Jason Rubin谈Naughty Dog工作室发展历程（二）
以下问答作为本文的第二部分，选自Morgan Ramsay最近出版的书《Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play》。该书作者采访了18位知名的游戏工作室创始人，谈论他们各自的成功史。本文的第一部分介绍了Naughty Dog工作室的创始人Jason Rubin早期的游戏生涯以及制作《Crash Bandicoot》的经历。在第二部分，Rubin谈论了制作《Jak and Daxter》以及最终卖掉Naughty Dog的过程。
Ramsay：你为什么放弃《Crash》而去做《Jak and Daxter》？
Rubin：在《Crash Team Racing》之后，Naughty Dog原本想继续发开《Crash》系列的，但与Universal的关系无法维持下去了。一开始，我们签了三年的项目合同，然而，当Sony看中《Crash》提出发行意向时，Universal就与对方达成协议了。我们从来没有预料到会出现这样的结果。我们对游戏的控制权实际上是被再次削减了，这是不合理的。我们的成本和补偿还是一样的，我们付出的努力也是一样的，但我们得到的收益却少得多。另一方面，这意味着Universal几乎不用承担什么营销成本和内部管理成本了，他们甚至最终把财政成本也推给Sony了。
显然，这种局面不可能永远维持下去。我们必须走自己的路，重新开始。《Jak and Daxter》就是斗争的结果。不得不放弃《Crash》且让它变成这么平庸的游戏系列，我们感到难过，但Naughty Dog不再开发那系列的游戏后，我就觉得无所谓了。它仍然是非常讨人喜欢的系列，有很庞大的粉丝基础。在2010年，我看了《Crash》的Q Scores——由第三方为大型知识产权项目制作的排名，《Crash》表现不错，作为一个脱离聚光灯已经很久的项目，特别是对那些18到49岁的成年人而言。那些玩过《Crash》的人仍然记得它。当Activision与Vivendi Universal（游戏邦注：Vivendi和Universal Interactive合并后的名称）合并时，《Crash》的版权又落到Activision手中。我非常希望他们有一天能掸去落在《Crash》上的尘埃，重塑往日辉煌。
Rubin：《Jak and Daxter》不是为了复制《Crash》的成功而做的尝试，而是为了延续Naughty Dog的“梦想”。那款游戏，或者至少是那款游戏的轮廓在我们开始《Crash》时就已经存在了，只是被搁置了十年多。它把错综复杂的剧情、激动人心的冒险和严密的玩法无缝地融为一体——基本上是一部可玩的电影。
一开始，我们打算把《Crash》做成带有剧情点和动作事件的游戏，但我们的代码和PlayStation都达不到要求。所以，我们只能近100%地依靠平台玩法。随着《Crash》进展，基本剧情中加入越来越多情节，推动游戏前进。《Jak and Daxter》用那种方法进入下一关卡，有甚至更多展示性的物理破坏效果和变化的剧情。
Rubin：Andy和我都认为它可以独自过活。《Crash Bandicoot》的版权仍为我们带来大量收入。所有人都想向前走，尝试新东西。Mark Cerny，来自Universal的唯一一个对《Crash》的成功有过帮助的人，现在是一名自由职业者，而且还继续为我们贡献他的才华。Sony Computer Entertainment仍然为我们提供世界上70多个国家的本土化建议——这是《Crash》在日本和其他国家这么流行的重要原因。正是因为这些友好的合作，Andy和我才能这么投入地开发制作《Jak and Daxter》。
Rubin：我们搬去Santa Monica了。那里似乎是个适合团队发展的地方。在我们离开Universal时，我们曾以为好莱坞对Naughty Dog有点重要。因为我们认为在娱乐产业比较发达的地方建立工作室比较好。那也是我的搬去洛杉矶而不是跟旧金山的发行商签约的原因。1994年时，游戏似乎越来越“多媒体”，且好莱坞有更优秀的人才。但结果并不是那样的。洛杉矶虽然确实是个居住和工作的理想位置——有优秀的配音演员、动画设计师、写手和可供团队轻易利用的其他人才，但其他城市也有各自的优势。
Ramsay：当Naughty Dog在Santa Monica安家落户时，你知道Sony已经在那里建了它自己的工作室吗？
