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Rockstar’s LA Noire, McNamara, Team Bondi, Crunch, and Advocacy

Background

A month ago, PC Gamer reported that “The idea that crunch wasn’t all that productive was raised, but there was enough experience in the room to shoot it down. “. I found that unacceptable, both as a concept, and as something for the media to report without challenging it.

Last week, it became public that LA Noire was built on the living corpses of hundreds of developers, approx 100 of whom have been stripped of their hard-earned professional Credits (take with a pinch of salt – but the allegations are compelling).

The guy in charge – right at the top, where the buck stops – went on record to document some of his abusive behaviour, and to argue that his behaviour was perfectly acceptable. He implied that anyone who refused to be abused by him was … unprofessional or naive.

(aside: never, ever, EVER work for Brendan McNamara. Read the IGN article to see why. If you wonder: “but maybe this is ‘normal’ for the games industry?”, here’s the answer: No, it absolutely is NOT normal, it is NOT acceptable, and I believe many professionals would agree it has reduced the quality of the game that was produced. LA Noire could have been a better, more profitable game)

IGDA – a 10,000-member organization for game developers – refused to censure this behaviour. Despite having an entire (mostly useless) committee devoted to “Quality of Life”.

(UPDATE: IGDA’s now responded properly: “Brian Robbins, chair of the IGDA Board of Directors, said the association would fully investigate the issue. … ‘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,’ Robbins told Develop.”. Yay!)

Erin Hoffman – famously EA_Spouse, who campaigned hard for fair treatment of employees back when her husband was a victim – could only say (according to the IGN article):

“Ultimately, all the developers can do is work their hardest to get hired at better companies. It is every developer’s responsibility to know their rights, and be willing to fight for them,”

i.e. there’s no help for you. Executives, Management, Industry Organizations – have zero responsibility. It’s the problem – and the fault? – of the lowest people on the foodchain.

(“basically, … you’re fucked”).

The biggest issue in the professional games industry today

A conversation I had recently, someone posed the reasonable-sounding idea:

“[you can] provide advocacy on the benefits of eliminating crunch, or information about the crunch and overtime pay policies of various companies, historical crunch duration on past projects, etc.

But at the end of the day it’s up to everyone to make their own individual, informed decisions about how they want to conduct their professional lives.

My response, which I feel is too important to keep private (bear in mind I’m quoting myself slightly out of context here)

Society is based on contract: we sacrifice some things, and we take on extra responsibilities, in return for the benefits and the assurances.

One of those responsibilities is to look after each other. This has nothing to do with “personal choice”. It’s to do with dragging everyone up to a high standard of living. Without it, society functions poorly, and ultimately fails. Once society fails, people who had a high standard of living suddenly lose everything: you can never sleep safe at night. Nothing you own is yours. Everything can be taken from you, and there is *no* comeback.

The “payment” part of the social contract isn’t optional. It’s a binary thing, you have to take the whole package, or none at all.

What is the IGDA doing about this? What is Erin doing? What are you doing?

There was another part of my answer, relating to the idea that people were disseminating knowledge, and that was enough:

Yeah.

[but…] They could also grow a pair and say: “crunch fucking sucks. The only people who don’t know this are the ones at the top of the food chain exploiting everyone else. *OF COURSE* it doesn’t suck when you’re not the person doing it.”

They could say: “if you’ve never crunched, and you’re about to join a company that does crunch, DON’T DO IT. Find somewhere else unless you really have no choice.”

They could say: “here’s a list of companies that have publically admitted (or been outed) as using crunch regularly (or even permanently), or as a project-management tool.”

See how fast companies change in the face of that.

But it doesn’t work, fighting the employers. They won’t change

Yes, it does work. You just need a big enough lever.

[UPDATE: there’s a lot more details now on GI.biz’s bad website that requires login – use the email “fuckgi@mailinator.com” and password “fuckgi” if you want to read it. See what effect this has. Personally, I’ve now also added Vicky Lord to my list of “never work with this person ever”]

(an aside: is 10,000 members enough? Well, allegedly it was enough to scare one of the abusive employers – Mike Capps – into joining the IGDA board just to stop it from fighting for reforms that would have coerced him to change. There’s some reading between the lines there, but most of it comes from his own public statements)

Personally, I was treated extremely badly by one company (Codemasters). Weeks after hiring me, they fired me. They did it illegally, so it’s hard to be sure, but it seems I was intended as an object lesson to bully a large AAA team into bowing into submission. Perhaps: “we can fire him for no reason, we can fire the rest of you. STFU and work harder, SCUM!”.

Within weeks, something like 20 people had resigned from the team.

Within months, I was getting cold calls from people who’d told me they’d been offered good jobs at this company, but had turned them down *purely because of* hearing about what was done to me. I’d never heard of, spoken to, or met these people.

Within a few years, I was hearing stories of how the company had changed – had been forced to change – its practices.

In a way, all I did was what Erin describes: individuals fighting for themselves.

In practice, I had to lose my job to achieve it. As an individual developer, I was fucked. This is what’s wrong with Erin’s view of the world: it is NOT ENOUGH to tell everyone to sort their own problems, unaided. It’s our collective – and individual – responsibility to help each other.

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