A new report catalogs the experiences of several sources who've worked at Uncharted and The Last of Us developer Naughty Dog, revealing how the studio expects and encourages crunch culture. Souces described 70-hour weeks, 14-hour days, and crunch periods that could last as long as six months, all overseen by management that expected the overtime and made little or no effort to encourage workers to maintain healthy lifestyles.
A key point made throughout the report is that employees were always given an implied choice. "People as a whole usually stayed [late] by choice," said one Uncharted 4 developer. "It was never mandated from management," and, "There is no official mandate for crunch," are comments from two other ex-employees. This atmosphere, where workers aren't mandated to work overtime but do anyway, is described both as a "culture to strive for perfection" and of "significant peer pressure."
Workers aren't mandated to participate in the studio's crunch culture, but they are expected to. Naughty Dog's managerial structure is described as having leads at the top of each of its departments. These leads are described as both "peers and managers," meaning they work hand in hand with their team members. They also participate in the company's crunch culture, but as 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.
"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. And if you don’t hit the goals you will be fired. So I guess you don’t have much of a choice."
But the conditions for staff developers weren't necessarily the same as those on the contract QA team, where workers were earning "barely above minimum wage." One past QA worker at Naughty Dog described how not working as much as another team member would result in them not being "asked to return for the next [project]." Crunch time during a project, which would be months ahead of a game's release, would ramp up to "anywhere from 60 to 80 hour weeks on average." One source even described hitting a 100-hour week at the end of The Last of Us' development.
The question that deserves to be asked is whether there's a meaningful difference between mandating a crunch culture or expecting employees to complete a certain amount of work that's impossible to do on regular hours. Employee health isn't dependent on the reasons why a developer is working 50-100 hours weeks.
Despite that, many developers do still defend the kind of environment Naughty Dog has created. One Uncharted 4 developer says that they were comfortable with the extra hours and that they never felt internal pressure to do so. "I was compelled to do so by nature of being a part of something truly amazing."
Source: Cog Connected