Rubin：我们至始至终都知道Sony在那有一间工作室。Alan Becker是经营那间工作室的人，他也有份参与《Crash》和《Jak and Daxter》项目。但即使被收购后，Sony也是放手让Naughty Dog做它自己的事。在Andy和我离开前，Naughty Dog是美国Sony Computer Entertainment（归其母公司全权所有，但有它自己的董事会和管理部门）的全资子公司。我们与其他Sony工作室的关系，包括在Santa Monica的那一间，都是非常亲密的。我们与Insomniac的关系也很好。
Rubin：关于Naughty Dog的收购，有一个有趣的故事，但与Sony工作室没有关系。Andy和我在东京的Lexington Queen夜店时，我们遇到了美国Sony的游戏部门的主管Kelly Flock、《Game Informer》杂志的Andy McNamara和Andy Reiner。我们讨论继《Crash》之后，Naughty Dog应该何去何从，甚至Kelly也不知道我们当时已经在做什么事。Naughty Dog启动《Jak and Daxter》项目时，知道这事的只有Shu Yoshida和Connie Booth这两位长期制作人不是我们工作室的。Kelly说Naughty Dog的业务正处于抛物线的顶端，PlayStation上排名第2、4和7的最畅销游戏都是我们的，且《Crash Team Racing》也很快就要赶上来了。我们现在的局面就是“物极必反”，达到颠峰后只能走下坡路。
这个逻辑像一块砖把我们拍醒了。《Game Informer》的两位Andy不同意，双双跑到桌子另一边想打Kelly，为了捍卫Naughty Dog的荣耀。但Andy和我注视着对方，都意识到他说的可能是对的。那是我们第一次产生卖掉公司的念头。
Ramsay：《Jak and Daxter》与《Crash》有何不同？《神秘海域》是它的进化版吗？
Rubin：到开发《Jak and Daxter 2》时，Naughty Dog的想法开始成形。在两款《Jak and Daxter》中，我们仍然得通过大削减把玩法从故事中分离出来。但我们这么做的成效并不明显。《Jak and Daxter》更严肃、更成人向、剧情更复杂，但与我们的想象仍然相距甚远。《神秘海域》最终实现了我们的梦想。Naughty Dog最终梦想成真，这让我很兴奋也很自豪。可惜的是，那时我已经不在那个工作室了。当《神秘海域2》发布时，我最终看到梦想的碎片汇聚在一起。《神秘海域2》是我们开始《Crash》时就已经打算做的。只是它花了十年多才付诸实践。
从商业的角度说，《Jak and Daxter》帮助我们挣脱了Universal的枷锁。收益的蛋糕终于只要在制作方和发行方——Naughty Dog和Sony之间分配了。但Sony也想摆脱它自己的桎梏。他们不想只为了看到像《Crash》中那样的跨平台角色，而制造另一个实际上的吉祥物。Naughty Dog要求签订与Universal的一样的协议，但Sony想要的更多。
Rubin：Sony希望Naughty Dog不会对《Jak and Daxter》做出像Universal对《Crash》做的事：把它发布到对手的设备上。为此，Sony只能购入全部的产权。然而，Naughty Dog不想再花6年时间折腾一个不属于自己的项目。唯一的解决办法就是，Sony收购Naughty Dog。所以，Sony给Andy和我一个我们无法拒绝的选择，从而解决了这个问题。
对Sony来说，这是明智的决定。特别是考虑到《神秘海域》系列，Andy和我的离开显然是应该的。这对Naughty Dog团队也是有益的。从那之后，我们得以在只有Sony这样的公司才能提供的帮助下，专注于制作最好的游戏。我们的专注和他们的支持一直持续到现在。但对于Andy和我本人，这是明智的选择吗？回顾过去，我认为是吧。但如果我们继续领导独立的Naughty Dog，谁知道现在会是什么情况呢！
底线：根据电脑的1997年的日志，我在办公室的电脑前工作了364天，平均每天16个小时。我唯一没有去工作的那天是因为我得了重感冒。那一年，我吃的午饭大部分是从自动贩卖机里买的。我记得Andy一天都没缺勤。做完第一款《Crash》游戏后，我们已经准备好续篇了。8名员工历时21个月完成《 Crash》，13名员工历时13个月完成《Crash2》，16名员工历时11个月完成《Crash3》，21名员工历时8个月完成除了新引擎外的《Crash Team Racing》，这种速度应该破纪录了吧。我们赶上四次圣诞发布，很成功，挣了很多钱，但我们没有休息。
