Beachside Burnout • Page 2

The Team Bondi revelations shock few in the industry and that is a shameful thing.

Why? Because if you mistreat employees, pushing them too hard and demanding too much, you end up with burnt out staff - and as one of the whistle-blowers at Team Bondi noted, the value of a studio lies in its staff, not in the room full of computers and fluorescent light-bulbs. Treating staff as replaceable parts - burn one out and swap another one in - is an approach to development that ends up being vastly more expensive in the long run than nurturing talent.

Sure, there are tons of young people out there who want to work in gaming, but trotting that argument out whenever people complain about working conditions is not just cynical and nasty - it also shows a pretty tenuous grip on reality. Yes, you could continually burn out your staff and replace them with fresh, naive graduates. Yes, in the process you'd conveniently replace people asking for higher wages with people happy to work for a pittance. Unfortunately, you'd also be replacing people who know what the hell they're doing and have the experience and understanding to turn out high-quality work in a way that fits into the development processes around them, with people who have to be trained up from scratch - and who's going to do that, if everyone worth their salt is already burned out and gone off to work in an industry that doesn't treat them like pack mules?

Change requires an understanding of development as a team effort - a swift fall to earth for the egos of development 'auteurs' who see their studio as a backup team for their own magnificent vision.

This isn't complex or difficult stuff, but implementing it requires cultural changes from developers. It requires an understanding, for a start, of development as a true team effort - a swift fall to earth for the egos of the thankfully dwindling number of development "auteurs" who see their studio as a backup team for their own magnificent vision. It requires an understanding that in any team, as in any machine, if you keep burning out and replacing parts, overall performance inevitably suffers. And it requires a clear recognition of the fact that for all that many young people would love to get into game development, few of them have the skills and even fewer have the experience to actually do it, so holding on to the talent you've got is a far better idea than hoping to exploit fresh-faced graduates on a rolling basis.

This latter point is one of the areas where the games industry is most curiously discordant, to my mind. On the one hand, we constantly hear about how the industry is starved of young talent, how schools and universities aren't teaching the skills game development actually requires and how difficult it is to recruit the kind of people needed for highly skilled roles like programming or animation. On the other hand, some of the same companies which bemoan the lack of new graduates seem to be startlingly willing to watch experienced, talented staff walk out of the games industry and off to pastures greener when they hit their thirties and want to do crazy stuff like spending time with their children or altering their diet so that it doesn't consist of free pizza in the office six nights a week.

Team Bondi is going to suffer huge reputation damage in the wake of this affair - that much is a given - and much of that will reflect personally on studio boss Brendan McNamara, whose personality seems to be at the core of the whole rotten affair. More worrying for McNamara and his studio, however is the implication that Rockstar was no more enamoured with the management style than the staff were - that's the blow that's likely to hurt the most. Yet rejoicing the "punishment" Team Bondi will receive for its behaviour is both unconstructive and unpleasant - and it misses the true point entirely.

That point is that while Team Bondi may be an extreme example, it remains an example of something that's still widespread in the games industry - a culture of undervaluing talent and acting as though the fact that game developers love their jobs is reasonable grounds to chain them to their desks. Like EA Spouse before them, the Team Bondi whistleblowers have highlighted not just a flaw with a single firm, but a malaise with the industry as a whole. Publishers and developers are lucky, lucky companies, because their employees do often truly love their jobs. Rather than abusing that love, it's time more firms started thinking about how to nurture it so that it lasts a lifetime, instead of flickering for a handful of project years and finally burning out.

If you work in the games industry and want more views, and up-to-date news relevant to your business, read our sister website GamesIndustry.biz, where you can find this weekly editorial column as soon as it is posted.

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