As Naughty Dog Crunches On The Last Of Us II, Developers Wonder How Much Longer This Approach Can Last

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As Naughty Dog Crunches On The Last Of Us II, Developers Wonder How Much Longer This Approach Can Last
Screenshot: Naughty Dog

One Friday night in February, some artists at the video game studio Naughty Dog were working on their latest game when they heard a crash. A large metal pipe had fallen from above them and landed right next to their desks. If it had dropped a few feet closer, the consequences might have been dire. It was late, past 9 p.m., and the construction workers above had perhaps recklessly assumed that nobody was there. But at Naughty Dog, people were always there.

This article was originally published on March 13, 2020.

The owners of the building reacted quickly, firing that construction team, hiring a new one, and installing new safety measures to ensure that an accident like that wouldn’t happen again. To some Naughty Dog employees, however, it was emblematic of an unhealthy culture—the type of environment where a late-night construction accident might take place while people were still at the office.

The Last of Us Part II, the studio’s new PlayStation 4 game about people trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic United States, will be out on May 29. Today, as many of the developers at Naughty Dog put in nights and weekends at the office to finish the game, some continue to ask themselves a question that has haunted the studio for years: Is it worth it?

As one Naughty Dog developer recently told me: “This game is really good, but at a huge cost to the people.”

Even in an industry where overtime is ubiquitous, where it’s near-impossible to find a game that isn’t the result of weeks or months of crunch, Naughty Dog stands out. Its games, including the Uncharted adventure series and 2013’s groundbreaking The Last of Us, are widely considered among the best of the best, with ultra-realistic graphical fidelity and the type of meticulous details you wouldn’t see in other games.

Shooting a sack of grain in Uncharted 4 would cause the sack to deflate as barley poured out of it. Shining a flashlight at Ellie’s face in The Last of Us led her to blink and turn away. Those details exist because Naughty Dog has built a culture of perfectionism, where games have to be great, no matter the human cost.

Many who have worked at Naughty Dog over the years describe it as a duality—as a place that can be simultaneously the best and the worst workplace in the world. Working at Naughty Dog means designing beloved, critically acclaimed games alongside artists and engineers who are considered some of the greatest in their fields.

But for many of those same people, it also means working upwards of 12-hour days and even weekends when the studio is in crunch mode, sacrificing their health, relationships, and personal lives at the altar of the game.

“They do try to take care of you, providing food, encouragement to go take breaks,” said one former developer. “But for the most part, the implication is: ‘Get the job done at all costs.’”

One major consequence of this culture has been attrition. Of the 20 non-lead designers in the credits of 2016’s Uncharted 4, a whopping 14—70 per cent—are no longer at the studio, which has had wide-ranging effects on the development of The Last of Us II and led to questions about the continued viability of the Naughty Dog approach.

Some Naughty Dog veterans tolerate or even enjoy the crunch, while a handful have even found ways to work normal hours, but those speaking to Kotaku say they see it as an untenable atmosphere.

“This can’t be something that’s continuing over and over for each game, because it is unsustainable,” said one developer on The Last of Us II. “At a certain point you realise, ‘I can’t keep doing this. I’m getting older. I can’t stay and work all night.’”

This account of Naughty Dog’s culture is based on interviews with 13 current and former developers, all of whom spoke anonymously because they were not given permission to speak to press, as well as reporting I did for my 2017 book, Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, which detailed the turbulent production of Uncharted 4.

As is often the case, we could not share many of those developers’ personal stories of sacrifice without risking their identities, and as usual, we erred on the side of caution in order to keep sources protected.

A representative for Sony and Naughty Dog turned down interview requests with studio management and declined to provide comment.

Crunch culture at Naughty Dog isn’t a secret. The studio is open about this mentality in interviews with new hires, and its managers deliberately seek out perfectionists in art, design, engineering, and all of the other disciplines that make games happen.

