13 Naughty Dog developers, both former and current, anonymously talked to Kotaku. The TL;DR version of it describes the studio “as a place that can be simultaneously the best and the worst workplace in the world.”
When hiring, Naughty Dog is upfront about the culture that creates some of the best gaming experiences out there. That is, you only get on board if you are passionate enough to crunch a lot so that the game can be nothing short of groundbreaking. And the studio is notorious for its culture of crunch. Devs willingly put in nights and weekends to finish the games, which can go on for months and months.
So some devs are quite content with how things are at Naughty Dog.
After all, staffers are either paid for overtime work or get sizeable bonuses when games ship.
People are proud to be making the Game of the Year stuff. Artist and designers also enjoy the creative autonomy allowing them to add content without unnecessary bureaucracy. There is no production department. It’s been the studio’s philosophy “that everyone should act as their own producer.”
On the downside, there’s nobody to stop you from iterating forever. Worse still, sometimes artists may be working on something for weeks without knowing that executives decided to scrap their scene. This has happened repeatedly, thus aggravating the crunch with wasted work.
And that’s where it gets really bad. Out of 20 designers who worked on Uncharted 4, just six stayed to work on The Last of Us Part II. Their positions had to be filled with less experienced staff that needed to be trained. And that sometimes took even more time than the work on the game itself.
The scale of staff attrition is pretty much directly proportionate to the level of quality Naughty Dog games are famous for.
While The Last of Us Part II, as admitted by interviewees themselves, is shaping up to be the studio’s absolute masterpiece, the question is: at what cost? Joel and Ellie will hopefully survive that adventure, but will the people who created it?