17 votes

As Naughty Dog crunches on The Last Of Us II, developers wonder how much longer this approach can last

16 comments

  1. [3]
    Douglas
    Link
    Jesus fucking christ they don't have a production department!? I know the article touches on it, but that feels like the biggest problem. That and whatever development cycle they're holding...

    It’s a producer’s job to keep track of what people are working on, coordinate across disciplines, and ensure that the whole team is staying on schedule. At Naughty Dog, there is no production department. Over time, the company has hired a couple of producers to help with scheduling and other tasks, but the studio’s philosophy has long been that everyone should act as their own producer.

    Jesus fucking christ they don't have a production department!?

    I know the article touches on it, but that feels like the biggest problem. That and whatever development cycle they're holding themselves accountable to.

    When I worked at Laika, the producers were the ones responsible for crunch time because they didn't understand the work that went into production. All they cared about were numbers-- specifically, how many frames were completed by the end of the week. And there's a real disconnect and dehumanization that occurs when a producer's blinders limit them to an output that's just deadlines and the unit of measurement they've decided to go by.

    With stop motion animation, animators are given a shot to work on, and the shot can be anything: a close-up, a wide shot, a panning shot, etc.. Each shot that's assigned can vary widely from one to the other: Animator 1 has to work on a 5 second panning shot of characters all talking to one another. Animator 2 gets a 10 second shot of a character's face looking confused as they hear a conversation in the other room. Friday comes and Animator 1 turns in their work: woah, buddy you're not done with your 5 second shot yet? What the hell!? Why can't you be like Animator 2? They got their whole 10 seconds done! -- Never mind that the five second shot involved so much more work than the ten second shot (mouths, cameras, etc. yikes!), the producers just cared about frames, because frames translated to the movie's completion. Animator 1 isn't told they're slacking, Animator 1 isn't told to stay late explicitly, but when the boards go up and they invariably compare themselves to the other animators, they might feel a pressure to get into crunch time. Everyone else is doing it, shouldn't they?

    Nowadays I work in software, and I'm not sure how many other developers have this system, but this issue is somewhat addressed-- ironically-- by asking the developers who might be assigned these tasks how difficult they think their task will be; it's not a bidding war, they ask them individually these questions. The production manager then takes the tasks and distributes them among the developers and plots out the schedule for each release of the software. If a developer misses their deadline or a task is more difficult than it had been proposed (which is checked in on every day), scheduling adjustments are made from there.

    I do not work in game development. I do not know how not having a production management department translates into this problem at Naughty Dog outside of what's in the article, but if they've had this problem through multiple releases, I'd maybe reconsider getting that back.

    Also, when I was at Laika-- an added, unspoken crunch factor came from how much everyone wanted to work there. And this knowledge that if you didn't want to work there, someone else is right behind you waiting to get in. I would absolutely feel that at Naughty Dog. I love their games, I love their work, but I can't imagine the pressure and anxiety I'd get if ever I joined their workforce.

    15 votes
    1. [2]
      JXM
      Link Parent
      I think this is universal to all disciplines. The higher you go up the ladder, the less actual day to day work you're doing and the more "big picture" thinking you're doing. Not doing this nitty...

      And there's a real disconnect and dehumanization that occurs when a producer's blinders limit them to an output that's just deadlines and the unit of measurement they've decided to go by.

      I think this is universal to all disciplines. The higher you go up the ladder, the less actual day to day work you're doing and the more "big picture" thinking you're doing. Not doing this nitty gritty work makes it a lot easier for a producer or manager to underestimate or just not understand the amount of work required to complete a task. All they know is that they want something by Friday, not that the thing they requested actually needs two extra days to be done without working until midnight for the next five days.

      6 votes
      1. cptcobalt
        Link Parent
        Super relevant quote by Upton Sinclair: That’s it. They see what they want done but don’t want to accept or understand the reality to get there.

        Super relevant quote by Upton Sinclair:

        "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

        That’s it. They see what they want done but don’t want to accept or understand the reality to get there.

        1 vote
  2. [8]
    moonbathers
    Link
    I hope all those developers working insane hours are getting overtime pay. They probably aren't, but they should be. This sort of environment has lasting impacts on not just the person doing...

    I hope all those developers working insane hours are getting overtime pay. They probably aren't, but they should be. This sort of environment has lasting impacts on not just the person doing crunch time but their family too.

    5 votes
    1. [2]
      Douglas
      Link Parent
      I know it's not a catch-all, end-all solution... but I feel like I would gladly buy a game full-price if there was some sort of authenticate seal developers could put on their games akin to the...

      I know it's not a catch-all, end-all solution... but I feel like I would gladly buy a game full-price if there was some sort of authenticate seal developers could put on their games akin to the "Vegan" or "GMO Free" symbol, but it just read "No crunch!"