The type of people Naughty Dog wants to hire are the type of people who will willingly stay late at the office in order to make their games better—the type of people who would take the time to make sacks of grain deflate when you shoot them. At Naughty Dog, nobody asks the developers to crunch. Nobody has to ask. They’ll be there anyway.


In October of 2016, five months after the release of Uncharted 4, I visited Naughty Dog’s sleek offices in Santa Monica, California and interviewed around 20 of their top developers about what it had been like to work on Nathan Drake’s latest adventure. They were candid about how difficult the process had been—the compressed schedule, the endless nights and weekends, the stress that by the end of it all, the game might not actually come together.

A dramatic reboot midway through development had led to Naughty Dog veteran Amy Hennig exiting the studio and The Last of Us directors Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley taking over direction on Uncharted 4, much to their chagrin. Druckmann and Straley found themselves rewriting the script and making rapid decisions just to “feed the beast”—to keep all of those people working—and they had less than two years to finish the game.

During our interview, Straley told me he was hoping to mitigate crunch for the next game. “I would never want to do Uncharted 4 again,” he said. “Because now we’ve lived through that… The energy of the team now when you walk around is so great. You see smiles. People are excited about what they’re working on.” Two months later, Straley was gone.

He left Naughty Dog for a sabbatical that morphed into a permanent departure, leaving a void that was difficult to fill. Straley was well-respected at the studio and was recognised as an intense but fair leader who had his hands on almost every aspect of the game.

When I asked him on Kotaku’s Splitscreen podcast in 2018 about his departure, it was clear that he’d felt burnt out. “It was really hard to imagine getting back into the job and feeling as energised as I was back on The Last of Us or Uncharted 2,” he said. “And so I just felt there was a shift in me—something else was building up in me that was like, ‘Alright, let’s see what else is out there.’”

After the fourth Uncharted, Naughty Dog split into two groups. One chunk of the studio worked on the DLC-turned-standalone-game Uncharted: Lost Legacy, a production that, for some people, was even more stressful than Uncharted 4. (“It was the worst crunch I’ve ever experienced,” one developer told me.) Another chunk entered preproduction on The Last of Us II, which would be the studio’s next big project.

This time, in hopes that they wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of Uncharted 4, Neil Druckmann and other leads got together and tried to map out exactly what The Last of Us II would look like as far in advance as possible. “They honestly felt like they had figured out a way to not have to crunch as much,” said one developer. “They’d worked out a lot of the beats of the game and all the features ahead of time.”

But in game development, things rarely go as planned. As Naughty Dog’s developers worked on a demo for E3 2018 and began showing builds of the game to playtesters for feedback, the directors and leads found that some of their decisions weren’t working. Parts of the narrative weren’t resonating with players, who said they weren’t fond of characters that the writers hoped would be likeable.

In response, Druckmann and the other leads started scrapping and revising. “That’s where changes were happening,” said one developer. “We need to add some stuff here so that it tells more of this story or gives you more narrative beats.”

This kind of iteration isn’t uncommon on any video game, and it’s often what leads to the most memorable moments in Naughty Dog’s games, such as the first Last of Us, in which the iconic giraffe scene was not originally part of the script.

One of the most challenging parts of any video game’s development is that even features that sound incredible on paper might turn out to feel awful to play, which can lead to months and months of extra work. And it’s always difficult to resist the urge to add good ideas as they come up throughout production.

On The Last of Us II, these revisions led to all sorts of stress and scope creep. Every day, the game grew bigger, and soon it had dwarfed the company’s previous releases. “What we realised pretty early on is that we were putting together Naughty Dog’s most ambitious and longest game in our 35 year history,” Druckmann would later write. “To tell this kind of story the game needed to be massive.”

By the end of 2018, most departments at the studio were in crunch mode, spending extra hours at the office to keep up with all of their tasks. Some people had to work late because they had more to do than could be fit into a standard workday; others found themselves trapped by pipeline clogs.

There was the designer who couldn’t leave until they received feedback from the directors, who were tied up in meetings all day and couldn’t look at the build until 6 or 7 p.m. There was the animator who got stuck at the office waiting for their work to be implemented in the game by scripters and designers. There were artists giving one another assignments—explosions and gunshots and hey, could you make it so this cut-scene looks just right?

