Naughty Dog's Intense Crunch Culture Examined in New Report on The Last of Us Part II

As a studio known for intense crunch periods, a new report from Kotaku highlights Naughty Dog's damaging overwork on The Last of Us Part II.

Crunch culture (prolonged periods of overwork and stress, typically in the months leading up to a game’s release) is a continuing conversation in the current state of the games industry. While several studios have been highlighted over the past few years in regards to crunch from AAA studios to indie developers, Naughty Dog especially has had a reputation as a studio reliant on crunch culture and overwork in the development of its titles, including the upcoming The Last of Us Part II. Though its games are highly-acclaimed and commercial successes, it often comes at a detriment to the effect of employees, with a new report detailing some of the more intense periods of crunch at Naughty Dog.

A new report from Kotaku‘s Jason Schreier has released, which highlights some of the stories and insights from developers at Naughty Dog in the final months leading up to the release of The Last of Us Part II in late May, after it was previously delayed from its February 2020 release date. Specifically, one of the core aspects of Schreier’s report is the impact that crunch has had on the studio and its employees, which according to one anonymous developer is coming “at a huge cost to the people.”

Overall, Schreier spoke to 13 different employees at Naughty Dog to get their perspectives on the damage that crunch has had on the studio. He noted that the studio has lost over 70% of its non-lead designers and developers that had worked on Uncharted 4, leading to a significant reduction in senior level roles and management being filled instead by less-experienced staff.

One developer on The Last of Us Part II stated that “this can’t be something that’s continuing over and over for each game, because it is unsustainable,” in regard to the impact that crunch has had on the studio and development team as a whole. The developer added that “at a certain point you realize, ‘I can’t keep doing this. I’m getting older. I can’t stay and work all night.’”

While the most recent delay of The Last of Us Part II from February to May gave hopes that the studio may reduce its reliance on crunch before release, another developer from Naughty Dog said “people thinking the extension is somehow to relieve stress or the workload on the team are wrong.” They added that in terms of the workload at Naughty Dog heading into the game’s final three months that “the first thing that they wanted to reiterate is that we aren’t slowing down the pace.”

Crunch has been one of the defining issues of the games industry in the past decade, and perhaps more prevalent than ever with the release of several upcoming major titles for this year and a new generation of consoles on the horizon. As Schreier’s report notes, Naughty Dog is known for the exceptional quality of their titles, but it comes at an extremely human cost.

The Last of Us Part II will release exclusively for PS4 on May 29, 2020.

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Ryan Meitzler

Ryan is the Editor-in-Chief at DualShockers and has been a lover of games as long as he can remember. He holds a BA in English and Cinema and lives in New York City.

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