不幸的是，PlayStation 2带来更大的挑战。在团队规模迅速膨胀时，我们却没有时间、经验或远见意识到团队结构的变化。也不是只有Naughty Dog面临这种困境。随着员工年纪增长，家庭和孩子的问题越来越明显。工作时间成了问题。有些员工愿意早上6点工作到傍晚6点，而有些人则从下午4点工作到凌晨4点。这不是夸张。这么工作当然不行。一个游戏角色不再是一个人的独立任务。还需要建模师、材质美工和动画师的合作。如果有人是早起的鸟儿，而有的人是夜猫子，他们同时出现在办公室里的时间就不会超过一两个小时。所以，我提出了一个“核心小时”的工作制度，也就是要求所有人在早上10点半至中午12点半和下午2点至5点半必须在办公室里工作。这样大家就有一段比较固定和长的时间可以在一起工作了。我仍然记得，员工们对这个新制度感到兴奋，这是他们以前从来没有见过的。不过，我流失了两名员工——他们分别在新制度实行当天和数周后破坏了核心小时的工作制度。
Naughty Dog是第一批采用核心小时的工作室之一，如果不是第一个的话。三年以后，这几乎成为行业的惯例。团队规模还在膨胀！在PlayStation 1上预算从2百万美元上涨到4百万美元，在PlayStation 2的预算从1千万美元上涨到2千万美元。尽管我们努力创造一种平等的管理层级制度，团队领导仍然居于最上层。我们有60多名员工，我仍然必须了解他们每一个人的工作。假设我一天检查所有员工的工作10小时，那就是每人10分钟。
工作压力大，所以我们开始实行每个项目完成后放假一个月的制度。这么做的代价，从预算的角度说，是每个项目超过1百万美元。为了最小化这个成本，团队必须在休假回来当天准备好新项目。Andy和我在员工休假的那一个月仍然要工作，和Evan Wells、Stephen White等几位核心员工一起准备项目。
团队越大，预算也越大，但游戏机行业还处于鼎盛时期。有些发行商急于扩大团队规模和组建新团队。我害怕Evan和Stephen会因为那个机遇而离开，我不希望Naughty Dog走向分裂。我们设想的事还是发生了。幸好我在Stephen离开Naughty Dog前要分裂团队的时候制止了他。
我们本可以把Naughty Dog分裂成两支团队，也就是Evan和Stephen分别带领一支新团队，但我认为那时候的Naughty Dog还处于颠峰时期，不应该冒那个险。两个普通或者甚至优秀的产品，也比不上一个了不起的产品。从历史上看，在一个成功导向型的产业中确实是这样的。如果你看看电子游戏的销售曲线，你会更加相信我所说的。
2002年，Andy和我决定离开Naughty Dog。我们把决定告诉Sony，并且承诺我们将在接下来的两年里把Evan和Stephen培养成合格的接班人。我们也确实那么做了。到开发《Jak and Daxter3》时，我的办公室已经让给Evan了。我越来越少参与管理，更多地是监督指导他的工作。等到《Jak and Daxter3》完工时，Evan已经“出师”了。Andy也是这么培养Stephen的。但是，Stephen最终决定不带领团队了，可能与我上述提到的原因有关。所以Christophe Balestra就替补上去了。交班过程非常顺利，所以团队才能一直保持良好的状态到当年完工《神秘海域2》。
Andy和我继续向早期的PlayStation 3开发过渡，我认为我们原本也许不必离开。如果我们分裂成两支团队，并且能够继续做出高品质的产品，我们可能会更成功。不过这也不是很肯定的事，至少那时我决定离开Naughty Dog是因为觉得别无选择了。有些人就是为了一个必须完成的目标而活着。我喜欢在Naughty Dog工作。我喜欢那支团队，我也享受那种工作和成就感，但我也想丰富人生阅历。如果我继续留在Naughty Dog，有些事情我就永远不能做了。
The Rise of Naughty Dog – Part 2
By James Brightman
The following Q&A is Part 2 of our exclusive excerpt from Morgan Ramsay’s recent book release Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play. The book features personal conversations with 18 of the world’s most successful founders of video game companies about their earliest days to where they are now. In Part 1 (which you should read now if you haven’t yet) Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin talks about his early days in game development and building Crash Bandicoot.
