Uncharted 4 and the impact of Naughty Dog's aversion to producers

"Producers become a crutch," Naughty Dog's Evan Wells tells the L.A. Times in a new feature on the studio's process. "We want people to get out of their chair and get the help they need immediately."
"Producers become a crutch, where it’s someone else’s job to make that communication."

- Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells.

Naughty Dog's latest Uncharted game is out this month, and alongside it we've seen a spate of media coverage about where the game came from and how it was made.

One such feature published by the L.A. Times this week is especially notable because it sheds a bit of light on both the ups and downs of making a big-budget game without relying on a key component of most big-budget game production pipelines: producers.

"We want people to get out of their chair and get the help they need immediately," studio co-president Evan Wells told the Times, explaining that he thinks producers can too easily become a "crutch" that hinders the studio's ability to iterate. "Even if you’re off course by 45 degrees, you’re still moving faster forward than if you’re constantly bogging everybody down and affecting their workflow."

Of course, there's a difference between being a producer and being a good producer, one that often takes years of experience to appreciate. But Naughty Dog has long taken a very public stance that devs -- or at least, Naughty Dog devs -- don't need producers. The benefits, it argues, are worth the costs, and this latest Times feature lays out exactly how those costs accrued during the development of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.

For example, the writer recounts how co-directors Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann were separated for a time, and without production meetings to keep tabs on each other's work they plotted out two different ways a given encounter was meant to play out. They eventually wound up going with Druckmann's approach, wasting three weeks' worth of part-time work by three devs.

Still, Wells tells the Times that Naughty Dog's relatively flat, manager- and producer-free workplace is key to its philosophy of game development.

"If you get a single person having too much authority, you get surrounded by yes-men or not enough people challenging you,” he said. “You’re going to get better results when you have more challenges to an idea."

For more of Wells' comments and further details on the development of Uncharted 4, check out the full feature over on the L.A. Times' website.

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