Naughty Dog, the award-winning PlayStation studio behind The Last of Us and Uncharted, has several new games in the works – but we’re unlikely to hear about them for quite some time, as the company has announced a new approach to announcing and launching games in a way that protects everyone involved.
In a new interview with ComicBook, studio co-president Neil Druckmann discussed the future of the Naughty Dog, and how mistakes made during the launch cycles of Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us Part 2 taught the team, and management, valuable lessons.
‘We … [announced] Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us Part 2 way in advance,’ Druckmann said. ‘But that actually caused a little bit of the work-life balance issues that we’ve sometimes had at the studio. By delaying that announcement a bit, we could play with the schedule more and we’re more conscious now about how we’re approaching production.’
As a result of the early announcement for both games, the team at Naughty Dog reportedly had to go through periods of ‘crunch’ – long overtime hours performing hard, demanding work. In 2020, Druckmann faced major backlash for comments made to GQ that appeared to normalise crunch, and ‘late nights and long days … sometimes weeks at a time.’
‘We don’t try to babysit people,’ he said at the time. ‘We draw people who want to tell these stories and who want to leave a mark on the industry. And they’re gonna work very hard to do it.’
Developers speaking to Kotaku later revealed the human toll this crunch had, with several wondering how long the studio could keep its input up – and how much damage it would cause along the way.
‘This can’t be something that’s continuing over and over for each game, because it is unsustainable,’ one developer said. ‘At a certain point you realise, “I can’t keep doing this. I’m getting older. I can’t stay and work all night.”‘
As reports of crunch in major studios mounted in the late 2010s and early 2020s, workers and fans from across the industry began speaking out against harsh working conditions, expressing disappointment and threatening boycotts of companies that engaged in the practice. Studios that previously engaged in active crunch, or expected employees to adhere to extreme demands, were thrust into the spotlight in a major way.
The movement for better working conditions in the games industry has reshaped the approach of many studios, with work-life balance now an important, highly-coveted value. Goodwill is an essential commodity, on both sides of the fence, and studios are now reckoning with its need.
Going forward, Naughty Dog will make subtle changes to production schedules and release date announcements to ease pressure on staff, and create a healthier working environment.
Lessons learned from Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us Part 2 mean new games from the studio will be announced much closer to release – allowing more leeway during development, and a more ‘conscious’ approach to upcoming projects. While this will mean longer waits for more video game news, there’s hope it will also ease the burden on overworked developers, and help foster more creative experiences.
In the near future, Naughty Dog is set to announce fresh details about its highly-anticipated Last of Us multiplayer spin-off game. Expect these to arrive only when the game is nearing completion – and when Naughty Dog is ready to reveal its future.