Naughty Dog’s success “due in large part to Sony’s deep pockets,” says former dev

By Sherif Saed, Friday, 13 March 2020 12:11 GMT

A Naughty Dog veteran has spoken out about the studio’s crunch culture and his time there.

In response to a Kotaku report that talks about Naughty Dog‘s unsustainable crunch culture, and how the studio is pushing extra hard for The Last of Us: Part 2, ex-Naughty Dog and veteran animator, Jonathan Cooper, gave a little bit of an insight into his time at the studio.

Cooper, who was part of the “story animator” team at the studio, said his work week averaged 46 hours, which would sometimes reach close to 55 hours, but no more than that.

“The truth is I have no awful crunch tale,” Cooper wrote on Twitter. “The story team is super organised and we reacted to whatever was thrown at us. That’s not to say others weren’t suffering.”

Among those “others,” as Cooper said, were gameplay animators who had to crunch on the demo shown to press in September last year.

“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,” recalled Cooper.

“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,” he went on.

This is part of the reason why Cooper left the studio, and why Sony had to delay The The Last of Us: Part 2. According to Cooper, it all comes back to talent retention.

“The reason I left is because 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,” he explained.

“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.”

With that in mind, Cooper believes Sony’s financial support is what allows Naughty Dog to thrive and have the power delay games until they’re nearly-perfect.

“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,” he said in closing.

The Last of Us: Part 2 is out May 29. Hit the link at the top for Kotaku’s full report.

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