“With Naughty Dog, There Is a Culture to Strive for Perfection”
However, some of the other sources that COGconnected spoke with had positive opinions about the studio’s approach to crunch.
“People as a whole usually stayed [late] by choice,” said a developer who worked on Uncharted 4 for several months. “With Naughty Dog, there is a culture to strive for perfection, but I think this is more due to their history of making amazing games. I never at any point felt internal pressure, I was compelled to do so by nature of being a part of something truly amazing.”
“On top of this, Naughty Dog as a studio took great care of its staff, with frequent catering, food trucks, and paid meals,” the developer continued. “Overall, I really enjoyed my stay there. I feel that the media overall has somewhat a false sense of what ‘crunch’ periods entail, and why they exist. Studios like Naughty Dog are full of very talented individuals that simply want to make a great game.”
Another former Naughty Dog developer agreed with Maximov’s comments about crunch and praised the studio for its “unique” workplace.
“I do agree with what [Maximov] has said,” they told COGconnected. “It was never mandated from management, but Naughty Dog was (and I assume still is) in a unique place where longer hours and hard work are part of the culture. As long as they are upfront about that during the hiring process, then I feel this doesn’t make it right or wrong.”
They said that Naughty Dog wasn’t “a studio for everyone”. Instead, it was a studio for those who “have that level of drive where they want to continue to push their craft as far as they can.” Naughty Dog’s immense success came with a lot of work so the studio’s work hours aren’t “something that everyone is either capable of or willing to put themselves through.”
“You can certainly join ND and work eight hour days,” they concluded, “but since people around you are putting in so much effort, you can’t help feel compelled to do what you can so their efforts aren’t limited by you.”
Someone who worked in QA at Naughty Dog expressed a similar sentiment about the studio. This source had “voluntarily returned to working 60 hours a week” after dealing with a personal issue.
“While it certainly wasn’t ideal, it was also very exciting, and I never felt that any of my co-workers were punished or retaliated against if they did not work the increased hours,” the source said. “It’s my view that crunch at Naughty Dog is ultimately a by-product of the company culture.”
“You are surrounded by talented, passionate, people who focus on making the best possible product and you become inspired by that to devote all of your time and energy into your work,” the source continued. “This is not to say that this is a healthy process, but I think how much someone is ‘forced’ to work is up to the individual.” The source mentioned that working more than 60 hours was optional and said that “developers in other departments were empowered to set their own schedules [while] QA schedules were set by the department leads.”
The source also said that multiple co-workers had “quit and several suffered physically and/or mentally during crunch.”
“After crunch ended, it took some time for me to readjust to normal life but I was grateful for the experience, although unsure if I would ever want to go through another crunch,” they concluded.
What About The Last of Us Part II?
With the current climate surrounding game development crunch and Naughty Dog’s known reputation for crunching on games, an important question comes up regarding the studio’s upcoming title, The Last of Us Part II: Are the game’s developers crunching in order to meet its rumored early 2020 launch date?
A developer who worked on The Last of Us Part II declined to confirm to COGconnected if Naughty Dog was crunching for the game (out of “professional courtesy”) but did say, “Naughty Dog has always been dedicated to make sure developers are not crunching and try to avoid it as much as possible and are always changing that aspect of development style to improve our work-life balance.” The source also backed Maximov’s comments about crunch not being mandated at Naughty Dog.
When asked if the studio had decided to reduce crunch work hours while working on the highly-anticipated sequel and, if so, what brought about this change, the source answered, “Naughty Dog has always tried its best. Meaning there was no one event, they’re always, with every project, working out ways to curtail and avoid crunch as much as possible.”
Unfortunately, we couldn’t get Naughty Dog to comment on what our sources have said.
Last week, COGconnected contacted Naughty Dog and its publisher, Sony Interactive Entertainment, about this news story. Naughty Dog didn’t respond to our requests for comment and though an SIE public relations representative agreed to have our questions answered, they weren’t able to get back to us in time for the publication of this article.