In Part 2 below, Rubin discuss moving on from Crash to Jak and Daxter, the eventual sale of Naughty Dog, and much more.
Ramsay: Why did you leave Crash for Jak and Daxter?
Rubin: Naughty Dog would have liked continuing with Crash beyond Crash Team Racing, but the relationship with Universal was untenable. Originally, we had signed a three-project deal; however, when Sony became enamored with the game and eventually negotiated to publish Crash, Universal cut a deal for a sizable yet much smaller cut of the game than they would have received as the publisher. Our contract with Universal never contemplated this occurrence. We were effectively crammed down into a cut of their cut. This made no sense. Our costs and recoup were the same. Our effort was the same, but we were getting a much smaller amount per copy sold. On the other hand, the arrangement meant that Universal had no more marketing costs, very little internal management costs, and eventually they even managed to push the financing costs back to Sony.
It is perfectly fair to say that they did next to nothing on the project and yet reaped a larger amount on the early games’ profit than we did. The only reason I cannot say that Universal contributed nothing is that Mark Cerny, a Universal employee, was our producer. He was a massive force in the success of our games. His salary and work could be called Universal’s contribution to the first few Crash titles. But Mark eventually left Universal, and we started contracting him directly. Sony effectively paid for his work. While Mark continued to be incredibly important to our titles, his contribution could no longer be attributable to Universal. From that point forward, they did literally nothing but collect royalties that should have been, at least in large part, ours.
“Jak and Daxter was not an attempt to repeat the success of Crash so much as move forward on the Naughty Dog ‘dream’ …basically, a fully playable movie. ”
Obviously, this situation couldn’t last forever. We had to strike out on our own and start fresh. Jak and Daxter was the result. It is sad that Naughty Dog had to leave Crash and that Crash went on to be in so many average titles – I’m being kind – after Naughty Dog stopped developing the games. He is still a very endearing character with a huge fan base. In 2010, I looked at Crash’s Q Scores – rankings done by a third party for every major intellectual property. Crash does incredibly well for a character that has had such a long hiatus from the spotlight. This is especially true with adults 18 to 49. Those that remember playing Crash remember him fondly. When Activision merged with Vivendi Universal – itself a merger of Vivendi and Universal Interactive – the Crash rights passed to Activision’s hands. I have high hopes that they will someday dust off Crash and bring him back to his original glory.
Ramsay: Were you looking to repeat the success of Crash?
Rubin: Jak and Daxter was not an attempt to repeat the success of Crash so much as move forward on the Naughty Dog “dream.” That game, or at least the outline of that game, existed when we started Crash, but would not be realized for over a decade and a half. It involved weaving plot and adventure together seamlessly and continuously with tight gameplay – basically, a fully playable movie.
Originally, Crash was supposed to be laced with plot points and action sequences. But both our code and the PlayStation utterly failed on that promise. Instead, we fell back on almost 100% platform gameplay. As the Crash games progressed, more and more plot came in-basic plot, but plot nonetheless, driving the game forward. Jak was an attempt to take that to the next level with even more showpieces-large physical destruction and change-and story.
Ramsay: After leaving what was effectively an abusive relationship, did you think that Naughty Dog could survive as an independent, external studio?
Rubin: Andy and I had no fear that Naughty Dog could go it alone. We were generating significant income from Crash Bandicoot royalties, and the band was still together. Everyone was excited to move forward and try something new. Mark Cerny, who had been the only major contributor to the success of Crash from Universal, was now freelance and continued to add his abundant talent to our endeavors. Sony Computer Entertainment was still giving us advice from over 70 countries around the world. It was just such local knowledge that had made Crash so popular in Japan and elsewhere. It was the fact that we were all so comfortable working together that led Andy and I to make the investment in Jak and Daxter.
We knew that we’d eventually work out terms with our friends at Sony. Our relationship could not have been better. Why bother negotiating a contract upfront when there was a game to be made? We had also learned, from self-financing Way of the Warrior, that there is no such thing as a great game that can’t find a place on store shelves. If you build it, there will be a way to get it to market. And the longer the developer takes the risk, the greater proportion of the reward they reap. We were ready for that risk. The PlayStation 2 was just hardware. As much as everyone worries and complains, new hardware is just new hardware. At the end of the day, hardware never holds up a good team. In fact, new hardware makes good teams shine. Not only were we ready, but we also had everything we needed to succeed.
