Inside The Seven-Year Labor Pains Of L.A. Noire

It took seven years. It spanned two console generations. It was the biggest undertaking in Australian games development. And the seven years it took to bring L.A. Noire to store shelves was consistently an unhappy time for many who worked on the game, reports IGN.

The freelance journalist Andrew McMillen, writing for IGN, gives a comprehensive look at L.A. Noire's development, with stinging criticism from former Team Bondi staff and remarkably candid replies by the studio's founder, Brendan McNamara. Throughout, Team Bondi is depicted as a contentious studio populated by exhausted developers perpetually in the throes of "crunch," an industry term and one of its nastier little secrets.

McNamara, to his credit, does not evade questions with corporate speak. Asked to account for turnover that saw at least 100 staff enter and leave the studio during Noire's making, McNamara replied that he thought the figure was actually higher than that. "Of the people we tried to build the game with, most of them would've never had any experience with this kind of thing before," he said.

He also doesn't run from anonymous-sourced complaints about his management style, which some called verbally abusive. "Am I passionate about making the game? Absolutely," he said to McMillen. "Do you think that I'm going to voice my opinion? Absolutely. But I don't think that's verbal abuse."

More troubling are the allegations IGN reports of unpaid overtime and manipulated job titles that dumped multiple job descriptions and 110-hour workweeks on some at insubstantial salaries. (The story alleges that overtime would only be paid out three months after the game was completed, requiring everyone to stay in order to be paid for that.) This is a common complaint in games development, especially here in the U.S. McNamara chalks up the workers' unhappiness to their disillusionment about what kind of field this is, and what it really means to be competitive in it.

"The expectation is slightly weird here, that you can do this stuff without killing yourself; well, you can't," McNamara told McMillen. "Whether it's in London or New York or wherever; you're competing against the best people in the world at what they do, and you just have to be prepared to do what you have to do to compete against those people."

Crunch is not a virtue. It's poor management coupled with abusive labour practice. Games development is shot through with the attitude that it's OK. We saw it when Danny Bilson of THQ casually remarked on the "thousand-yard stare" of Kaos Studios after two months of seven-day workweeks, making Homefront. (Kaos' ultimate reward: Studio closure, and the project being shipped to Montréal.) And they get away with it because the layperson conceives of video games development as a Wonkaland of fun that anyone should feel lucky just to be a part of. That, and the lines of developers waiting at the door for the next disgruntled employee to quit, help keep things solidly in the favour of ownership.

"There's a lot of naivety amongst young game programmers out there," said one unnamed Bondi developer. "There's all this young enthusiasm to get into the games industry. People are willing to do so much to do it, but they're not educated about how they really should be standing up for themselves, and making sure that the conditions are right."

There is much more to this story at the link below. Please do read it before you comment.

Why Did L.A. Noire Take Seven Years to Make? [IGN]

WATCH MORE: PC Gaming News


Comments

    I worked as a 3D artist for 5 years with a startup company; Not a games company, but they were branching into the entertainment industry.

    I was naive and let them get away with a lot of things before realising how terrible the people in management were and how they really thought about thier employees.

    I left about 7 months ago after I had finaly had enough of the bullsh♥t! It was only after I left that I realised how dark a place mentally that I had actually ended up in and how much happier I am now.

    We were a small team with 5 full time artists and 2 part timers in the end. The full timers had all been there for 3 or more years and we were all unhappy! :( I go for lunch with my old coworkers and a couple weeks ago they told me they were all made redundent and were given 4weeks notice.

    Its a tough industry, no doubt. Hopefully the new Australian tax concession for R&D will help a little bit. But McNamara sounds like a difficult man to work for. The IGN article says something about how the answers he gives and the answers the Bondi Eleven give are rather different; they didn't read differently to me at all. They sounded like the same thing from opposite perspectives. Its just that McNamara knew what he was getting into because he's comfortable with his own obsessive desire for control. He -does- sound like the frontman to a rock band. Not really an excuse though. When you start drawing up contracts and having 'employees' rather than band mates, you have to concede a lot of that prima donna sh♥t and act like a team leader.

