishers investing in them anymore despite the hard work....
    We devs a fked on all sides. At least it feels that way to me.

    I work 2 jobs, 5 days, 3 nights a week.
    And during busy time I work 5 days, 7 nights a week *shrug*

      Do you only get paid for one of them? If not then your example is hardly similar.

    Why are people here so unsympathetic? Seriously in a country where the labor unions have had so much political influence, why is anyone working these kinds of hours? Can't you see that we're all in it together?

      Try being in the television industry's union. It took us 8 months to argue for a .5% pay increase last year. I also now do the job of two people after one left and the decided not to replace them.

        I work for the state government, in health, as a public servant.
        There's no overtime, I'm on call 24/7 and work most weekends too. I last took leave in February of last year (I was booked for 3 weeks, but only ended up with 6 days) and was on call for the full period.
        I'm currently working my job, my managers (she left in October) and her managers (he left in February). They both cited stress with their positions as the reason they left.
        That the unit functions with only one person working in it, who is still being paid at the lowest rate, means there's no requirement to replace them... and with the new financial year, the budget will reflect that the unit can run on 42,000 a year.
        When a new budget comes out, the government cannot cut funding to doctors, nurses, police, teachers or essential services... so they take positions from the public service.

        The problem Public Servants have is one of perception. It's impossible to get public support for our position, because we're perceived as winging layabouts who work bugger all, take long lunches, and now want more money than our already huge salaries.

        The PSA (Public Sector Association) is a shockingly toothless tiger.

      Welcome to the key issue that faces all Unions in Australia. We want to make conditions better, however we can only do that with a high level of membership, and a willingness by the majority of workers to take industrial action.

      So many people think that a Union is only the staff working in the head office, but it's the workers that push the real change. Management always push the line that if you dont do the job the way they want, hey, there's always someone else who will.

      If all staff agree to unionise and work to rule (ie no more hours than they are employed for) then the agency cannot simply sack them all, and will have to consider other options, such as reduced salarys/bonuses for executive staff to pay for more actual devs.

      tldr; Act collectively to get improve your working conditions.

    I welcome this investigation. I read the article and was shocked by what was going on. Especially the way that 'graduate junior' stuff were treated as expendable.

    To those saying they work longer hours etc etc, just because you do it that doesn't make it right.

    Some of those allegations are awful.

    This deserves to be fully investigated.

    In game development and visual effects for film, this has become the norm and it has to be addressed. It is literally killing people, burning them out, wrecking families.
    I'm not a big fan of unions, but we definitely need something so that younger people particularly stop being exploited this way, in the film industry where I work it is actually far worse at times than what has been reported at Team Bondi.

    Why don't they just go home for the day when it says so in the contract? Or talk to the manager about time-in-lieu or overtime pay, there's always a solution.

    And if the manager doesn't want to talk, then walk.

      I guess that's why people did walk, there was no solution.

    I never as much minded working overtime during crunch when I worked at a game company, mainly because I was new to the industry and I loved my job. It was the fact that it was all unpaid overtime that made it a bit hard to manage.

    Brendan McNamara won't be so smug now!

    Every time I've ever worked crunch in the games industry it's affected my personal life in some way.

    I hate looking back and remembering not being able to spend time with my girlfriend because I was working. I hate thinking back to when I WAS home and I'd be too tired to hold a decent conversation.

    My relationship fell apart, I had to find somewhere new to live, I had to move my stuff, and I had to deal with the breakup. As a result, I became pretty much useless at work for a couple of weeks (offsetting a lot of the overtime I did) because I lost my ability to care.

    And it was all for a game. A game! To some it might be worth it. Me, I'm not making that mistake again.

    Can someone please help me wrap my mind around why doing these hours for such a long time is needed just to make realistic facial animations?

    I'm not a developer and don't know the in's or out's of the industry, but it's really hard to comprehend why these work hours are so epic.

      In the article it mentioned some situations where they were rushing to get a demo done or a press trailer.

      In one of the cases a team worked ridiculously long hours only for the demo to be scrapped entirely, and they had to go back and re-do half of the content that was in it.

