The boss of Australian group Team Bondi “screamed at staff in the middle of the office” during the “brutal” development of LA Noire, according to an explosive depiction of life at the studio.
Brendan McNamara is accused by one of eleven anonymous insiders as “the angriest person I’ve ever met”.
"It’s one thing for him to be angry behind closed doors, but it was incredibly common for him to scream at whoever was pissing him off in the middle of the office,” the person claimed.
Other accounts of life at the Sydney studio say McNamara was “required to sit isolated from everyone else” following a visit from a team-building company.
“But that just made it worse, since he would then pace back and forth all day, bothering people even more," said another anonymous studio source.
The extraordinary account of work conditions at Team Bondi, published by IGN, portrays McNamara as a dogmatic auteur who exerted control across the entire studio.
"Is that a bad thing?” McNamara said in response to the accusations.
“I make video games. They’re personal statements for me. I write them, I direct them, I put the technology together to make them. I go out to the [publishing] world and say, ‘Will you fund them?’ So if you think that’s obsessive: absolutely."
But one person thought to have been close to McNamara in Team Bondi’s inner circle has refused to back him.
McNamara began establishing Team Bondi in 2003 with a core team picked from Sony’s Team Soho, the London-based studio that worked on The Getaway.
Five staff – who went on to be known by some as the ‘inner circle’ – started at Team Bondi in March 2004.
One of those five, who wished to remain anonymous, said the mood at the studio deteriorated over the years.
“At first, it was fun. New studio, big, new game. As time went by and the project wasn’t coming together as fast as management wanted it to, they started to become aggressive and demanding,” the person said.
“That led to people quitting, or being forced out when they didn’t obey direct orders. It became a nasty place to be.”
Team Bondi had apparently functioned under an informal hierarchy, where even project leads had a diminished influence on key decisions.
"Often the leads weren’t involved," one alleged programmer claims.
"If you’d talk to your lead and say, ‘hey, Brendan’s making this unreasonable demand,’ they’d be understanding, but they’re ultimately powerless. They can’t go and tell Brendan that it’s not feasible, just as much as I couldn’t tell him. He just won’t listen to reason."
McNamara denies that working practice at the studio is abusive or unfair.
He explained that, in 2007, a team-building session had him sit in front of the whole company.
“They all told me what they thought about me. Some people said good things, and some people said bad things."
Brutal crunch, huge turnover
Conditions at Team Bondi had resulted in an extraordinary turnover rate, the insiders say.
An alleged former programmer says that, during his three-year tenure, the studio had a "massive turnaround, especially in the coding department”.
“Out of the 45 people that no longer worked at the studio, 11 were fired. Out of the 34 that actually decided to leave, 25 of those were coders; most of whom had no job to go to, since they decided that it was better to be unemployed than to be working there. I was one of those."
Another person claims that “if you left at 7.30pm you’d get evil eyes".
“The crunch was ongoing,” another recalls.
“It just kept on shifting; an ominous crunch that just keeps moving, and moving. Management would say, ‘Oh, it’ll finish once we meet this deadline,’ but the deadline kept moving. That went on for a good year."
In a three-year period, one insider claims his average workload was 60-hour weeks.
Working hours would jump between 80 and 110 hours per week when certain milestones were due.
Another source who left the company claimed his experience at Team Bondi the biggest disappointment of his life.
"I left because of stress and working conditions, mainly. But the trigger was this: I received a reprimand for ‘conduct and punctuality’ for being 15 minutes late to work. I arrived at 9:15am – despite the fact I had only left work around 3:15am the same day, and paid for my own taxi home! I never would have thought you could put a sweat shop in the Sydney CBD."
McNamara denies that working conditions were unfair.
"We all work the same hours," he said.
"People don’t work any longer hours than I do. I don’t turn up at 9am and go home at 5pm, and go to the beach. I’m here at the same hours as everybody else is. We’re making stuff that’s never been made before," he said.
The expose on Team Bondi follows a row over developers not named in the game’s credits.