Crunch has always been a major issue that developers in the industry have had to contend with, but recent years have seen awareness of the issue growing far more. While studios like Gearbox Software, Obsidian Entertainment, and others have taken up a publicly anti-crunch stance, reports about unhealthy working conditions have emerged regarding various major developers, from Epic Games to Rockstar to NetherRealm Studios, while just in recent months, the likes of id Software and CD Projekt RED have admitted to crunching for development on their upcoming titles.
One developer whose name keeps coming up in conversations about crunch is Naughty Dog. Accounts about their severe working conditions during the production of games such as The Last of Us and Uncharted 4 have become well-documented by now. In a recent report written by Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, it has come to light that conditions at the studio haven’t changed for the better during The Last of Us Part 2’s development.
Based on interviews conducted with multiple current and former anonymous Naughty Dog developers, Schreier reports that overtime work and unhealthy working hours are still as rampant at the studio as they have always notoriously been. The development of Uncharted 4 and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, apparently, brought these issues to the forefront more than ever.
Naughty Dog veteran Bruce Straley – co-director on The Last of Us and Uncharted 4 – had to leave the studio after feeling burnt out from his work on the latter, but he was just one of many to do so. In fact, as per the report, the work conditions have led – for one reason or the other – to many long-time Naughty Dog employees moving on from their positions at the studio, to the extent that 70 per cent of the design team working on The Last of Us Part 2 is comprised of people who had never worked at Naughty Dog before.
“This can’t be something that’s continuing over and over for each game, because it is unsustainable,” one developer working on the upcoming action-adventure title says. “At a certain point you realize, ‘I can’t keep doing this. I’m getting older. I can’t stay and work all night.'”
“They do try to take care of you, providing food, encouragement to go take breaks,” said another former Naughty Dog developer. “But for the most part, the implication is: ‘Get the job done at all costs.'”
One developer called their experience with Uncharted 4 “the worst crunch” they’d ever gone through. This rapid turnover of staff, in fact, has led to Naughty Dog having to hire a lot of relatively more inexperienced people and contractors for the game’s development, which, in turn has led to even more crunch, with the newer faces, due to their lack of experience with the studio, needing more time to get things done. It’s become something of a vicious cycle.
One Naughty Dog developer explains that the studio’s lead designers “expect the same level of quality out of a lot of the junior contractors as they do out of people who have been here for a while, which is ridiculous. It’s certainly led to a lot of stress and feeling like shit to most people who are new, which sucks.”
Given Naughty Dog’s reputation for being perfectionists, and their big ambitious for The Last of Us Part 2 – which have led to this becoming the biggest game they’ve ever worked on – the pressure on all wings of the studio has only increased, as they’ve looked to not only add more things to the game, but also to make sure that it’s all done with perfection and precision.
“There’s a lot of pushing your current workload aside to meet these real-time demands that come across your desk,” one current Naughty Dog developer says. “Do this thing you weren’t planning for, that other thing you weren’t planning for, plus what you were planning for.”
“You feel obligated to be there later, because everyone else is there later,” says a former developer. “If an animation needed to be put in and you weren’t there to help the animator, you’re now blocking the animator, and they may give you grief. It may not even be spoken—it may just be a look. ‘Man, you totally screwed me last night by not being here at 11 p.m.'”
The report also speaks about The Last of Us Part 2’s delay from February into May. While that was something that allowed the studio more time to polish up the game and ensure that it launched in an acceptable state, reportedly, it also meant three more months of extreme crunch and overtime for people who had already been working under such conditions for a prolonged period.
“People thinking the extension is somehow to relieve stress or the workload on the team are wrong,” one developer said. “The first thing that they wanted to reiterate is that we aren’t slowing down the pace.”
Naughty Dog and Sony have not yet responded to the report. The article goes into great depth about the issues plaguing the studio, and the impact that has had on the people there. Click through the link at the top of the report to read through it.