Former Naughty Dog dev weighs in on studio’s awful crunch culture

March 13, 2020
Naughty Dog The Last of Us 2

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After an in-depth Kotaku report by the ever-impressive Jason Schreier revealed the horrendous crunch culture at PlayStation exclusive studio Naughty Dog, a former developer at the studio weighed in on his negative experiences working at the studio. 

The original Kotaku reported painted a highly toxic work environment that has caused many of the studios’ creative voices to depart. As each project grows in size and scope the crunch culture around creating these experiences gets worse and worse.

“This can’t be something that’s continuing over and over for each game, because it is unsustainable,” a The Last of Us II developer told Kotaku. “At a certain point you realize, ‘I can’t keep doing this. I’m getting older. I can’t stay and work all night.’”

Ex-Naughty Dog employee Jonathan Cooper responded to the news from Kotaku to share his own negative experiences working at the company. As a story animator on Naughty Dog’s games, Cooper worked 46-55 hour weeks. Others were pushed harder.

“The truth is I have no awful crunch tale,” Jonathan revealed on Twitter. “The “story animators” as we were known were averaging 46hrs a week when I left and I personally never went over 55. The story team is super organised and we reacted to whatever was thrown at us. That’s not to say others weren’t suffering.”

For the short demo that was shown back in September 2019, the gameplay animation team crunched more than Cooper had ever seen. One developer was hospitalised from overworking, others required weeks of recovery.

The Last of Us Part II – Release Date Reveal Trailer | PS4

Cooper goes on to explain that the company is well-known for their crunch within Los Angeles game developer groups.

“Their reputation for crunch within LA is so bad it was near impossible to hire seasoned contract game animators to close out the project,” Cooper explained. “As such we loaded up on film animators.

While super-talented, they lacked the technical/design knowhow to assemble scenes. Similarly, the design team ballooned with juniors to make up for the attrition of key roles. Every aspect of finishing this game took much longer due to the lack of game experience on the team.”

Cooper explains that the PlayStation developer definitely has worse stories regarding crunch culture and overworking, but his tweets were just limited to the animation side. The developer also revealed that, while the developer is an extremely talented company, their success is tied to Sony’s willingness to pour money into projects until they’re finished.

“ND’s linear games have a formula and they focus-test the shit out of them,” Cooper said. “While talented, their success is due in large part to Sony’s deep pockets funding delays rather than skill alone. A more senior team would have shipped TLOU2 a year ago.”

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