“There’s a lot of pushing your current workload aside to meet these real-time demands that come across your desk,” said one Naughty Dog developer. “Do this thing you weren’t planning for, that other thing you weren’t planning for, plus what you were planning for.”

On The Last of Us II, this became a never-ending cycle. “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.’”

During production, elements of the game kept changing, and there was no real way to be sure whether all of those changes would be for the better. “What they probably underestimate is that when you work for two to three years on a game, you want to change things sometimes because you’ve seen them for a year,” said one Naughty Dog developer. Sometimes, as any creative can attest, it’s hard to tell whether you’re revising that story beat or gameplay mechanic because it actually needs to be changed or because you’ve looked at it so long that you’ve gotten sick of it. “I think it’s hard to get distance,” the developer said.

Worst of all for some of Naughty Dog’s developers were the times when a high-level decision might lead to their work being scrapped without them even knowing it. An artist might be working on a building in The Last of Us II’s post-disaster version of America without realising that their scene was cut or overhauled.

They might not find out for days or even weeks, leading to hours and hours of wasted work—a demoralising feeling compounded by the other stresses of production. Contradicting direction has also been a common occurrence at the studio. During the development on Uncharted 4, Straley and Druckmann had divergent visions over whether a sneaking scene should have guards in it, leading to three weeks of wasted work for three people.

Many development studios try to solve problems like these with a production department—the part of the team dedicated to organisation, logistics, and communication. It’s a producer’s job to keep track of what people are working on, coordinate across disciplines, and ensure that the whole team is staying on schedule. At Naughty Dog, there is no production department. Over time, the company has hired a couple of producers to help with scheduling and other tasks, but the studio’s philosophy has long been that everyone should act as their own producer.

On one hand, this can create an empowering, autonomous atmosphere, where designers and artists are free to add the little graphical flourishes that make Naughty Dog games unique. Nobody needs to deal with extra layers of bureaucracy if they want to, say, make sacks of grain deflate when you shoot them. On the other hand, nobody is there to keep the developers of The Last of Us II communicating or stop them from changing things for the sake of change. And nobody’s going to tell anyone to stop staying at work all night.

“It’s an amazing creative environment,” said one developer on The Last of Us II. “But you can’t go home.”

As a result of these problems, Naughty Dog has seen a steady trickle of departures over the past five years. That kind of attrition can be crushing, not just because people are forced to say goodbye to dear friends, but because those friends leave holes that make all of these problems even worse.


If there’s one department at Naughty Dog most critical to the production of its games, it’s design, which serves as a nexus for all of the company’s decisions. Designers at Naughty Dog act as stewards for different sections of the game, working with scripters, artists, audio, and programmers in order to block out and finalise each level. That’s why it’s been such a blow for the studio to lose so many of them.

These days, veteran Naughty Dog employees describe the design department as a sea of unfamiliar faces. With 70 per cent 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.

Every newcomer means weeks’ or months’ worth of training and hard lessons about how the rest of the team works. A task that might take a veteran designer two hours could take twice or three times as long for a newer employee, and it can be hard to know what the directors want until you’ve been working there long enough.

On The Last of Us II, new artists working with new designers found themselves baffled as to how to hit the standards that Naughty Dog expected, a problem exacerbated by a management culture in which feedback is usually negative. (One of the studio’s unwritten maxims is that if you don’t hear anything, you’re doing well.) “It’s been a little bit of the blind leading the blind as we go in circles and find our way,” said one developer.

In the past, Naughty Dog has been reluctant to hire junior-level staff for this very reason. The studio’s bar for detail is so high that inexperienced people are unlikely to hit it on their first or second tries, which inevitably leads to hours of rework and hours of crunch for everyone.

Naughty Dog’s lead designers “expect the same level of quality out of a lot of the junior contractors as they do out of people who have been here for a while, which is ridiculous,” said one developer. “It’s certainly led to a lot of stress and feeling like shit to most people who are new, which sucks.”

