What you need to know
- The Last of Us Part II was delayed from February to May.
- Naughty Dog is infamous for its terrible crunch culture.
- A new report details the crunch going on to finish The Last of Us Part II.
Crunch is ubiquitous in the games industry. Nearly all developers undergo crunch in some form to get their games finished on time, but some are worse than others. A new report from Kotaku sheds light on the disturbing crunch culture within The Last of Us Part II developer Naughty Dog.
The studio's affinity for crunch is no secret. Past and present employees, speaking under anonymity, have told horror stories about what it was like to work under the pressure of crunch at Naughty Dog. Though management can say crunch is never mandated and all employees have a choice of working longer hours, the culture and peer pressure essentially forces their hands.
"You feel obligated to be there later, because everyone else is there later," said one 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.'"
Speaking to Kotaku, another Naughty Dog developer said, "This can't be something that's continuing over and over for each game, because it is unsustainable. At a certain point you realize, 'I can't keep doing this. I'm getting older. I can't stay and work all night.'"
This sentiment appears to be echoed by many within the company. Another developer said that while The Last of Us Part II is great, it comes at "at a huge cost to the people."
Part of the reason Naughty Dog's crunch is so insidious is because of the studio strives for nothing less than perfection, and it shows. Many of Naughty Dog's games are widely regarded as some of the greatest of all-time, becoming instant classics and garnering widespread acclaim.
According to the report, Naughty Dog has an awful employee turnover rate, bleeding developers in the past few years who either burn out or look for work elsewhere.
Veteran Naughty Dog employees describe the design department as a sea of unfamiliar faces. With 70 percent of the non-lead designers and a significant number of artists who worked on Uncharted 4 now gone, the company has had to fill those roles with less experienced staff, many of whom hadn't worked on Naughty Dog games before The Last of Us II.
It's clear that this culture cannot continue. Despite the game being delayed — what you'd (naively) hope was an effort to avoid crunch — Naughty Dog appears to be crunching harder than ever. The games industry needs to unionize now.