McNamara On LA Noire Development: “Nobody Died Making It”

Brendan McNamara, former head of now-defunct Team Bondi, has been interviewed by Eurogamer. Part of that interview covered the end of the studio and his opinion about some of the allegations levelled at him as the head of the studio as being a “bully” among other things. You can read the interview here, but be warned that it contains SPOILERS for LA Noire.

Not Quite Getting This Whole HR / Management Thing

A few things came out at me from the interview.

A picture of Brendan McNamara

Notice how it says, "Writer / Director" and not "Manager"? There's a good reason for that.

The first is McNamara blaming the bad press from former Team Bondi employees for stopping the studio getting more work, but then saying the studio closed down because they didn’t have another project lined up. That second bit? That’s entirely Team Bondi’s management’s fault.

“Mainly, I’d say because 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.”

The bad press was a convenient scapegoat here. LA Noire might have been a solid seller, but with the value of the Australian dollar rising, the length of time that Team Bondi took to put out one title and that McNamara and the rest of the Team Bondi management didn’t have another project lined up for their employees, it was unlikely for the studio to continue anyway.

If Team Bondi hadn’t started looking for their next project until after LA Noire was released (May 2011), would they have really signed a project deal before selling off assets / going into administration (August 2011) without the bad press? Unlikely.

And all of that bad press was unwarranted because, after all, it wasn’t like anyone died at their desk and everyone is better off now.

“They didn’t enjoy working at the place and they don’t like me as their boss. Okay, but we made a video game. I think we made a great video game. It was a difficult and terrible process, but nobody died making it. No-one’s career ended making it either. They’ll happily go on to do bigger and better things, and I’m totally fine with that.”

Except… that’s a big feel-good justification from McNamara. Will the people left off LA Noire’s development credits go on to bigger and better things when they need that recognition to get their next job? And how are these people moving on when the Australian game development scene is at its lowest ebb in years? If by “bigger and better” he meant “out of games development entirely”, then perhaps he is telling the truth, but I don’t think that was his intent.

After all, he doesn’t say who has left to work at other Rockstar studios, but that probably means they moved to another country to continue their employment. I don’t think that the rank and file were given that particular option.

Whistleblowers Ruined The Entire Australian Gaming Industry!

One point that made me laugh was McNamara’s commentary of what went on was that not only did complaining ex-staff bring down Team Bondi, it also helped bring down the entire Australian gaming industry.

“It affects the company, yeah, definitely. It affects my reputation. But it also affects people’s opportunities in Australia. Australia, whether you like it or not, the games business out there hasn’t been doing very well lately. We’re the cause célèbre of that, but lots of other developers have gone out of business out there as well. It makes it diminishing returns.”

After all, no-one likes investing in a gaming industry where the employees might object to how they are treated.

Anonymous Protection

A referee with a whistle

Blow the whistle and there's a good chance you'll be out of the game for a long time to come.

McNamara criticises those whistleblowers for being anonymous – he’d prefer they come straight out and tell him to his face what they thought.

“People are entitled to their opinion. I’m perfectly happy for people to say they don’t like working with me or I’m a bully or I’m this or whatever. The part that annoys me is people do it anonymously. I’d rather they just ring me up and tell me to f**k off, right? Or people want to print your company emails on the internet. I’m like, what is that about? That could happen to any company in the business.”

He was also unhappy about people criticising him anonymously on television as well as on the internet:

“We had a TV show in Australia, which was showing people who used to work on L.A. Noire with their faces blacked out and their voices changed. I was sitting there thinking, hang on, this isn’t the IRA”

For those who are interested, here’s the show he’s talking about.

I’m guessing it has been a while since McNamara has been lower down on the totem pole, because if you want to keep your job you don’t call up your boss to tell him what you think of him. What he’s saying is, “I wish they hadn’t gone public”.

And as for doing it anonymously, that’s easy – these people would like to keep some chance of working in the video games industry open. Appearing on TV to claim poor working conditions on a Rockstar game could make someone very, very famous and almost guarantee that they would never work in a large gaming studio ever again. No organisation wants to hire on a trouble maker, and someone willing to appear on television to complain about something won’t be worth the hassle to hire, or so the thinking goes.

And On That TV Show…

The Good Game TV segment actually raises two points:

  1. That according to Sydski who posted in the comments section (who claims to be Janet Carr, Series Producer of Good Game), Brendan McNamara was invited to appear on that segment but declined.
  2. I said previously that gamers really don’t care about crunch time. Funnily enough, the segment pretty much proves that point, with a “despite the bad stuff, hopefully LA Noire will be remembered as an awesome game!” of an ending.

McNamara Throws A Pity Party – Everyone’s Invited!

It’s a bit hard to feel the least bit sorry for McNamara, pretty much in spite of his “it’s been a bit rough on me” attitude. He was in the upper levels (and the public face) of a studio that ran itself into the ground through poor management practises – the crunch time was one facet, the lack of organising a follow-up project to keep the studio alive was another. A lot of people either left or lost their jobs thanks to Team Bondi’s behaviour.

Then there is the issue that McNamara is coming back from “a big holiday” spent sailing. That’s not a man who is worrying about his financial future. LA Noire did sell well, plus the valuable bits of Team Bondi were sold to KMM Studios. He’s currently pitching new projects. He owns shares in motion capture technology Depth Analysis, which I’d think highly likely was pitched to KMM in some capacity. Compared to a lot of the staff under his former command, he’s coming up aces.

A faceless man with a pink slip

"Don't think of it as a pink slip; think of it as a passport to bigger and better things. Now get out before security throws you out."

As for the former Team Bondi staff… it’s a tad misleading to say that “[a] lot of people who were working on L.A. Noire have gone across to KMM” without mentioning that the options these staff were presented with were ‘join KMM’ or ‘get a severance payment’. KMM needs computer animators for projects like Happy Feet 2, and working at KMM would be very attractive to those in that field in Australia. If rumours are to be believed, a number of ex-Team Bondi employees had already signed on with KMM, only to perhaps be lumbered with McNamara in some sort of management capacity again.

As for the rest of the staff, McNamara keeps it vague. To be fair, he wasn’t asked, but outstanding issues like LA Noire’s credits and those who missed out are still important to those who’d like them officially on their resume.

So it’s impossible for me to feel any shred of sympathy for McNamara at all. That he seems incapable of saying anything approaching an apology – to the workers that were burned out by Team Bondi’s work practises, to those who were left unemployed when Team Bondi shut down, to those who he invites to call up directly and abuse him, to say it to his face. He doesn’t appear to have learned anything from the experience, doing the equivalent of shrugging his shoulders and saying, “That’s the industry. I just make games. Some people may have had a problem, but that’s just their opinion.”

I look forward to McNamara’s next project (if he gets one). It will be interesting to see if he’s actually learned something, or if the cycle will repeat again. Yes, Brendan, no-one died making LA Noire, but if that’s the standard you are holding yourself to as a boss then god help anyone unfortunate enough to be employed by you (until / unless you learn to be a better manager).

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