There were a number of reasons for attrition in the design department, including various individuals’ unhappiness with leads, lack of promotion opportunities, and Bruce Straley’s departure. But the main reason, current and former employees say, is that Naughty Dog’s culture of crunch has burned many of them out. The art department has also lost a number of people since Uncharted 4, including leads and one art director. “The management level was really understaffed,” said one developer of the art department. “There was no attempt made to hire more.”

After the brutal development cycles of Uncharted 4 and Uncharted Lost Legacy, Naughty Dog has found itself with little choice but to hire a disproportionately high number of juniors and contractors for The Last of Us II, even if that perpetuates many of the problems that caused senior staff to leave.

Some at Naughty Dog who spoke to me for this story said they expect more people to quit, or that they plan to leave themselves, once The Last of Us II has shipped and bonuses came in (which is usually six months after release). And so the cycle will continue.


On September 24, 2019, Naughty Dog announced to the public that The Last of Us II would be released in February. A month later, Naughty Dog’s management told the staff that they needed to slip three months, to May 29, 2020. It’s not clear why this delay happened so soon after the public announcement, but it was clear what it would mean: three more months of crunch.

To some who worked there, this was fantastic news. There was concern among the staff that if they had to ship in February, The Last of Us II would be a mess. Those three months would make a huge difference. But to those who had grown tired of long nights and weekends at the office, the delay just meant more time on the treadmill.

When Naughty Dog’s bosses informed the company that the game was slipping, they emphasised that they wanted to maintain their momentum. “People thinking the extension is somehow to relieve stress or the workload on the team are wrong,” said one developer. “The first thing that they wanted to reiterate is that we aren’t slowing down the pace.”

In mid-February, Naughty Dog got another two weeks, convincing Sony to delay their final manufacturing date so they could squeeze in as much bug-fixing as possible. Again, the messaging was clear: Keep up the momentum. Naughty Dog’s managers would never tell people to work overtime—it was always an implication, understood and accepted by everyone. Many were happy to do it, hoping to cram in as many flourishes and features as they could, and eager to put in as many hours as possible to make The Last of Us II great.

“That’s one of the reasons crunch always happens here,” said one developer. “People are given the freedom to keep working longer, to push the envelope of what they are working on, to make things just 10 per cent better. It’s what the studio looks for when hiring people. They are looking for people with that drive to actually put in those extra hours, for better or worse.”

While reporting this story, I heard a number of anecdotes about individual developers’ experiences. Employees would come in wearing sick masks so they could keep working even with bad coughs (before the recent coronavirus outbreak). They’d skip meals—or showers. One developer told me they had seen people so shackled to their desks that they wouldn’t even take the time to go to the kitchen and grab the free crunch dinners.

A few Naughty Dog staff have indeed found ways to avoid overtime, working intensely for eight hours a day and then leaving. But for most of the staff, there’s an unspoken social pressure to stick around. Nobody wants to be the person leaving at 6 or 7 p.m. when everyone else plans to stay until midnight. Nobody wants to be the one developer who’s not there on a Saturday, fighting to make every strand of Ellie’s hair look perfect. And there’s no one in the office telling everyone to go home.

Some of the developers at Naughty Dog are just fine with the studio’s culture, which is why it exists in the first place. They’re paid well, treated fairly, and given extensive time off at the end of production.

Salaried workers aren’t paid for overtime work, but they can get decent bonuses after each game ships. As is typical in California, contractors and those working for hourly pay at Naughty Dog are paid time-and-a-half after eight hours and double time after twelve, but many are on limited contracts, and they aren’t eligible for bonuses or other perks. For contractors, the carrot of full-time employment was an incentive to put in overtime hours.

“There’s this unspoken agreement,” said one Naughty Dog staffer. “A lot of people are very proud that they’re making the Game of the Year, the top-quality game, the most amazing art. While that’s true, I don’t know if they’re calculating the sacrifices.”

