Former Naughty Dog Animator Speaks Out Against Company’s Crunch Culture

Ellie shooting a guy in The Last of Us 2
To achieve greatness, Naughty Dog continues to sacrifice its workers' health (Credit: Naughty Dog)

The video game industry has taken a backlash due to so many companies overworking their employees, also known as crunch. One of the biggest offenders comes from The Last of Us and Uncharted developer Naughty Dog. Yesterday (March 13), a former animator, Jonathan Cooper, came out on Twitter to talk about the reasons behind his departure of the legendary studio.

“The reason I left is because I only want to work with the best,” he tweets. “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.”

The studio’s rate of turnover is high, leading to more junior staff who are inexperienced than veterans. Due to the Naughty Dog’s reputation, few gaming animators wanted to work there, leading to the hiring of many film animators. Despite their talent, they lacked the knowledge when it came to cutscene assembly and overall technical education when it comes to working on a game like The Last of Us 2.

He continues about the problems contract workers face when working at ND.

“Those that don’t can be at ND for 2-3 projects (with pauses inbetwen) 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 carot of a fulltime job ‘one day.'”

Crunch tends to entail working 60 to 80 hours a week. Cooper does say that he has “no awful crunch tale” with animators on his team before he left were averaging between 46 and 55 hour weeks.

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More on the company’s work environment came the same day from Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, who investigated the Uncharted developer’s culture (which we highly recommend reading through his piece for all of the details). The big findings where that it was not mandatory but more of an unspoken pressure to stay late because everyone else is staying up late or sacrificing a weekend to work on the followup to 2013’s The Last of Us.

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

The level of work does create some of the most acclaimed titles in the past decade with Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us but at a cost to people’s health and safety. Schreier writes about a pipe that almost fell on staff due to the construction workers not realizing people were still working that late, and Cooper details a friend getting hospitalized.

Finding a solution requires a lot of work and good management, which Naughty Dog lacks as the company does not have a production team, a group of people to keep things organized and make sure people take a break from a long day.

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Delays seem like a nice problem solver to give the team more time, but that has revealed to cause more work. The extra three months to refine Joel and Ellie’s return means three more months of crunch. It was leading to weeks of fewer showers, skipping meals, and less time with friends and family.

Often, developers do get time off for a vacation and bonuses, sometimes not both. Even with that compensation, contractors are not given those benefits, and the people who did receive them still have to deal with months of long hours, long nights, and work through the weekend.

Some change has happened across major heads of the industry. Nintendo took a stand against that type of work culture last year. As more reports come in and employees speak out against poor management and harsh environments, then things can improve for developers.

The Last of Us 2 comes out May 29 exclusively for PlayStation 4.

What do you think about this news coming out about Naughty Dog? How do you feel about picking up games from the developer in the future? Let us know what you think in the comments below and on our Facebook.

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I am a student in California trying to get a degree in journalism. I have aimed to get myself into the world of video game journalism, so I have focused on achieving that with my education and my writing.I have been a lifelong gamer who loves action-adventure titles, shooters, RPGs, and anything with explosions and excitement.Outside of gaming, I am a huge metalhead and movie fanatic. Give me brutal music along with some good comedies, action flicks, and of course, some grade-A horror.

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