“Uncharted 2 was the game Naughty Dog set out to make when we started Crash. It took well more than a decade to get there”
Ramsay: Where did you eventually set up shop? Did you want to stay near Los Angeles, or did you look at other locations?
Rubin: We moved to Santa Monica. It seemed like the most comfortable place for the team. Hollywood was of small importance to Naughty Dog by the time we left Universal. Initially, we had thought it was important to be established where the entertainment action was. That was one of the reasons we moved to Los Angeles instead of signing with a San Francisco-based publisher. At that time, in 1994, it seemed that games were going more “multimedia” and that Hollywood would provide better talent. But it didn’t pan out that way. While it was certainly nice to be in the Los Angeles area- where great voice actors, cartoon designers, writers, and other Hollywood talent reside-other teams have been able to harness that talent from other cities with little trouble. Los Angeles is certainly a great place to live and work, but other major cities have their advantages as well.
Location is not that important for developers, but there are tradeoffs to make. If you are in a big, game-centric city like San Francisco, Los Angeles-Orange County, Seattle, Vancouver, Montreal, or Austin, then there is a lot of talent. But there’s also a lot of competition for your staff. On the other hand, if you are the only player, or one of the only players, in town-like say, Epic Games in Cary, North Carolina-then it is harder to attract talent but easier to keep it. I think anywhere works, so long as it works!
Ramsay: When Naughty Dog relocated to Santa Monica, were you aware that Sony was establishing a studio of its own there?
Rubin: We had been aware of the other Sony studio all along. Alan Becker, who ran the studio, was involved in the Crash, and Jak and Daxter, projects. But even after the acquisition, Sony left Naughty Dog to do its thing. Before Andy and I left, Naughty Dog was a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment America, a company that was completely owned by its parent but had its own board and management. Our relationship with the other Sony studios, including Santa Monica, was very close. And we remained close with Insomniac, who was not under the Sony corporate umbrella.
Ramsay: Did that proximity inspire Naughty Dog’s sale to Sony?
Rubin: There is a good story about how the sale of Naughty Dog came about, but it had nothing to do with the Sony studio. Andy and I were in Tokyo at the Lexington Queen, a Roppongi nightclub that had been a debaucherous hangout for the touring heavy metal bands of the 1980s before it became our favorite 4:00 AM spot in the late 1990s. We were with Kelly Flock, who was then head of Sony’s game division in the United States, and Andy McNamara and Andy Reiner of Game Informer magazine. Suffice it to say, we were not in any shape to drive home, were we to have had cars. We were arguing about what Naughty Dog should do after Crash, and even Kelly wasn’t privy to what we were already doing at that point. Naughty Dog had started Jak and Daxter, but Shu Yoshida and Connie Booth, our longterm producers, were probably the only non-Naughty Dogs who had seen it at that point. Kelly threw out the idea that Naughty Dog was at the top of the business. We had the number 2, 4, and 7 best-selling games on the PlayStation, and Crash Team Racing was fast catching up, so there was nowhere for us to go as developers but down.
That piece of sick logic hit Andy Gavin and me like a brick. The Andys from Game Informer fought back, literally. They both jumped across the table to wrestle Kelly and defend Naughty Dog’s honor. But Andy and I looked at each other, and we both realized that he just might be right. That is when we first contemplated selling the company.
Ramsay: How was Jak and Daxter different from your success with Crash? Was Uncharted an evolution of your earlier vision?
Rubin: By Jak 2, the Naughty Dog vision started to show through. Through the Jak games, we still had to separate gameplay from story with pretty harsh cuts. We tried to do both at the same time here and there, but there was only mild success in this endeavor. Jak was more serious, more adult, and more interesting in its weaving of plot and game, but it was far from our dream title. Uncharted finally realized the dream. I’m elated and proud that Naughty Dog finally saw the dream to fruition, and sad that I wasn’t there for the final steps. When Uncharted 2 came out, I finally saw the pieces come together and click. Uncharted 2 was the game Naughty Dog set out to make when we started Crash. It took well more than a decade to get there.
From a business standpoint, Jak would release us from our shackles at Universal. Finally, the pie was to be split between only the parties who were making and publishing the game: Naughty Dog, and Sony. But Sony also wanted to be freed from its shackles. They didn’t want to create another de facto mascot just to see the character go multiplatform like Crash. Naughty Dog asked for the same deal that had been struck with Universal, but Sony wanted more.
