Over in LA, Naughty Dog studio is notoriously known n for its long hours and crunch schedules that sacrifice the health, personal lives and relationships of its employees. It all started from an incident last month, when a construction team accidentally dropped a huge pipe on desks, at 9:00 p.m. on a Friday evening. The problem is that there were still employees in these offices, and even if none were injured, it was the drop of water that made the vase overflow, pointing to the dangerous environment in which they work. And even though the construction team was fired, the situation was managed, it raised a lot of important questions about the environment that they work in.
The Last of Us Part II will no doubt be a great game, Naughty Dog is known for pushing the limit of detail, but at what cost?
The developers sent out anonymous statements, the most significant implication of which is completing the job at all costs.
These developers indeed emphasize a certain duality in the way of doing things at Naughty Dog. On the one hand, life in the studio is pleasant, but in a crunch period, this means working 12-hour days and drawing a line under your personal life
As if that were not enough, problems in the follow-up of the information sometimes occur, artists, working on a scene for weeks without knowing that it was deleted upstream, resulting in a big waste of time, and a drop in morale. A concern linked to the absence of producers for many years at Naughty Dog, the studio having for a long time left a lot of freedom to all the developers, and even if there have been recruitments for one person to be in charge of ‘a specific sector, everything is not yet perfectly coordinated.
Jonathan Cooper, a former animator at Naughty Dogs lashed out on twitter on the working conditions and the relative success of Naughty Dogs is in question. Though we can agree that Naughty Dog have provided us with some of the best, revolutionary styled video games. The perfectionist attitude of the studio will cause an eventual burnout.
Here are the statements from Jonathan Cooper:
“When I left Naughty Dog late last year they threatened to withhold my final paycheck until I signed additional paperwork stating I wouldn’t share their production practices. They finally relented when I assured them that was most likely illegal…
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 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 that 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.
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.
Don’t get me wrong, these kids are mostly awesome and the best was great. It’s just when the junior/senior ratio is out of balance things can really grind and more time is spent training than actually working. (LA teams, make sure and pick them up when all the contracts end.)”
Contract work is a huge part of the LA ecosystem to ship large games. Unlike game design, there is a thriving animation industry here and seasoned animators can (often) choose their projects. Most of the contract story animators quit last year.
Those that don’t can be at ND for 2-3 projects (with pauses in-between) and, while paid overtime, never receive benefits or the security of a full-time gig. This is the way the industry is moving so workers need more protection rather than the care of a fulltime job “one day”.
There are ND 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, ND’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.”
The Last of Us 2 is scheduled to release on 29th May 2020 and we wish for a safe release of the game especially in the current world health scenario, Covid-19/Coronavirus pandemic hovering on top of us.