Said another Naughty Dog developer: “They’ve never seen success any other way, so they don’t believe there’s another way of achieving it.”

Naughty Dog’s management actively seeks out workaholics, as president Evan Wells told me in October of 2016. “We crunch on all our games for sure,” he said then. “We never [change] our forty-hour expectation or our core hours, which are 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.… People put in a lot more hours, but it’s based on their own fuel, how much they have in their tank.”

“People just naturally do it,” Wells said. “Because we hire a particular type of person who’s motivated and passionate and wants to leave their mark on the industry. That’s why they come to Naughty Dog.”

But how long will they stay? And how long can this last? As more Naughty Dog employees get married, have kids, or simply burn out—either from the crunch or out of frustrations with Naughty Dog’s production style—it’s fair to wonder what per cent of Uncharted 4’s developers will still be there in the next year or two.

With some time and distance, the exhilaration of crunch can easily turn into shame and regret. Several veteran Naughty Dog developers told me they had once bought into the company’s mentality—“Stockholm Syndrome” was a commonly used phrase—but have realised over time that it was unhealthy for their lives in all sorts of ways.

Some who work or worked for Naughty Dog say they believe that if the company doesn’t find a way to solve the crunch problem, it’ll solve itself through attrition. Although some veterans may never leave—the Naughty Dog lifers who thrive on those long hours and an attention to detail that few other studios can command—the past few years have signalled otherwise. After Uncharted 4 and Uncharted Lost Legacy, even some of the designers and artists who had been at Naughty Dog for more than a decade decided to call it quits. One developer told me that toward the end of 2017 and into 2018, it felt like they were getting new farewell emails every week.

On May 29, The Last of Us Part II will come out. Those who have worked on it tell me they believe it will be phenomenal, another shining entry in Naughty Dog’s quest for excellence at all costs. Some say they think it’s the best game Naughty Dog has ever made.

Yet there are also those developers, some of whom still work at Naughty Dog today, who say that there’s a part of them that actually wishes this game would fail. A critical flop might help show Naughty Dog that this isn’t the best way to make games, that this level of sacrifice isn’t necessary, that maybe the project isn’t worth losing all of these people. That perhaps, no matter how many Game of the Year nominations they win or how high their Metacritic scores climb, all the individual hairs on Joel’s eyebrows or the grains of sand in a burlap sack just aren’t worth the cost.

Comments

  • That construction incident as some sort of argument against crunch because it kept people after hours is so moronic there aren’t enough words to cover it.

    A lot of construction very much happens during the day also, when people are most definitely still in buildings working. An amazing fact the author intentionally ignores for their shock factor “Someone could have been killed due to crunch!” bit.

    • There’s about 4000 other words that should be factored in as well, to be fair. And it’s not an argument, just a picture of how staff felt at the time – a perspective we very rarely see.

      • There is absolutely the implication being made that if they weren’t there crunching there would have been no potential for harm… As if a construction accident couldn’t possibly happen during the day. Talk about bending the story so it fits your conclusion.

        I do have to apologise for one thing though, I wasn’t aware I had to ignore the idiotic opening of articles purely because more words follow said opening.

        • Let’s not also forget the large number of business that operate 24/7 that always have staff in the office overnight that has nothing to do with “crunch”. The same construction incident could happen to any one of these businesses.
          In the end its the fault of the construction crew – nothing else.

        • To some Naughty Dog employees, however, it was emblematic of an unhealthy culture(emphasis mine)
          emblematic
          adjective
          serving as a symbol of a particular quality or concept; symbolic.

          Yes, this is the kind of thing that could well have happened during the day.
          No, crunch is not responsible in any way for this near accident.
          But it’s not hard to see that if you were one of the people working there at the time, you might see it as a sign you probably shouldn’t be there.

    • Oh and I wrote a book please buy it.

      It seems like people are encouraged too crunch but not forced too and are either compensated or there is an incentive, bonuses.

