A day after Kotaku published a lengthy article about severe crunch and unfavorable working conditions at Naughty Dog, a former Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us Part II animator stepped forward to corroborate the report.
Jonathan Cooper, an industry veteran who left Naughty Dog last October, penned a lengthy thread on Twitter in which he revealed that the studio threatened to withhold his final paycheck until he signed a document that required him to keep the studio’s production practices a secret. Cooper claimed that Naughty Dog relented after he proved that its demand was illegal.
While Cooper admitted that he personally only averaged 46 hours a week alongside other story animators, he said that he witnessed other teams undergoing severe crunch, which included one of his friends who ended up being hospitalized.
Kotaku’s report revealed that approximately 70 percent of Uncharted 4 designers left Naughty Dog following the game’s release. Worth noting that past stories of Uncharted 4‘s troubled development included reports of high turnover during development so this isn’t unheard of. Cooper seemed to confirm this, adding that the studio is known for its high turnover and severe crunch to the point where it’s becoming harder for it to hire experienced staff. As a result, Naughty Dog settled for junior developers, resulting in project delays.
Cooper is of the view that this is partly why The Last of Us II was delayed, and that “a more senior team would have shipped The Last of Us II a year ago.” “Ultimately, Naughty Dog’s linear games have a formula and they focus-test the shit out of them,” he concluded. “While talented, their success is due in large part to Sony’s deep pockets funding delays rather than skill alone.”
While Naughty Dog remained mum about the report, a tweet by Neil Druckmann seems to be a response to Cooper’s comment about the studio having to hire less experienced developers. He wrote:
Even after years of working on it, I’m still blown away by the animation in Part II. We have one of, if not the best, animation team in the industry – both in raw animation skill and technical knowledge. Can’t wait for you to experience their incredible work.
Sony has not commented on the report either.
[Source: Jonathan Cooper (Twitter)]