The Naughty Dog Crunches the Last of Us

Jason Schrier at Kotaku hit it out of the park again with another must-read expose of the horrifying shit developers make their employees go through to make a piece of entertainment.

Shout-outs to the thirteen former and current Naughty Dog staff for making this sort of article possible.

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I’m always super torn about what to do in situations like this. Support the game so the developers continue to get paid? Don’t support the game so as to not reward development situations like this? Support the game and make a matching donation to Game Workers Unite?

Here’s where I’m at: Support the devs by buying their product. Vote for candidates who support rights to unionize. Then keep a lookout on Game Workers Unite for once they get the non-profit status so you can donate a few bucks here and there.

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The individual agency promised by the “vote with your wallet” adage has always been poisonously false, choosing one of two consumer options is still operating within the confines of a capitalist system. As Murph said, the greatest impact you can have is through any amount of political activism you can muster.

Something that I hope the staff of studios like Naughty Dog will realize is, Sony as a platform-holder desperately relies on these releases to build out their prestige gaming image they’ve spent the last few years cultivating. They hold all the power in this arrangement, more than enough to collectively bargain for humane working conditions.

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Absolutely. I personally don’t like to play these games where labour conditions are bad enough to get headlines, but I’m under no illusions that I’m “boycotting crunch” or that my own arbitary personal purchasing decisions have any effect at all on industry trends. (If they did, lootboxes wouldn’t be a thing.)

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Oh trust me, I’m well aware of how the math of most any sort of voting shakes out in practice. I’m more on the personal moral quandary, which Murph adeptly solved.

Reading this really boiled by blood. I’ve worked on games for similar amount of hours and it’s just completely crushing.

Look out for rant!

The one thing I always get confused by in game development is how the people in charge never seem to leave room in the schedule for the inevitable rework needed when ideas or plans don’t come together. Anyone who has worked on even one game should know that things never go as planned. At least one thing wont work as expected, a feature will be broken because of some weird edge-case, and sometimes the game just … isn’t … fun.

And of course they pass the responsibility to fix that on to the devs. They have to pick up the ball that others dropped and walked away from. Now it’s their job to finish a match that they are already losing while management goes home or has expensive “Business dinners.”
And of course no one is ever explicitly told they have to work overtime.
But everyone, especially the juniors, know that the extra time they put in determines how much of a chance they’ll be kept on.
It’s not hard to connect the dots when I got let go from the place I had worked for eight years after I silently stopped doing overtime. “Business reasons” my ass.

I nearly burned out of this industry. I probably DID burn out, but was too stubborn and not smart enough to realize it. And that was just trash tier mobile games.

Granted, that was the worst it ever got for me. After I found work elsewhere it never got that bad, and the one time I have had to do crunch we were kicked out at 9pm by management and almost never did weekends. Hell, the last two years I’ve probably done a grand total of four hours of overtime. It’s incredible how much not having OT hanging over your head every day can improve your life.

The people who are just so engrossed in to their work that they can keep working on it for hours and hours need to be looked at as the exception and not the rule. Just because someone’s brain is wired in such a way that they get satisfaction from doing this kind of work, doesn’t mean everyone should. Especially when you are doing that work for someone else.

I just don’t feel like games about survival among mushroom zombies is really worth the human cost here. No game is, really. It’s just a game.

Edit: Ooops, I did a rant and decided to hide it behind a thing.

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I always, always, always take my gut instinct for “expected development time” and multiply by 2.5. Always. Something will always go wrong.

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Right?! Even my own personal game I was working on in my free time. Nothing complex, just a fairly simple game. I thought it would take maybe a year.

Took me over two. And it’s a totally different game than what I first envisioned. But that’s game development!

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Ultimately, the problem is that they never see any consequences for any of their decisions. It’s almost impossible to fuck up badly enough at the director/VP level that you lose your bonus, let alone get fired.

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The consequences are very much in the long term. They speak about it themselves in that article how all their top talent left and all they could get was a bunch of juniors.

Isn’t the first time I’ve heard a company feel like they can do no wrong, but that “people are breaking down the door to work here” mentality goes away real quick after you’ve burned out a ton of your top talents, and the only ones left knocking on your door are juniors that just have a demo reel and no practical experience.

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Where other mediums work in a reductive process of cutting out content that isn’t valuable to the work as a whole, large scale game development is almost always made with additive mindsets since extraneous content is openly encouraged by consumer-driven markets.

God of War 2018, Red Dead 2, and Uncharted 4 are all games that are overstuffed with lavishly-detailed nothing content that actually works against the whole of the experience.

This is only one of countless problems contributing to crunch culture, though.

In this one town, I’ve worked for a studio that laid off hundreds of people only a few months after the game released to mixed reception. 2-3 years later, I worked for another studio run by the same dude, and that project was such an unmitigated disaster that it didn’t make it past an initial E3 gameplay trailer.

Meanwhile QA people get permanently blacklisted from the industry if the studio finds out they told their cousin about what game they’re working on.

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If you work in QA, thank you for everything you do.

But yeah, I feel like if Naughty Dog is spending time trying to add in a bunch of side content or cruft a la Ubisoft, they could try not doing that and make a really great 15 hour game and let people go have dinner with their families.

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I completely agree that “voting with your wallet” is such an archaic, broken mentality, but this sort of behaviour by a studio is still going to prevent me from buying the game. Not because I think that will change anything, but because I cannot personally stomach the idea of supporting it.

Honestly, the best thing we can do as individuals in situations like this, besides working together to unionize, is speak up and speak out. Spread articles like this across the web, voice your anger, frustration, and disgust so others might read it and share it. The more people who know about it, the more people who care about it. And that drives more people to write about it and more people to speak out against it.

Sure, it’s trading one archaic, broken mentality for another one that’s just as broken (that companies care about what the individual consumer thinks), but at least it’s getting more people involved. The Riot gender-discrimination lawsuit wouldn’t have happened if the article wasn’t made about it and the article wouldn’t have been made if those who spoke up and those writing about it thought people wouldn’t care.

In the end, getting more people to actually give a shit is all we can do.

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