    I'm currently studying games design and after reading several similar articles this really intimidates me as a person who will be entering the industry within the next 2 years. Yes I do understand that there will be the 'crunch' time and the long hours and I'm fully prepared for that, however what I am not prepared for is being undervalued, insulted and taken advantage of because im young and indesposable. It really scares me to think how the upper management d**** like McNamara can get away with this. The conclusion I draw from this is to either try it alone via indie development or to explore my options with studios who have good reputations for treating the employee's with respect. Should we really let 'management' get away with 'slave labour' just because it the games industry? In any other industry this is seen as borderline illegal yet with games its just apart of the job...therefore should something be done about it?

    Welcome to working in Australia. This is not unique to the games industry and quite frankly it comes down to quality. If you want to work 9-5 then go and work on a mediocre mobile title if you want to make something new and interesting then it's going to take something special from all staff.

    I'm sure the budget was substantial but this was a non-franchise title that was heavily invested in a very specific technology that had to work for the game to work. It was always going to take more to get it off the ground and I'm sure all the developers, while exhausted, are proud.

    In creative industries which are not quantitative but in fact qualitative more work makes a game better.

      If you're saying that you need to work insane hours to achieve a game like L.A. Noire, then I have to vehemently disagree with you. I work in the software dev industry, I've done crunch time before, and I know from personal experience that it does not pay off.

      Needing to do crunch time is almost always a failure of management, and it doesn't appear that this time is any exception.

        Fair enough. I think Snacuum's point is also valid. Perhaps it is my crushed soul and resignation to these kind of hours that has lead me to feel this way.

        I think it's a battle of my own personal expectations. I don't like it when a company underbudgets and then expects you to deliver a larger profit by simply working you harder for free. But by the same token, many of us can't walk away once the allotted work time is spent and leave a project not the best it can be.

        Regardless it sounds like hell, I think perhaps I was too glib to justify the amount of work that gets squeezed out of me

    W♠nkers. I worked 18 hour days for a month setting up the Motion Scan studio in LA and did not get paid overtime. Total wankers.

    I'm only going to say one thing:

    Saying that the world is the way it is never, and I mean NEVER an excuse for not attempting to better it.

      +1

      A lot of my fustrations come from attempting to make things better, and basically coming up against brick walls.

      I am at peace. That fact that I'm trying is what matters.

    What these guys went throught isn't much different to what I've put up with doing jobs in general labour, and the banking industry.

    First two jobs I had were labouring jobs and I was told they were Monday to Friday. Then after a month at the first one, I was told that I had to work Saturday, and it wasn't optional. The next year I had a roofing job, same thing, no mention of weekends, but it got to the point where if I didn't show up on Sunday my boss would turn up at home to get me. And for that job I didn't receive my overtime til the contract was finished.

    I was much younger back then, and so I just copped it, and never questioned by bosses, 'power' to take over my weekends.

    Now I'm in the banking industry, and I get no paid overtime for the extra hours that I work. But if I do a lot of extra time, it does get noticed. And even as a lacky in the service centres, the only chance of getting promoted is to do lots of overtime (but they get paid for it)

    Not too much different to what these guys have gone through, and I believe its close to what a lot of people in Sydney (and probably everywhere else) have to go through at some stage in their life, no matter how hard it sucks.

    I guess when our parents and teachers told us we would have to work hard to acheive anything, they really meant we have to do a lot of work for assholes for free.

    No game or innovation is worth that kind of stress. Fuck em. I'm not buying it.

    Brendan McNamara sounds like the bigest sack of crap in the industry. I don't think he tells it like it is at all. He swears at his workers and hides behind his "passion" kind of like a husband telling his wife she "made" him hit her during an argument. He talks about staff turnover of a hundred people like its nothing. I'm not buying this game. Up yours Brendan.

    I only started hearing about these rumblings the closer LA Noire got to release, with a friend of mine working in Team Bondi becoming livid everytime he heard about Brendan McNamara and wishing horrible things about him. Didn't know how true to life it all was.

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