      Although crunch can be bad if it’s forced when I read the 12 hour work day part I thought about nurses and doctors even police have 12 hour shifts as the norm, game developers font have people’s lives in their hands.

      I know most people don’t sign up for it, it’s well known that crunch exists in most if not all Studios, doesn’t mean they can’t do better but crunch is not the Bogeyman it’s sometimes made out too be.

      In all seriousness this was a long read that could of been cut in half a lot of repeating the same point.

      • It’s understandable people being against crunch, overtime, etc, when they’re in a shitty work environment where the higher ups like to find ways to subtly punish employees who don’t feel obligated to any such overtime.

        But in a hell of lot of situations people are aware early on what they’re walking into, even being informed at interviews before hiring, and they still actively sign up anyway. Especially in regards to the gaming industry at this point.

        Does that mean crunch should always and forever be a thing? No. But acting surprised or offended by it being a thing when you’re working in an industry known for it is just a tad ignorant and/or dishonest.

        • Just because it’s “normal” for the industry doesn’t mean it’s right, even if you are aware of it before signing up. Most other software development industries have learnt that crunch – especially extended crunch, is not helpful or healthy. The more tired people are, the more their health takes a back seat, the more mistakes they will make. Which means more crunch to fix those mistakes. This is something game studios need to learn.

      • 12 hour works days 7 days a week is not the norm in any other industry. I’d say 12 is a pretty conservative number based on other stories about crunch I’ve read.

        • I’m afraid this isn’t a new or novel concept peculiar to the video game industry… at all. Try being a barrister… or a commercial lawyer during a trial. It has been going on for generations and it’s (sadly IMO) not going anywhere.

        • 12 hour works days 7 days a week is not the norm in any other industry.

          That’s about the average for me honestly as a secondary teacher. Just saying. I guess we do get a lot of holidays to balance it out, but there are indeed industries that do actually work those sorts of hours, or where the employees feel the need, unofficially, to put in those hours because on paper, the job says one thing, the reality however is often quite different.

        • I don’t think he’s incredibly talented, he’s good but this article could have got the point and the story across without all the fluff.

          It’s like he’s trying too reach a word count threshold and it’s obvious too anyone who’s done any sort of university where you have too hit a minimum word count.

          • Are you allowed to criticise the writing talent of someone if you don’t know the difference between “too” and “to”?

          • Sorry, just got back to this. Are you implying this is an alt of zico? Then I can confirm I am not. On the contrary, your comment was so irritating that it made me log in and comment for the first time in 6 years.

      • Yes. It could have. This is the article cut down:
        As Naughty Dog Crunches On The Last Of Us II, Developers Wonder How Much Longer This Approach Can Last
        If that gives you enough information, no one’s forcing you to read the article.

    • “Joe Banks, 82 years young, has come to this pond everyday for the past 17 years to feed the ducks. But last month Joe made a discovery: the ducks were gone. Some say the ducks went to Canada, others say Toronto. And some people think Joe used to sit down there near those ducks. But it could be that there’s just no room, in this modern world, for an old man and his ducks.”

    • I thought it was perfectly reasonable.

      I don’t know what offices you’ve worked in but in every white collar, corporate environment I’ve worked in there is no construction done during business hours what-so-ever due to noise + safety + access concerns.

      As @Solvent said I think it added some flavour and helped set the scene.

      What a prat.

  • I honestly don’t know why Naughty Dog or Sony would take this approach. You have one of the absolute paramount development studios in the industry, but by burning the staff out like this, the talent drain will eventually impact the quality of games that they’re able to create. They may well be killing their golden goose.

    • I honestly don’t know why Naughty Dog or Sony would take this approach.
      Because the approach hasn’t failed Naughty Dog or Sony yet.

      If it ever does fail them they’ll do one of two things… Stop, or say something else is to blame and keep doing it. My money would be on the latter.

      • And once you burn out some naive 20-somethings who don’t have families and are just beginning their careers with enthusiasm and a willingness to get ahead by working absurd hours to stand-out, and because they haven’t had all the passion sucked/beaten out of them yet, it’s still OK! Because it turns out that they just keep on making brand new 20-somethings every year! There’s always more to exploit!

