Ex Naughty Dog Dev Says Studio Success Is Mostly Due to Sony-Funded Delays Rather Than Skill
Naughty Dog is widely considered to be one of the best game development studios in the industry, having released titles like the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy, the Jak and Daxter trilogy, the Uncharted tetralogy, and The Last of Us, which is getting a sequel in a couple of months after several delays.
However, Naughty Dog is also known as one of the worst triple-A environments when it comes to the dreaded 'crunch time'. A little over three years ago, former Naughty Dog director and writer Amy Hennig said she probably never worked less than 80 hours a week while there.
Now, following a new exposé article from Kotaku's Jason Schreier about the crunch time practice still used at Naughty Dog during the development of The Last of Us Part II, former Naughty Dog animator Jonathan Cooper tweeted that the company's success is mostly due to Sony funding their game delays rather than the developers' skill.
There are Naughty Dog stories worse than this but like everything on my Twitter I'm focusing on animation. For TLOU2 fans, the game should turn out great with industry-leading animation. I would just not recommend anyone work at Naughty Dog until they prioritise talent-retention.
Ultimately, Naughty Dog's linear games have a formula and they focus-test the shit out of them. 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.
He didn't have an absurd crunch tale himself as a story animator, but Cooper did report that gameplay animators had to crunch hard for the demo showcased in late 2019. He also added that he left Naughty Dog because the company is 'no longer the best' since their crunch time reputation nowadays makes it harder for them to hire veteran game animators.
The truth is I have no awful crunch tale. The "story animators" as we were known were averaging 46hrs a week when I left and I personally never went over 55. The Naughty Dog 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 demo shown last September, the gameplay animators crunched more than I've ever seen and required weeks of recovery afterwards. One good friend of mine was hospitalised at that time due to overwork. He still had over half a year to go. There have been others since.
The reason I left is because I only want to work with the best. That is no longer Naughty Dog. Their reputation for crunch within LA is so bad it was near impossible to hire seasoned contract game animators to close out the project. As such we loaded up on film animators.
Development of The Last of Us Part II began in 2014, though the game was announced by Naughty Dog at the 2016 PlayStation Experience. The game will be out as a PlayStation 4 exclusive on May 29th.