Rockstar Sydney. An impossible dream

It’s an understatement to say the working relationship between Rockstar Games and Team Bondi was a troublesome one at best but it now appears the controversial publisher is so unhappy with the L.A. Noire developer, that they won’t be publishing their next game. The whole debacle began last month when IGN posted a story about why it took the Sydney-based studio so long to develop L.A. Noire, detailing the seven long years of what can only be described as a living nightmare. Eleven ex Team Bondi staffers gave anonymous testimonials of the abusive working conditions for them and hundreds of other colleagues that included ridiculous working hours with an almost mandatory overtime and weekend schedule, terrible management and a boss, Brendan McNamara, who was one of the angriest persons you could meet.

Since then, the story from IGN has gained momentum with the International Game Developer’s Association (IGDA) currently investigating these claims of an unacceptable working environment. McNamara was approached by IGN for comment where he gave an interview saying things like “I’m not in any way upset or disappointed by what I’ve done and what I’ve achieved,” and “If you wanted to do a nine-to-five job, you’d be in another business,” adding how he also would stay late, work the 110 hour weeks some of the former staff members claimed. It was his blasé attitude towards the situation which angered followers of the story even more.

Two more ex employees have come forward (via Gamesindustry.biz) with their accounts and it was one of these sources who revealed just how bad things have become for Team Bondi. “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,” they said. “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.” The marketing from Rockstar was very well done and by the time L.A. Noire was due for release, everybody knew its name, helping it sell millions of units over its first weekend.

But marketing wasn’t the only thing Rockstar helped out with. The two anonymous voices spoke of the massive contribution Rockstar gave towards the game’s development, especially over the last two years overruling “many of the insane decisions made by Team Bondi management.” This only fuelled tensions between management and Rockstar because of the publisher’s frustration with Team Bondi’s direction which in turn caused Team Bondi’s management to resent Rockstar for taking away most of their control. Things became very ugly indeed. At one point, Rockstar were planning on turning Team Bondi into Rockstar Sydney, something pretty much everyone expected them to do after playing the game. However, the closer they worked, the more it was apparent this will never happen.

With all the troubles between studio and publisher coming to light, it’s clearer now why L.A. Noire although brilliant in some places, is broken in many others. The open-world elements don’t really work and feel out of place plus the added ‘gamey’ features like having very right or wrong paths when questioning people jarred with the rest of the experience. Who’s directly to blame will, for now, remain a mystery but the disgruntled staff have only been singing Rockstar’s praises so far if that helps with your own personal conclusions. It’s a massive shame that development a game like L.A. Noire had to end in such an unpleasant fashion and that Rockstar have pretty much washed their hands of the studio. For all its faults, L.A. Noire has been able to elevate the industry in some form or another and has had far reaching effects that we’ll likely be seeing in future titles. It’s worth adding that Team Bondi’s next game may not be a sequel to the 40’s crime drama and that Rockstar could be still on board if there is ever to be one. As the source said, they poured considerable money and time into it so it might be worth putting up with an allegedly terrible management team in order to be part of a potentially powerful franchise. Then again, now they’re out, they may just want to stay out.

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