  • One has to wonder, as the power of consoles grows and the capabilities increase, will the push for even more fidelity and detail grow with it leading to an exponential growth in crunch culture? I don’t know what the statistics over the years have been but I imagine if the same team was to create a SNES game in the same time period there would be a significant reduction in the amount of stress and overtime.

    Let’s just hope AI advancements can help reduce the load when making AAA games because I doubt that studios are going to change their culture anytime soon.

    • No less crunch simply because the platform was less powerful; it’s all hard work at the time. Look at this video from the founder of Naughty Dog from PS1 days: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izxXGuVL21o – lots of crunch you would have to deduce. As the article says, you can see how this is in the company’s DNA.

        • I have never heard of this made-up expression “”crunch” but in any event, it’s still just people working hard. Ask any small business owner how many hours they work per day and they don’t have the luxury of resigning. You might also look at the most productive countries in the world and compare the work ethic there to that of America.

          • 1) All words are made up. Crunch is a long-established word that has been created specifically to describe an unholy phenomenon of abornally intense effort that, at its extremes, sees people not even leaving the building, but sleeping where they work It’s actually something of a disgusting, immoral tradition for the industry, and you can find plenty of stories of unfair work conditions. See: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/crunch (the last definition) The fact that you haven’t heard of it is not a reflection on the prevalence of the practice or the word’s use within the industry, but rather of your ignorance.

            2) We’re fortunate to have defined what reasonable working conditions are. Especially for wage-slaves who reap none of the benefits of a successful enterprise beyond continuing to have employment. Your example of small business owners is horse shit. The reward to risk balance between the owner-operator and the staff is apples and oranges. When employees who receive none of those benefits and bear none of that risk are shifted into the position where they work those extreme hours, that’s unfair. And fairness is, ultimately, the goal of the law. Especially industrial relations laws.

            Your take on ‘working hard’ is the reason we need to have those laws. To protect people from exploitation and a grotesque disregard for fairness and work-life balance.

  • How much are they actually achieving by crunching? If the work to be done is easy, then just hire more people casually as needed, but if the work is difficult I can’t imagine anyone being productive past 6-9 hrs.

    • I’m gonna hazard a guess that this was actually the preferred method for tackling ‘crunch’ situations in the past, and that it fell over for a few reasons, which may have included:

      1) The time taken to on-board casuals and bring them up to speed to the point that they were productive and oriented enough to actually be useful was longer and/or more expensive than existing team members extending their work hours, even at the cost of some efficiency/errors.

      2) It would’ve been harder to get exactly the skills that they need in exactly the time they need it on account of most people with skills enough to be useful don’t tolerate limiting themselves to only ever working the shittiest week or two of any given developer’s release phase.

      3) The push in the industry has instead been the opposite: to STOP hiring and firing people by release phase but to instead stagger and slide phases such that people can stay focused and in the rhythm of productivity on whichever project can align with their skills, without always applying for jobs and worrying about their financial security. Turns out there’s a very real and quite significant spin-up/decommission/hand-over cost to integrating and exiting temporary resources.

      Turns out in the game dev machinery, powered by a triangle mould of, “You can have it done cheap, fast, or well, pick any two,” you can actually smoosh your resources into that mould – like a sponge – and the machine will start moving and spit out something that passes initial inspection, but it damages what you smooshed into it, and the sponge may not return to its initial shape.

      • In any industry I’ve ever seen that has tried the “just hire some casuals” route it is almost always a complete waste for anything but the bottom of the barrel work. Or it has to be near universally identical work, such as a repair technician for one company getting contracted by another company on and off.

        I’ve seen production floors grind to a crawl because a few regular workers doing the basic tasks just happened to be out the same week and the casuals replacing them (sometimes even multiple casuals brought in to replace one person) just weren’t even close to cutting it by comparison.

