An ex-Naughty Dog animator posted a series of tweets this morning, giving his insight into how crunch and a lack of senior members affect the development process of games like The Last of Us Part II.
Jonathan Cooper, who worked as an animator for more than five years at Naughty Dog, began his 10 tweet message by saying he has no awful personal story of crunching. Despite quitting in October of 2019, Cooper didn’t sound dissatisfied by what he explained was an average workweek of 46 hours when he left. He even came off as pleased that he never worked more than 55 hours in a week while there.
While Cooper hasn’t had crunch negatively affect him personally, he knows others did suffer. One of his colleagues ended up in the hospital after crunching for a demo shown last September.
Cooper’s tweets came off the heels of a Kotaku article about crunch at Naughty Dog.
What led Cooper to leave Naughty Dog was his desire to work with the best. “That is no longer Naughty Dog,” he said.
How crunch affects Naughty Dog
Cooper attributes the developer’s reputation for crunch as “so bad it was near impossible to hire seasoned contract game animators to close out the project.” Instead, Naughty Dog looked toward film animators to help out. The Santa Monica, California based company had plenty of people within the film industry to choose from.
These new contract workers often didn’t have the experience required to make up for the people they were meant to replace, however. This wasn’t unique to the animation department. The design team also hired people with less experience to replace those leaving. According to Cooper, this tipped the scales of senior/junior members of the team out of balance. This leads to even more grind, with more time being spent training employees than working on projects.
Many of the workers at Naughty Dog work through a contract. These employees miss out on the benefits of a full-time job. This further lead employees to leave the company. Most of the contracted story animators quit last year, Cooper said.
Ultimately, Cooper sees the lack of employees that remain with the company as bad for everyone involved. “I would just not recommend anyone work at Naughty Dog until they prioritize talent-retention,” Cooper said of prospective employees.
As for the fans, Cooper’s convinced this lead to a much longer development cycle than had the company been able to keep its longer-tenured members. “A more senior team would have shipped [The Last of Us Part II] a year ago.”