      13 votes
      1. moonbathers
        Link Parent
        Yeah, I think (or maybe just hope) that people who buy games are starting to be more aware of crunch time and have sympathy for the developers. I don't want to say much so I don't dox myself, but...

        Yeah, I think (or maybe just hope) that people who buy games are starting to be more aware of crunch time and have sympathy for the developers. I don't want to say much so I don't dox myself, but I've been impacted by a family member's crunch time and the sooner it stops the better.

        3 votes
    2. [5]
      Deimos
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      The article mentions that salaried developers aren't paid overtime, but will get a bonus: That's pretty typical for the games industry (and most development work), as far as I know.

      The article mentions that salaried developers aren't paid overtime, but will get a bonus:

      Some of the developers at Naughty Dog are just fine with the studio’s culture, which is why it exists in the first place. They’re paid well, treated fairly, and given extensive time off at the end of production. Salaried workers aren’t paid for overtime work, but they can get decent bonuses after each game ships. As is typical in California, contractors and those working for hourly pay at Naughty Dog are paid time-and-a-half after eight hours and double time after twelve, but many are on limited contracts, and they aren’t eligible for bonuses or other perks. For contractors, the carrot of full-time employment was an incentive to put in overtime hours.

      That's pretty typical for the games industry (and most development work), as far as I know.

      5 votes
      1. JXM
        Link Parent
        I work in a university town, so maybe I'm biased (since my local higher education institution makes extensive use of contractors), but employers do this all the time and then rarely hire...

        For contractors, the carrot of full-time employment was an incentive to put in overtime hours.

        I work in a university town, so maybe I'm biased (since my local higher education institution makes extensive use of contractors), but employers do this all the time and then rarely hire contractors on as full time.

        5 votes
      2. ThatFanficGuy
        Link Parent
        So, if it's a full-time occupation and the dev cycle is rushed all the time... that's not a bonus: that's wage.

        So, if it's a full-time occupation and the dev cycle is rushed all the time... that's not a bonus: that's wage.

        3 votes
      3. [2]
        moonbathers
        Link Parent
        There's gotta be some overtime rules for salaried people. Making 100k a year doesn't mean jack shit if you're averaging 60+ hours a week for the whole year.

        There's gotta be some overtime rules for salaried people. Making 100k a year doesn't mean jack shit if you're averaging 60+ hours a week for the whole year.

        3 votes
        1. stu2b50
          Link Parent
          There are 3 types in the US Non-exempt hourly employees, who by law must get overtime pay but are also not salaried. Exempt salaried employees, "exempt" in this case means exempt from the FLSA...

          There are 3 types in the US

          Non-exempt hourly employees, who by law must get overtime pay but are also not salaried.

          Exempt salaried employees, "exempt" in this case means exempt from the FLSA overtime requirements. In this case, nope, by definition this category of employee is exempt from overtime regulations.

          Non-exempt salary employees, this is pretty rare but it means you are both salaried and get overtime.

          1 vote
  3. [2]
    Deimos
    Link
    Jonathan Cooper, an animator who used to work at Naughty Dog, has posted a couple tweet-threads discussing his experiences there and thoughts:...

    Jonathan Cooper, an animator who used to work at Naughty Dog, has posted a couple tweet-threads discussing his experiences there and thoughts:

    4 votes
    1. joplin
      Link Parent
      I've known people who worked there and it sounds awful. Lots of overtime with little reward. I hope they're able to move on to better places to work.

      I've known people who worked there and it sounds awful. Lots of overtime with little reward. I hope they're able to move on to better places to work.

      3 votes
  4. [3]
    mrbig
    Link
    I was watching co-founder Andy Gavin recount the development of Crash Bandicoot earlier, and I had an insight/intuition (please correct me if that doesn't make sense): these guys started trying to...

    I was watching co-founder Andy Gavin recount the development of Crash Bandicoot earlier, and I had an insight/intuition (please correct me if that doesn't make sense): these guys started trying to make into the scene as co-owners that at the same time posed as creators/developers/artists/etc. As business owners, from early on, it made sense for them to put an absurd amount of effort because they would be the ones reaping the majority of the rewards (financial and otherwise). When their business grew, some of these guys adapted the guerrilla strategy into a brutally unfair capitalist mindset.

    2 votes
    1. [2]
      Kuromantis
      Link Parent
      A realization perhaps? Intuition is a mental characteristic and insight is probably something more given to you via data or a inner contact.

      I had an insight/intuition (please correct me if that doesn't make sense)

      A realization perhaps? Intuition is a mental characteristic and insight is probably something more given to you via data or a inner contact.

      1. mrbig
        Link Parent
        I see. I don't know for sure. As you know, "intuition" in Portuguese can be used in that manner, it servers the purpose of making it clear that this is admittedly not entirely based on facts. I...

        I see. I don't know for sure. As you know, "intuition" in Portuguese can be used in that manner, it servers the purpose of making it clear that this is admittedly not entirely based on facts. I was clearly translating my train of thought there :P

        2 votes