It can’t be for nothing.The Last of Us
In an effort to keep this post absolutely SPOILER-FREE, comments have been disabled. Thank you for your understanding.
UPDATE (May 1st, 2020): Today, news broke that the game footage and plot leaks were not committed by any Naughty Dog or Sony Entertainment Interactive employees. As a result, please disregard the original post’s commentary on that fictional employee’s potential motives. Regardless of the most recent development, I believe certain aspects of the post remain relevant. Leaks such as this are harmful to everyone involved in the production of a game. No one should claim that this was deserved or in some way a statement against Naughty Dog’s development practices. For people who have worked years to bring this experience to life, having it prematurely and unceremoniously spoiled is nothing short of tragic.
Today, you may have noticed that leaks abound, apparently spoiling much, if not all, of Naughty Dog’s upcoming The Last of Us Part II. Reports are suggesting that these leaks originally came from a disgruntled Naughty Dog employee. If that reporting is accurate, I’m wondering who, if anyone, this was intended to help, and who this harms.
Obviously, fans are eager to play the The Last of Us Part II, the sequel to 2013’s action-adventure game that followed Joel and Ellie on a fungus-infested journey through the United States. No one who has been anticipating this upcoming game wants spoilers on what’s still likely to be one of the biggest releases of the year. But even the repercussions for consumers aside, this recent leak remains about more than one employee vs. a corporation.
If you’ve read any of Jason Schreier’s reporting about crunch culture, it’s clear that there are appalling working conditions that go into some of our favorite gaming experiences. With all of the sympathy and gratitude I can muster, we can and should do better by the people who pour so much (too much) into this industry. It’s caused people to seriously consider boycotts of major releases, and it brings into question just how much we should value the quality of a video game if it comes at the cost of someone else’s health. With that said, this reported action feels misguided and unlikely to generate a positive outcome.
The recent leaks from The Last of Us Part II help no one and hurt everyone – the audience who has been patiently anticipating the game (and in my case, would have gladly waited longer), the team who poured in so much effort to make an exceptional experience, and sure, maybe even Naughty Dog and SIE, though I suspect the game will still sell incredibly well come launch. While I stand with developers and desperately want this industry to do better by them, I have to question the desired result. Many details are still unclear, but for now it just seems like a selfish move that was only intended to inflict pain on those who have been seen as complicit in continuing crunch.
I don’t believe you can support the individuals who have been affected by the industry’s unceasing machine by also rejecting the fruits of their labor.
By Naughty Dog’s own admission, the company seeks staff who are excited by working long hours on ambitious projects. The fact that the company makes no secret of its work culture doesn’t excuse it, but it does potentially show how one employee might feel justified in trying to undermine the hard work already invested by their talented co-workers. According to anonymous interviews of staff, employees regularly depend on each other to work late. There’s no official rule demanding overtime, but there seems to be an expectation that holds everyone accountable for putting in as much of themselves as they can wring out.
Although I don’t support the working conditions under which it’s been created, I remain excited for The Last of Us Part II. I don’t believe you can support the individuals who have been affected by the industry’s unceasing machine by also rejecting the fruits of their labor. For that same reason, I’m disheartened that one member of their team has decided it’s worth damaging the experience they’ve all carefully crafted simply to spite the larger organization. It just doesn’t seem worth it.
Maybe I’m wrong and this changes the way Naughty Dog does business. Maybe they critically look at how one employee wreaked havoc on an already tortured release and created a PR nightmare, then decide their employees deserve better. Or maybe we just see stricter NDAs and tougher regulations enforced throughout the gaming industry that make it even harder for developers to be heard. Then again, may none of that was the goal at all. I guess it’s just important to remember that we, as an audience, aren’t the only ones affected by leaks and spoilers. When a company’s culture is abusive or inhumane, the actions we take and the discussions we have in response affect a far wider community of creators.