Former Naughty Dog Employees Speak About Studio’s Crunch Culture

Disparity between different departments also comes to light.

Posted By | On 26th, Jul. 2019

Over the last year, several reports have emerged about mandatory (or semi-mandatory) overtime and crunch culture in various AAA studios, from Rockstar and Epic Games to NeatherRealm Studios and BioWare. Reports now emerge about crunch culture and disparity in working conditions between departments at Naughty Dog as well, thanks to COG Connected, who spoke to numerous former Naughty Dog employees and contractors.

Naughty Dog’s crunch culture is something that has been publicly known for a while now, especially after reports emerged a couple years back about the troubled development cycle of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, but this new report goes into greater detail about the issues. The general consensus among all those COG Connected spoke to seems to be that culture, though not mandatory or prescribed by management at Naughty Dog, is something that is expected, and ingrained very much in the culture of the studio.

One developer spoke about how, at the studio, “there is a culture to strive for perfection” owing to their “history of making amazing games”, while another developer said that though crunch “was never mandated from management”, Naughty Dog is a “unique place where longer hours and hard work are part of the culture.”

Others, however, have painted a picture that shows crunch at Naughty Dog being something that might not be mandated on paper, but becomes mandatory through peer pressure- a story that seems to be common to many AAA studios in the industry. “There is no official mandate for crunch. There can be a significant amount of peer pressure, though,” said one source. “And that can include peer pressure from the people who are effectively your managers. Peer pressure comes from having a team of brilliant, talented, dedicated people working hard on a project together. That internal motivation drives a lot of the peer pressure.”

“Naughty Dog doesn’t have much dedicated managerial structure,” the continued. “But there are a few leads in each department. Leads are both peers and managers. They do the same work as everyone else, and also run the department and have significant input into performance reviews. Being human, they may participate in the peer pressure… not always, but sometimes.”

The source went on to state that during the final months of a project’s development, their work hours would increase to 60-70 working hours per week, while many people they knew would be working even more than that.

“The truth [is] they don’t tell you that you have to work X amount of hours,” another developer said. “But you have to get your work done. And the amount of work is just impossible for any person. It is just way too much. And if you don’t hit the goals you will be fired. So I guess you don’t have much of a choice.”

This developer also mentioned that they were reprimanded for not completing a 14-hour work day and for missing a shift, even though they had completed their share of work. When they contacted Sony’s HR department to inquire about these issues, they were simply told that they would “get used to Naughty Dog’s way of doing things.”

Several sources also spoke about the disparity between how Naughty Dog’s QA department was treated as opposed to other departments. Crunch, for instance, was almost mandatory – all but on paper – for those working on quality assurance.

“A developer (programmer, artist, etc.) had more flexibility,” one former Naughty Dog QA employee said. “As long as they got their work done on time they weren’t as bound as some other departments. QA, on the other hand, followed a strict schedule and not committing to [overtime] could negatively impact one’s future standing,” they continued. “So if you didn’t do as much [overtime] as someone else, chances were you weren’t going to be asked to return for the next [project].”

“Some projects we were working for up to six months of crunch from 50-80 hours a week, it increased as the project got closer to submission,” the continued. “Crunch wasn’t ‘mandatory’ in the general sense, but frowned upon if you didn’t.”

“During crunch time, which lasted many months, we could be working anywhere from 60 to 80 hour weeks on average,” said another source. “I remember hitting 100 plus hours the final week of development on The Last of Us.”

One person even recounted working for 24 hours straight. “A normal work week for us was 10 AM-10 PM six days a week and we didn’t really have any choice about it,” they said. “Sometimes we’d stay until midnight or 1 am. At the end of [Uncharted 4], we started doing seven day work weeks for a little while and even did some 24 hours shifts where we’d come in at 10 AM and leave 10 AM the next day. I didn’t really have a life outside of work for eight to nine months during the big crunch.”

Another source also spoke about the general treatment of the QA department, and how they were ofter kept separate and treated unfairly as opposed to game developers.

“There was a yoga session that was held around once a week that the developers could attend,” they recounted. “I remember a co-worker asking if QA could do the yoga too but our managers told us, ‘No.’ They rarely provided us dinner for OT/crunch. I believe we only got dinner if the developers stayed. Even then I think we only got to grab food after the developers got theirs.

“There was an email that got sent out to the company that invited everyone out to go have fun, but stated outright that contractors weren’t allowed to join.

“Many of us felt like we weren’t really part of the company. We worked our asses off only to be treated as if we didn’t belong. It sucked. That coupled with the amount of OT/crunch we worked really wore us down. I lived at home during my time at [Naughty Dog] and I could go a week without seeing my parents.”

As of right now, Sony or Naughty Dog have not responded to these reports. Stay tuned to GamingBolt, and we will keep you updated on any developments.

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