Last Of Us Part 2 crunch and staff burnout caused delay says former staff

Naughty Dog’s Last Of Us Part 2 may end up being a great game, but it will come at a considerable cost to its developers.

One subject that continues to plague the games industry, particularly in the triple-A space, is crunch – where developers must work extra-long hours, often unpaid, in order to finish a product in time for release, even if it’s at the cost of their health.

Over the last several years, this practice has become more and more public, with companies like Rockstar being called out for it its use during Red Dead Redemption 2’s development (one of our readers even elected to boycott it as a result).

This year, CD Projekt Red admitted that it would have to enforce crunch for Cyberpunk 2077, which had to be delayed from April to September. And following a new report from Kotaku (which can be read in full here), we now know that Naughty Dog has been subjecting its staff to it for The Last Of Us Part 2.

The report describes Naughty Dog as a studio of two halves; one that is simultaneously one of the best companies to work for and one of the worst. Due to the success of such critically acclaimed titles as Uncharted 4 and the first Last Of Us, Naughty Dog comes across as being obsessed with perfection, eager to make its games the best they can be no matter what.

‘Thisgame is really good, but at a huge cost to the people,’ said one anonymousdeveloper.

‘This can’t be something that’s continuing over and over for each game, because it is unsustainable,’ said another, ‘At a certain point you realise, ‘I can’t keep doing this. I’m getting older. I can’t stay and work all night.’’

A number of former developers have also criticised Naughty Dog’s work ethic. ‘They do try to take care of you, providing food, encouragement to go take breaks’ one admitted, ‘But for the most part, the implication is: ‘Get the job done at all costs.’’

Following Uncharted 4’s release, 14 of the 20 credited non-lead developers left the studio (that’s 70%), most likely due to the stress and pressure brought on from development. This in turn has affected Last Of Us Part 2’s development, and seems to have only created a vicious cycle.

Former Last Of Us Part 2 animator Jonathan Cooper shared his own experiences in a pretty damning set of tweets, saying that while he was fortunate enough to never experience crunch, he knew it was happening elsewhere.

‘Forthe demo shown last September, the gameplay animators crunched more than I’veever seen and required weeks of recovery afterwards. One good friend of minewas hospitalised at that time due to overwork. He still had over half a year togo. There have been others since.

‘Thereason I left is because I only want to work with the best. That is no longerNaughty Dog. Their reputation for crunch within LA is so bad it was nearimpossible to hire seasoned contract game animators to close out the project.As such we loaded up on film animators.’

He also added that Naughty Dog had threatened to withhold his final payment until he signed paperwork that stated that he would not share the company’s production practices, until he told them that that was most likely illegal.

On top of that, he wrote that Naughty Dog’s success was partly because of Sony and its willingness to fund delays: ‘A more senior team would have shipped TLOU2 a year ago.’

Despite Naughty Dog’s previous openness about crunch, Kotaku approached both Naughty Dog and Sony to interview studio management but a representative turned down the request and declined to comment on the report.

Someof its developers have admitted that they hope Last Of Us Part 2 will fail,disproving Naughty Dog’s belief that crunch is necessary to make its titles theGame Of The Year quality that it has come to expect.

However, this is very unlikely to happen given the mainstream hype surrounding the title. And unless something else drastic happens, or there’s a significant change, there’s a very real possibility that this cycle will just begin all over again with their next game.

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