Naughty Dog's stance on crunch is once again under scrutiny as the studio's co-presidents Evan Wells and Neil Druckmann addressed the topic in an interview with Game Informer this weekend.
When asked about their personal experience with crunch, Wells replied, "I have definitely personally worked very hard over the years. I think some of that has helped me get to where I am in my career."
He added that the studio has post mortem discussions after each project for every department, including production, with a goal to "strike the right balance between giving people the opportunity to... leave their mark on the industry and advance their craft in ways that have never been achieved, but also find space along that spectrum."
Druckmann said Naughty Dog wants to prevent burnout at the studio and has created working groups to identify areas for improvement in the studio, while Wells noted a focus on increasing the number of directors and leads to better monitor employee well-being and take feedback.
When asked if unionization might be a possible solution, Wells said he hadn't thought about it much and wasn't sure it would solve anything.
"There are people who really want to put in that extra polish on their own volition, and they would feel handcuffed"
"To Neil's point about making sure that everybody is able to work as hard or as little as they want, we've got to create an environment that allows that," Wells said.
"If we had some sort of restriction where when the clock strikes 40 hours the servers shut down and you can't work anymore, that would frustrate people to no end. There are people who really want to put in that extra polish on their own volition, and they would feel handcuffed."
Druckmann said Naughty Dog has tried such measures in the past, forbidding work past a certain hour or on Sundays, but there were edge cases.
"When you try to have a silver bullet, like one solution, you're always leaving someone behind," he said. "That's why we feel like we need multiple solutions. We have to approach this from multiple angles."
Naughty Dog's crunch issues have been well established over the years.
Uncharted 3 creative director Amy Hennig has said she worked 12 hour days, seven days a week for the entire decade she worked at the studio, and Druckmann himself said Uncharted 4's central theme of "passion versus settling down" was inspired by crunch.
More recently, Naughty Dog's crunch culture was the subject of a Kotaku feature last year, with one employee saying that when the studio hires people, it specifically looks for those with the drive to work longer hours for marginal improvements to the game.
Months later, Druckmann told GQ Magazine that Naughty Dog doesn't "try to babysit people," but acknowledged it should "put some guardrails [in] so they don't injure themselves."
"I don't think we could prevent them from working hard and still make the kind of games we make," Druckmann said.