Naughty Dog Execs Push Back Against Unions, Say They May Not Solve Crunch

"I don't know if that [unionization] would be a solution to crunch," said Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells.


The idea of game developers unionizing has been a hot topic in recent years, particularly as concerns around crunch, or developers working extreme amounts of overtime on a game, became widespread. However, Evan Wells and Neil Druckmann, the co-presidents of Naughty Dog, have pushed back against the idea of developers unionizing to solve crunch, saying that workers banding together to demand better treatment from their employers might not the issue.

Wells and Druckmann expressed their skepticism that unions would solve crunch during a recent interview with Game Informer, in which Wells said, "I don't know if that [unionization] would be a solution to crunch." Wells went on to say that employees being told they couldn't work more than 40 hours a week, "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."

The idea behind crunch, though, is that it's not always mandated by an executive. Instead, it's a culture of pressure that weighs down on developers, where a deadline is set and one worker can't take a day off because someone else would have to pick up their slack. In the same way Wells says people would feel handcuffed to stop working, crunch forces them to work extensively long weeks.

Druckmann, who also co-wrote The Last of Us 2, said during the interview that unionization wouldn't be a cure-all for crunch. "When you try to have a silver bullet, like one solution, you're always leaving someone behind," said Druckmann. "That's why we feel like we need multiple solutions. We have to approach this from multiple angles." Druckmann gave the example of someone who would have to work during the weekend to compensate for a lost day during the workweek of someone that has been left behind.

While Naughty Dog's most recent title, The Last of Us 2, has set multiple records for its high number of nominations and awards, the game's development cycle was also fraught with crunch. On the topic of developers at Naughty Dog crunching, Druckmann said in a June 2020 interview with GQ, "They're gonna work very hard. We need to put some guardrails [in] so they don't injure themselves, but I don't think we could prevent them from working hard and still make the kind of games we make."

One of the solutions that Druckmann may have been talking about could simply be hiring more developers. Naughty Dog recently put out a sweeping list of job postings for its first standalone multiplayer title.

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