        There’s a lot to be replaced in almost any case in any production line, even when you’re replacing people who do the unskilled jobs.

        I can’t even imagine the sort of absolute nightmare that would entail with the particularly varied aspects of game development, with unique projects, etc. But I suspect the time it would take to get casuals up to speed would simply be considered ‘unreasonable’ by a lot of higher ups.

        • Yeah. We straight-up can’t do it, here. There is nothing we can give a newbie to do that doesn’t require a fucktonne of background knowledge. It’s a problem we’re trying to solve, but it’s an easy trap to fall into. Fact is, even ADDING a resource, not replacing, reduces productivity. Because someone who would otherwise be operating at 100% capacity is suddenly producing even less, training the newcomers.

    • There’s no cheaper labour than free labour. Most overtime is free. It’s increasingly (and accurately) being described as wage theft.

    • Yeah I know! constant work degrades performance. But that isn’t the only factor here — like the article mentions things like having to wait on someone else to finish their task so you can action it means people having to put in long hours even if it isn’t productive. And of course they hire workaholic-perfectionist types who can easily get lost in the work they’re doing for hours and hours. In that instance they might actually still be productive, but slowly dying on the inside.

  • I remember reading about the crunch that went into getting the Ultimas out during the ‘dev quote’ section of the end credits. Thats going back 28 – 30 years (depending on whether it was VI or VII that had the quotes). It seems the industry really hasn’t changed that much over decades, and that was prior to their buyout by the Guardian.

  • Most people who work hard or late do so if they have people who inspires them and they get the work done as they want to emulate them. Looking at this, the departure of Amy Hennig could have more to do with the veterans leaving than the culture.

    The lady made so many great games!

  • This is why companies shouldn’t even give a release time unless they are confident they can meet that timeframe without resorting to this sort of thing.

    I mean I understand that some long hours and nights might be unnavoidable. this screw up and things need fixing. I work in that sort of environment where a power outage can mean weekend work to get everything running for the next working week. nobody likes it but, it happens. it shouldn’t be official practice to have people working beyond contracted hours regularly though.

  • There’s no other job I can think of off the top of my head that requires hours like this, barring big business and wall street. And the people working those hours are typically earning ten times what the people at Naughty Dog are.
    They need to unionise.

    • Unionization will not work in the games industry, especially in America.

      America society, in general, is quite anti-union.

      There is also the fact that the video game industry itself has a lot of people wanting to work in it. So firing someone and replacing them is no big deal.

      I don’t know how they can solve the issue. But jumping straight to unionization in America is likely to result in the higher-ups simply ignoring them.

      America doesn’t have the same culture surrounding unions like we do. I’m a union member myself and both my father and grandfather have been union members as well.

      • I mean, the answer is a union so they can stand up for themselves. The only reason they don’t have one is because video games are still so recent.

  • My opinion on crunch depends on the situation.

    If its the worker doing it of their own volition, I have no issue with it. As soon as it’s enforced by the company against the will of the worker I take issue with it.

    • If it’s genuine crunch, that’s one thing. Having a few days or a couple of weeks of serious overtime at the point you’re releasing the game to get that day one or week one patch out, or if you’re relocating or something, people will do that and not mind.

      But when every deadline’s a moving target and you have a culture that people have to stay back all the time to hit them and you’re not paying overtime, that’s not crunch it’s exploitation no matter how they dress it up.

    • Late to the party, I know.

      That line blurs, and when the entity signing your paycheck asks, it’s really fucking hard to say “no.”

      It’s not required, but it is expected. Not technically against the will of the worker nor enforced by the company, but the end result is no different than if it was.

  • I knew this was an old article when I saw it.

    I feel they should be marked as old – a banner or parentheses in the title, a subtitle or statement at the beginning of the article (seen on the home page before clicking through). Not just a note at the end of the article only seen after clicking through and after reading the whole article. Seems more honest to me.

    Also, not sure the issue of crunch is as relevant now as it was at the time of this year’s first delay? The financial delay might have relaxed the crunch a little?

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