Ramsay: What did Sony want?
Rubin: Sony wanted insurance that Naughty Dog wouldn’t do with Jak what Universal was doing with Crash: publishing it on competitive hardware. In the end, it only made sense for Sony to own the intellectual property outright. However, Naughty Dog wasn’t willing to spend another six years working on a property that it didn’t own. The only solution was an acquisition of Naughty Dog by Sony. So, Sony solved the problem by making Andy and me an offer that we couldn’t refuse.
It was a smart financial move on Sony’s part. That was true by the time Andy and I left, but when you add the Uncharted series, it becomes obvious. It was also a good move for the Naughty Dog team. From that day forward, we had a comfortable place to focus on making the best games we could with all the support that only a company like Sony could provide. That focus and support continues to this day. But was it a smart move for Andy and me personally? In retrospect, I think so. But who knows what would have happened were Andy and I still leading an independent Naughty Dog!
Ramsay: When did you and Andy leave Naughty Dog?
Rubin: Andy and I left Naughty Dog in October 2004 at the end of our contracts. There were many reasons. The two major factors were our lack of vacation and the needs of those directly below us in the company hierarchy. I guess it’s fair to say that we desired the first and were enabled to pursue it because of the second.
Triple-A video-game development has progressed from one man and a computer in a weekend to teams of hundreds working in multiple specialties for years. But that progression was not smooth and organized. Andy and I had started making games in 1985 at the end of the “one man and a computer” period. By that time, teams were specializing, with an artist or two, a programmer or two, and sometimes a specialist for sound. There was very little hierarchy on the teams. The developers worked together, but there usually wasn’t much in the way of leadership.
By the time Crash rolled around a decade later, teams had become eight to twelve people on average, and one or two of the members needed to be decision makers. The structure at the time of Crash was flat. In other words, as director, I spoke to everyone on the team directly and I knew what everyone was doing. That meant that Andy and I were usually the first ones in and the last ones out of the offices. Budgets were rising quickly, although they were still what seems today to be a pathetic $2 million. That meant limitations on hiring.
Bottom line: in 1997, I was in the office for 364 days and averaged 16 hours a day on the computer, according to the computer’s logs. The single day that I was out was during the worst part of a bad cold. Lunch that year came out of a vending machine more days than it didn’t. I don’t think Andy missed a single day that year. After finishing a game, we were already late for the sequel. It took 21 months to make Crash with 8 Naughty Dogs, 13 months to make Crash 2 with 13 Dogs, and 11 months to make Crash 3 with 16 Dogs. And the bulk of Crash Team Racing-aside from the new engine-was done in 8 months and 6 days with 21 Dogs, which must be some kind of record. We hit four Christmas releases in a row-30 million units. Big money, but we had no breaks, and it showed on us physically.
Unfortunately, the PlayStation 2 brought even bigger challenges. The team size ballooned, and we didn’t have the time, experience, or foresight to radically change the team structure. This was not unique to Naughty Dog. And as the age of the average Naughty Dog, and developers industry-wide, was increasing, families and children came into the picture. This created time issues. Some Naughty Dogs were happy working from 6 AM to 6 PM, while others were working from 4 PM to 4 AM. This is not an exaggeration. This couldn’t work. A single game character was no longer the task of a single person. There were modelers, riggers, texture artists, and animators all working together. If one was an early bird, and the other was a night owl, they might not be in the office for more than an hour or two together. So, I created the then-novel idea of “core hours.” Everyone had to be in the office from 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM and 2:00 PM to 5:30 PM. Those weren’t complete hours. Those were just the hours that an individual Naughty Dog absolutely had to be in the office, so they could work together. I vividly remember the meeting that Naughty Dog had about this new rule. Employees were yelling in ways that had never been seen before. I lost two employees- one that day and one a few weeks later-over the core-hour rule.
Naughty Dog was one of the first, if not the first, developer with core hours. Three years later, almost everyone in the industry had them. And the team sizes just kept expanding! Budgets doubled from $2 million to $4 million on the PlayStation 1 and from $10 million to $20 million on the PlayStation 2. Although we tried to create hierarchy and middle-level management, the team lead was still on top of everything. We had over 60 employees, and I still needed to know what almost every one of them was doing. Assuming a ten-hour day, that was only ten minutes per person, if I wanted to check in with everyone.
