|Proprietary limited company|
|Industry||Computer and video games
Team Bondi (// BON-dy) was an Australian independent third-party game developer. The company was responsible for the development of the Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 game L.A. Noire, which was published by Rockstar Games in May 2011. L.A. Noire was both a critical and commercial success, but allegations of poor working conditions by several former staff members caused controversy for the developer. After failing to secure another game project, Team Bondi was placed into administration and liquidated. Kennedy Miller Mitchell bought the studio in August 2011.
McNamara also founded sister company Depth Analysis. Depth Analysis were responsible for the development of MotionScan, the award-winning 3D motion capture technology which debuted in L.A. Noire.
|2011||L.A. Noire||Rockstar Games|
|TBA||Whore of the Orient||-|
At the start of June 2011, a group of former Team Bondi employees launched a website called lanoirecredits.com, containing 100 names which had been left off or incorrectly listed in L.A. Noire's credits. The majority of the names were employees that had either left Team Bondi or been made redundant as the game reached completion. The authors of the website state that this contravenes the IGDA (International Game Developers Association) Game Crediting Guide Draft 8.5.
Just over a month after L.A. Noire's release, IGN Australia published an article titled "Why Did L.A. Noire Take Seven Years to Make?". The article quotes 11 anonymous ex-Team Bondi employees who discussed the managerial style of the studio, the studio's staff turnover rates and the working hours and conditions associated with L.A. Noire. The article also interviewed Team Bondi studio head Brendan McNamara, as well as Erin Hoffman, the author of the "EA Spouse" blog, which focused similar attention on the labour practices of Electronic Arts in 2004.
A week after the IGN article was published, the IGDA announced that it would investigate the claims of working conditions at Team Bondi; with IGDA chairman Brian Robbins saying “Certainly 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". The IGDA is a trade association that has no legal power to investigate companies; revocation of membership is the highest punishment it can impose.
A series of confidential emails was leaked in July 2011 on Gamesindustry.biz along with further comments from staff members. They claimed the e-mails highlight the contentious relationship between Bondi and Rockstar and indicate that the two companies are unlikely to work together again. Speaking about this situation, a source who worked with Team Bondi, and spoke to GamesIndustry.biz on condition of anonymity, stated that "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 L.A. Noire, and their marketing was fantastic. Without their continued support, Team Bondi would have gone under several years ago." In the interview with GamesIndustry.biz, the same source also claimed that:
"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. I have a few logs (see below) that show the relationship souring."
The emails include Brendan McNamara's responses to Rockstar pulling out of E3 2010, to a redesign of the L.A. Noire logo, and to the lack of a Team Bondi logo on the game announcement.
Responding to the leaks, several staff members contacted the IGDA in support of Team Bondi and Brendan McNamara. Lead Gameplay Programmer David Heironymous, one of the first Australian employees hired by Team Bondi in 2004, published an open letter on Gamasutra.com recounting his own experiences during the making of L.A. Noire. He admitted difficulties during the game's lengthy development but refuted claims in the original IGN article, stating '… 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... 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.'
On the subject of working hours and conditions Senior Gameplay Programmer Charles Lefebvre stated '… I think that I have never worked more than 55 hours in a week, and during my first 3 years, except at the end of a milestone or for a demo, I wasn't working more than 45 hours. I have always been able to leave some days at 5 to go and pick up my kids at the childcare.'
On the subsequent success of L.A. Noire and Team Bondi's relationship with Rockstar, Heironymous said:
"L.A. Noire is the biggest game ever made in Australia... While we were making L.A. Noire we've seen the game development community in Australia dwindle with the likes of Pandemic, Krome, Ratbag and Transmission closing their doors during our tenure. We could have gone the same way, and I'm sure we came close to being cancelled several times. Having Rockstar as the publisher of L.A. Noire was a blessing, because their focus is on developing extremely high quality games. Rockstar kept faith with L.A. Noire and Team Bondi throughout the hard times because they could see the game L.A. Noire would eventually become."
In October 2011 Andrew McMillen, author of the original IGN article, spoke at a panel during the Emerging Writers Festival in Brisbane, Australia. McMillen expressed his surprise and disappointment at the way his story propagated, stating '… the story was re-reported with such reckless enthusiasm, often containing only the most inflammatory and controversial quotes...'. He made particular reference to the comments concerning the hostile relationship between Team Bondi and Rockstar Games, and the way it was reported as fact by many online news outlets rather than being identified as the allegation of a single anonymous source.