        That's all fine Aidan. Often features don't make it into the final game for one reason or another.

        Not being acknowledged and compensated for these development time however...

    Appaling business ethic. This sort of exploitation is not unique to the games industry either. In my experience, working overtime and doing duties outside your role has become common practice in most industries.

    My two cents...

    Firstly I think if you look at all professional industries; film, games, architecture, medicine, law, banking etc there are examples of long overtime and crunch. The issue is when it becomes expected/forced for long periods of time with little or no remuneration.

    Junior doctors and nurses work insane hours for very low wages. Lawyers of all levels have to work long hours when finishing a deal because they are under strict deadlines for their client. Architects have the same too when designing a building (if you tell your client it will be done by X date then its your business on the line if it isn't).

    The same is true of games. It is a creative industry and we are making things which have to be done to a high quality, with a finite budget usually to a deadline so that we can stay competative and/or reach shareholder targets.

    I personally don't think you are ever going to get a professional job without some form of overtime.

    HOWEVER: when your entire business model or work structure is such that people have to work late nights and weekends for weeks and months at a time. And you are not remunerating them for this that is when it is bad for the industry, the staff and society.

    There are laws in Australia to protect against this. The fair work act allows companies to pay people more than the basic rate to incorporate an assumed amount of overtime into their contract. IE if you are paid the basic then you should not be expected to do much/any overtime, if you are paid 20% more then you should be expected to do some overtime (or be 20% better so you don't have to) and so forth.

    When making games it is really hard to juggle the balance as you are usually making something which has never been done before. So you (the lead) and your staff will make assumptions which may or may not prove to be true. This means that in the case of when those assumptions are not true you have to find a way to make up time and find the correct path.

    For us it is usually a case of give and take. We expect an element of care and passion about your work such that when necessary you will go the extra mile. We also look for our staff to try to be accurate about how long things will take (and pad out that time). However we also expect our staff to put in extra hours to bring things in if we go over that time. If things are really off we try as much as possible to be understanding and either give days off when possible to compensate or find suitable work-a-rounds to move past a task more easily.

    There are times when it is hard not to crunch. For example in the lead up to the launch of WiiWare we had to work long hours as we really wanted Pop to be a launch title. It was literally a decision of we either put the effort in now and get it there or we take longer and miss the launch.

    It's a hard act to balance and for me personally it is not something I like asking people to do. However when the difference is getting your game out for thanksgiving/christmas and making a lot of money so the company can keep going or missing that period and selling at the quietest time of year where your game will make a lot less. Sometimes some late nights are worth it for everyone.

      I personally don’t think you are ever going to get a professional job without some form of overtime.

      This is true. When push comes to show we just have to do that much extra to get it over the line. This happens with mundane job as well such as working in a cafe. One day you got booked by a contingency of people, what do you do? Call in extra staff/work early (or late) to prepare everything.

      HOWEVER: when your entire business model or work structure is such that people have to work late nights and weekends for weeks and months at a time. And you are not remunerating them for this that is when it is bad for the industry, the staff and society.

      This. This x 10000. People do not realise how initial decision of a project can hugely impact the development of it. Team Bondi obviously had ambition, but the bad decision made at the beginning waterfall their way through to the end and in order to make it work they just have to keep using raw power (read: expendable juniors) to offset the delays.

      Unfortunately this is VERY common in the games industry. Because this industry started off as a passion and not necessity, the upper echelon has a habit of exploiting workers' good will. "It's a privilege working in the games industry so you better harden up" my ass. That's just shittalk version of "I know you love making games so finish this game no matter what the cost or you won't work in this industry again".

      I am so so lucky that the company I am in offers time-in-lieu for overtime. I am also lucky that the art management is pretty spot on and I have done little overtime - usually on my own volition even! The programmers mostly have crunch at the end of the project, again that is usually because of bad decisions made at the beginning or in some cases underestimation. One time it was either a year almost of overtime or the entire company dissolved. Many people were laid off, most of them compensated I believe, and morale were so damned low. Lucky we managed to rein in our somewhat of a loose mouth boss before further damage and our next project was much better, from A to Z. Was not perfect by any means but everyone learned from it and our current one is already looking so much rosier from the beginning.

