Naughty Dog is without a doubt one of the best game developers currently in the gaming industry with multiple AAA games breaking records. But is there a dark truth to Naughty Dog games being successful? Is there a cost to it? Just a few days ago, multiple Naughty Dog employees have come forward with their first-hand experiences with the terrible crunch culture at the company.
In a detailed report published by CogConnected on their website, several people who used to work at Naughty Dog spoke about the stressful working conditions and terrible crunch culture at the studio. The report is immensely long so we’re only going to discuss the important bits here.
These employees report that although it isn’t mandatory to participate in the studio’s crunch culture, they are expected to. In some cases, they are forced to. In other cases, these employees report that they received no help from their HR departments.
The employees describe Naughty Dog’s crunches as unhealthy and immensely stressful. One ex-employee describes they also have, “significant input into performance reviews.” Not working extra hours was met with “flak and feedback” or even “firing” if goals weren’t met.
“So my take on crunch at Naughty Dog: The truth is more gray than black-and-white,” said someone who worked at the studio for several years on multiple recent games. “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 source went on to say:
“Naughty Dog doesn’t have much dedicated managerial structure, but there are a few leads in each department. Leads are both peers and managers. They do the same work as everyone else, and also run the department and have significant input into performance reviews. Being human, they may participate in the peer pressure… not always, but sometimes.”
When asked about their work hours, the source revealed that Naughty Dog agreed on them working “40-50 hours” a week but at specific points in development those work hours would increase due to this crunch culture that is just “accepted”.
“During the last three to six months of a project [my hours] would slowly creep up toward 60 or 70 hours depending on how much was on fire,” they explained. “Some people would do way more than that, which I thought was unhealthy.”
Another source revealed that in some cases, Naughty Dog doesn’t specify the number of hours an employee has to work as long as they finish their work and complete the deadlines.
“The truth [is] they don’t tell you that you have to work X amount of hours,” the developer said. “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. And if you don’t hit the goals you will be fired. So I guess you don’t have much of a choice.”
The developer also claimed Naughty Dog went so far to reprimand them for missing a weekend shift and, in a different instance, for not working “at least 14 hour days”. This was despite completing their “well done” work on time, the developer told COGconnected.
Another employee reports that even Naughty Dog’s HR department didn’t care.
“I called Sony HR once (they have a hotline) asking what was this all about and they just ignored me [saying], ‘You will get used to Naughty Dog’s way of doing things,’” they said.
Crunch Culture is a very unethical and immoral thing that is getting more and more common in game developing companies such as Naughty Dog. Not only is it a breach of the employment contract but it is also incredibly harmful to the employee’s health.
So far, Naughty Dog hasn’t come forward with a statement but it is likely they will do so in the coming days. Let’s wait and see what happens.