2011 round-up: development
The year saw the unwelcome end of a host of developers, kicked off with the demise of much-loved Liverpool studio Bizarre Creations. Parent company Activision recommended it be closed after the commercial failure of Blur left it unable to find a buyer for the studio, and it closed its doors for good in February. It was a busy month for Activision: it also closed its Guitar Hero business unit, causing a rush of job losses and spelling the end for 7 Studios.
Disney was busily swinging the axe too, closing Tron: Evolution developer Propaganda Games and Split/Second studio Black Rock. THQ, meanwhile, closed New York-based Kaos Studios following the lukewarm reception given to Homefront, then did the same to its UK wing Digital Warrington, a Phoenix, Arizona-based developer and two Australian studios, Blue Tongue and THQ Studio Australia.
2011 also meant the end for Hudson Entertainment, MTV Games, three Sony Online Entertainment studios, Game Republic, Fat Princess developer Titan Studios, Bedlam Games and EA's Visceral Studios, with recent reports claiming STALKER dev GSC Game World is also on the brink.
The Sydney-based developer of the Rockstar-published LA Noire endured a protracted demise. The month after its release in May, former staff painted a picture of excessive, unpaid overtime and questionable leadership from studio head Brendan McNamara, with more than 100 staff who left before the end of the project omitted from the game's credits.
The IGDA said it would investigate the reports, and shortly afterwards it was claimed Rockstar had grown so weary of the studio's lack of direction under McNamara's controversial stewardship that it had washed its hands of the developer, leaving it without a publisher for its LA Noire follow-up. Gameplay lead David Heironymus moved to defend McNamara, writing an open letter to the IGDA in which he insisted that claims of regular 100-hour weeks were wide of the mark and said: "It was not any one person's fault that we weren't making progress."
News that the studio was in acquisition talks with film production company KMM were followed by claims that it had sold its assets and IP to KMM, helmed by Mad Max director George Miller. In early September, it was put into administration: the following month it emerged it was to be closed at the behest of unpaid creditors. Our trawl through documents filed with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission revealed that the bulk of those creditors were its own staff, with unpaid wages and bonuses accounting for over 75 per cent of the debt – more than a million Australian dollars – that brought the studio to its knees.
McNamara would later blame inexperience for Team Bondi's woes, saying "we literally took people fresh out of school who had never made a game before." Only those within Team Bondi truly know how much his management style contributed to the studio's untimely demise, but the closure sparked an industry-wide debate on the perils of asking staff to work long hours without guaranteed recompense to ensure a project ships to deadline.