In a series of interviews with Eurogamer in November 2011, Brendan McNamara commented on the success of L.A. Noire and the staff disputes. When asked if he had any regrets, McNamara said "I have lots of regrets. The process was hard and difficult. Lots of people [at Team Bondi] were very upset about their experience and first time in video games. But it's a pretty hard and difficult business. It's a business that's on an 80-20 business model. If it isn't happening then you aren't going to get paid. That's the bottom line for it. You either push very hard or you don't and then you don't get anywhere anyway, and everybody's out of a job. Having said that, we're trying to do things differently this time around." Commenting on the allegations of tensions with Rockstar, McNamara said "We're all pretty volatile. We had our ups and downs in the making of it. But we're all big boys. We were all trying to make something that was financially risky. I've known Sam [Houser, co-founder and president of Rockstar Games] for maybe fifteen years. We go a long way. We still talk when we need to. Anything that was part of the process is all water under the bridge to me."
On 9 August 2011, numerous outlets reported that Team Bondi's intellectual property and assets had been sold to Kennedy Miller Mitchell, a Sydney-based multimedia production firm founded by Mad Max director George Miller and producer Byron Kennedy.
Further documents filed with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission on 5 October 2011 revealed that following a meeting of creditors a decision had been made that Team Bondi be wound up. The liquidator handled the sale of Team Bondi's remaining assets and payment of outstanding debts.
On 7 October 2011, documents provided to the Australian Securities And Investments Commission revealed that Team Bondi owed creditors £900K, with unpaid wages or bonuses accounting for over 75 percent of the L.A. Noire developer's debt. 33 staff credited for their work on L.A. Noire were owed a combined $1,074,283.28 in unpaid wages or bonuses. Among those, studio head Brendan McNamara claimed to be owed $102,495.16, general manager Vicky Lord $99,155.21 and gameplay lead David Heironymus $43,652. Depth Analysis was also reported to be owed $145,795.83.
According to McNamara, Team Bondi closed down because they had not signed another project in the time they needed to. McNamara stated "we got a lot of bad press about what it was like to work with us and our conditions. That, obviously, didn't come at the right time. To do a deal for a major video game probably takes about a year. We didn't start running around doing that stuff until well after the game was finished. That's the problem when a game is all-consuming and you need to get out there and do whatever you need to do to get people to know it and interested. They would probably be the two main things, I'd say."
Speaking to Official PlayStation Magazine (UK), Brendan McNamara talked about the end days of the studio behind the game:
"It was a long, painful process, but making games is like making films in that it’s a marathon, not a sprint – and some people come into the process not knowing that. I’d love to spend more time at home with my family and kids. We run things differently now – we have flexi-hours, for example. But everybody has their view on who’s the worst boss in the world, and maybe that’s me. I’ve read some amazing things about Steve Jobs in his biography, and I’ve never seen him get as vilified any way as much as I have. Sam Peckinpah [’70s film director] fired [plenty of] people off one movie, and nobody said a thing. Werner Herzog pulled a gun on Klaus Kinski to get him to finish a movie! Obviously I don’t compare myself to any of those people…"
After liquidation, Team Bondi's assets and most of its staff went to Kennedy-Miller Mitchell. Some of the former employees have gone to work in different Rockstar studios. Rockstar retained the L.A. Noire intellectual property.
Interviewed in November 2011, Kennedy Miller Mitchell heads George Miller and Doug Mitchell commented on the success of L.A. Noire and the acquisition of Team Bondi. Miller said that many staff members from Team Bondi "immediately went to work on Happy Feet Two."
KMM also acquired the rights to Brendan McNamara's next game, titled Whore of the Orient, which McNamara describes as “one of the great untold stories of the 20th Century.” Miller and Mitchell commented on this and another project, a game supporting the Mad Max sequel Mad Max: Fury Road, to which the remnants of Team Bondi may also be attached. According to Mitchell, 'With the government’s support we can immediately go forward with two games. Warner Bros is standing by, willing to do Fury Road; the incentive would bring it back here in a New York minute. It’s not immediately obvious but the potential in the video games sector is massive'.
On 30 August 2012, the former Team Bondi staff officially confirmed they are developing Whore of the Orient that is to be released on next-gen consoles and PC. In April 2013, it was reported that the title was still seeking backing and a publisher. It reportedly ceased production on the game in April, but received $200,000 from an Australian investor in June to continue development. On 2 August 2013, the first Whore of the Orient gameplay video leaked onto the web.
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