Several People Who Used to Work at Naughty Dog Speak About Working Conditions at the Studio
Last May, former Naughty Dog technical art director, Andrew Maximov, spoke at a game developer’s conference about crunch at the prestigious Sony studio. He said that while its developers crunched on games, crunch was never mandated by the studio’s higher-ups.
However, according to over a dozen people who used to work at Naughty Dog and agreed to speak to COGconnected under the condition of anonymity, the reality of crunch there is somewhat complicated. While several of our sources were critical of how the studio went about crunch, others were more ambivalent or even held positive views about the experience.
But they all said the same thing: While crunch wasn’t mandated at Naughty Dog, its employees and hired contractors were expected to work long hours.
*Author’s note: COGconnected contacted Maximov multiple times for this news story but never received a response.*
“So my take on crunch at Naughty Dog: The truth is more gray than black-and-white,” said someone who worked at the studio for several years on multiple recent games. “There is no official mandate for crunch. There can be a significant amount of peer pressure, though. 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.”
According to the source, the remarkable talent at Naughty Dog can make someone want to work as hard as possible in order to meet the studio’s high standards. “That internal motivation drives a lot of the peer pressure,” they added.
“Naughty Dog doesn’t have much dedicated managerial structure,” the source 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.”
“In my experience, the ones I worked with tried not to, but there were times it happened anyway,” they said. “I’m sure that different departments, led by different people, might have different experiences.”
Additionally, the source also said that they “received some flak and feedback” for not frequently working extra hours throughout a game’s development.
“So while crunch is not required, it’s not discouraged either, and managers may participate in the peer pressure,” the source said. “And allowances are made to encourage it — most notably dinners, and sometimes decisions being made in the off-hours, so if you’re not there, you’re not part of the decision.”
When asked about their work hours, they said that they tried to work “40-50 hours” a week but at specific points in development those work hours would increase.
“During the last three to six months of a project [my hours] would slowly creep up toward 60 or 70 hours depending on how much was on fire,” they explained. “Some people would do way more than that, which I thought was unhealthy.”
Another former Naughty Dog developer said that while the studio’s management doesn’t tell its developers to crunch, they still felt compelled to crunch because so much work had to be done.
“The truth [is] they don’t tell you that you have to work X amount of hours,” the 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.”
The developer also claimed that they were reprimanded for missing a weekend shift and, in a different instance, for not working “at least 14 hour days”. This was despite completing their “well done” work on time, the developer told COGconnected.
“I called Sony HR once (they have a hotline) asking what was this all about and they just ignored me [saying], ‘You will get used to Naughty Dog’s way of doing things,’” they said.