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In an exclusive and extensive report from COGConnected, over a dozen past employees of Naughty Dog spoke about the complex culture of crunching for game projects.
Crunch occurs when intense levels of overtime are required to fulfil a project’s deadline, and has become a huge point of discussion in the games industry. Anonymous sources told COGConnected that Naughty Dog employees were expected to work long hours, though crunching was never mandated by studio directors.
‘The truth [is] they don’t tell you that you have to work X amount of hours. But you have to get your work done. And the amount of work is just impossible for any person. It is just way too much,’ explained one developer. Another source said that 40-50 hours a week was the norm, but in the last three to six months of the given project, ‘[my hours] would slowly creep up towards 60 or 70 hours depending on how much was on fire.’
Naughty Dog obviously has a reputation for impressive games, and employees were apparently eager to work as hard as possible to maintain that high standard. Another developer demonstrated how this permeates the work practices there: ‘So my take on crunch at Naughty Dog: The truth is more gray than black-and-white. There is no official mandate for crunch. There can be a significant amount of peer pressure, though. And that can include peer pressure from the people who are effectively your managers. Peer pressure comes from having a team of brilliant, talented, dedicated people working hard on a project together.’
The studio may encounter tough times, but one person spoke about the catering, food trucks and crunch pay that soften the impact on the teams, and said that ‘Naughty Dog as a studio took great care of its staff.’
However, some of the problems lie in the ambiguous management structure present in the studio. There are leads in each department, but these people complete the same tasks as everyone else and sometimes encourage crunch as a result, leading to peer pressure. This source added, ‘I’m sure that different departments, led by different people, might have different experiences.’
Naughty Dog’s next game, The Last of Us Part II, will arrive on PS4.