The work was stressful, so we started giving the entire team a month of vacation after every project. The cost of this, from a budget standpoint, was over a million dollars per project. To minimize this cost, the team had to be ready on the day they got back. Andy and I had to work during the month off, preparing everything with Evan Wells, Stephen White, and a few other key people.
“I’m incredibly proud of Evan, Christophe, and the entire Naughty Dog team for what they achieved after we left”
In addition, bigger games with bigger profits led to bigger marketing campaigns. This created press tours around the world to speak with local media about the titles. The longest one was 20 days in 14 countries. I truly loved the press tours, but it wouldn’t be fair to call them vacations. So, we lost the only month we might have taken time off.
When I decided to leave Naughty Dog, I was looking at two seemingly intractable issues. The first was that I couldn’t see myself continuing at the pace I was going. The second was that, in creating hierarchy and promoting Evan and Stephen, we had created two incredibly talented individuals who had then gained the experience and talent to run teams on their own.
Teams were bigger and budgets were higher, but the console business was still in its heyday. There were publishers itching to expand and create new teams. I feared that Evan and Stephen would leave to jump on that opportunity, and I didn’t want Naughty Dog to go through that division. This was not our imagination. I had managed to pull Stephen back from the brink just before he left Naughty Dog for another opportunity.
We might have split into two teams, with Evan and Stephen running the new team, but I felt at that time that Naughty Dog was at the top of its game and shouldn’t take risks like that. Two mediocre, or even two very good products, wouldn’t be as lucrative as one great one. Historically, this has been true in hit-driven industries. If you look at the sales curves of titles, you will see that this is certainly the case in video games.
Christophe Balestra (left) and Evan Wells
So, in 2002, Andy and I decided to leave Naughty Dog. We told Sony of our decision, and promised that we would spend the next two years making sure that Evan and Stephen were ready to lead the team when we left. We did exactly that. By the end of Jak 3, I was not in the biggest office; Evan was. I did less and less direct management, and more looking over his shoulder. By the time Jak 3 finished, Evan was ready. Andy did the same with Stephen. Stephen eventually decided that he didn’t like running a team, probably for many of the reasons that I’ve mentioned. Christophe Balestra was right there, ready to go. That created the seamless transition that allowed the team to continue to perform at such a high level of success and which led to Uncharted 2, a game of the year.
A few years later, hierarchy had come to the business, and that meant teams self-healed and were more efficient to run at scale. Hierarchy also brought more sanity to development schedules. This is not to say that development has become easy, or that developers don’t put in extremely long hours, but the industry is now more sustainable and less brutal to team leads. There was a certain aspect of the Wild West that disappeared from triple-A development. It was fun at times, but I think we were all happy to see the industry mature and grow out of it.
Other things have changed as well. Smaller teams have returned with social, mobile, and casual games. Deadlines outside of the console space are looser. Christmas is not much of a factor for them. Games are patchable and continue to have add-ons, so development is not so focused on a single-disc release. In the console business, the opportunity to strike out on your own and create a new team is now basically nonexistent. Triple-A teams are being cut in huge numbers. Certainly, a second-in-command can leave to start a smaller developer making smaller games, but the fear of losing your number two to a similar triple-A project isn’t hanging over anybody’s head. Since triple-A managers only want to make triple-A titles, you don’t worry about losing your talent like you did.
Had Andy and I continued through the early PlayStation 3 development transition with our sanity, I think we probably wouldn’t have left thereafter. Had we split into two teams and managed to keep up the quality, maybe we’d be even more successful. It is hard to say for sure, but at the time I made the decision to leave Naughty Dog, I felt like I had no other choice. Some people live for a single purpose-to do the one thing that they love doing. I loved working at Naughty Dog. I loved the team, the process, and the success, but I also love diversity of life experience. I have done things that I never would have been able to do had I stayed at Naughty Dog.
The road had two paths, and I chose what seemed like the more interesting one at the time. You can never see too far past the branch, and you always wonder what you might have given up had you followed the other. I would not give up what I’ve done since October 2004 to be able to go back and change my decision. I’m incredibly proud of Evan, Christophe, and the entire Naughty Dog team for what they achieved after we left.(source:gamesindustry)