      I think this is the sore point of the article - absolutely NO COMPENSATION for the extra work you do. Sadly the Games Industry has no union. And way too many naive juniors that get exploited left and right for their love of games. C'mon guys, treat us well and we'll make great things together. This ain't slavery era anymore. Say sorry and compensate these people and I dare say that the slate can probably be cleaned again (mostly).

      Also that Brendan McNamara is an unrepentant prick. I hope his ass got sued to Timbuktu.

      If I may,
      Junior doctors and nurses are remarkably well looked after when it comes to hours of duty.
      Their pays are favourably comparable to many other university graduates, are based on aggressively negotiated awards, and are routinely checked and triple checked.
      They are also very well supported in their roles.

    Poor babies! Try working those hours in retail for the rubbish money we get.
    I work for one of the biggest supermarket companies in Australia. I assure you, once you've dealt with customers in a retail environment you'd not be complaining.

      Point understood. I did my stint in retail and will never go back.

      But your lack of sympathy is upsetting. Much better to understand that minimum standards (both ethical and legislated - the legislated ones already exist) should be applied across the board, but sadly are not. (Including, as you well know, in retail work)

      So wouldn't you sympathise with them more than your response indicates... oh yeah... what Shane said^

      Agreed on retail sucks. So shouldn't you be complaining about this to your union? Just because more than one industry exploits their workers doesn't make the practice 'OK'.

        Our union doesn't deal with us salary folk.

      Except that most supermarkets arent open for the amount of hours that these guys were working in a week.

        We work outside of trading hours. Some are there hours before trading starts. Some hours after close.

    Job satisfaction is the key factor here, I think. If you aren't emotionally invested in your job (or bound by tight finances, working a job no one else wants to do), you're not so easy to exploit.

    How many hours do you work, Mark (if you don't mind me asking)? You're the only person I know with an enviable job, so sorry to pry, but I'm curious. Seems you're always in pretty early, and often quite late in the evening too... weekends? Work from home? Unpaid overtime?

    Additional point of interest. A friend of mine worked as a programmer quite a few years back.

    They worked them so hard that the managers would give them petty cash to go out and buy speed, just so they could keep going.

    I was particularly bristled by Mcnamara's comments on how people shouldn't complain because he too spends long hours. I've had the exact same comment made from a manager within the same industry - It's very different to spend extra unpaid hours when your base salary is extremely comfortable and you are going to be directly financially rewarded from the success of the game.

    In the "IT" industry.

    Growing up as a kid my mother used to have to drag me into work over the weekend (without break) because she was called up in the middle of a friday night with some problem with the update and had to come in to resolve it.

    Got to admit though it was pretty cool. I got to play games on her computer too while she was in the main room, and get tours of the server room and all its crisp electronic awesomeness!

    Is there an IT union?

    The frustrating thing is that Australia has an excellent track record of successful and innovative software development houses that have happy and fulfilled employees. BRW Magazine's latest Best Places to Work For survey has software development companies dominating their top 20:

    http://www.news.com.au/technology/hip-google-the-best-australian-workplace/story-e6frfro0-1226080579035

    Why is it that software development houses that focus on databases, spreadsheets and other 'mundane' software products have happy employees, while the sector of the industry that focuses on 'fun' products ironically has employees that aren't having much fun?

    Why is it that Melbourne and Sydney consistently poll within the top 10 Most Liveable Cities in the World year-after-year, but it is Insomniac Games in Burbank, California that year-after-year ranks amongst the top 5 places to work in California (across *all* industries, full stop)?

    We talk about rising development costs, lack of Government tax breaks - yes, these are all major factors in establishing a powerhouse game dev scene here, but why aren't we also leveraging our excellent living standards to attract talent to our shores? Why can't *our* game studios be the ones to consistently advertise as being among the Best Places to Work in one of the Most Liveable Cities in the World?

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