Evan Wells is stepping down as co-president of Naughty Dog—creators of The Last of Us and Uncharted series—after 25 years, according to a blog post on the Naughty Dog website yesterday.
"This is something that I’ve been discussing with Naughty Dog’s Studio Leadership Team for well over a year, and with Neil for even longer than that. The decision brings with it overwhelming and conflicting emotions, but I’ve come to realise that I’m content with my time at the studio and all that we’ve accomplished together over the last 25 years."
Wells reflected on his time with the development team and its considerable growth during his tenure: "I’ve been making games professionally for over 30 years, and Naughty Dog has been my home for over half my life! I’ve seen this studio grow from hire number 14 (me!) during the Crash 3 days in 1998 to over 400 [developers] today."
"There’s never a perfect time to step away, but I’m incredibly confident that I'll be leaving the studio in the best hands."
Meanwhile, Neil Druckmann spoke about how the studio's leadership would change to adjust for Wells' departure. "As Evan has pointed out, our good fortune has led to immense and steady growth. With that kind of success and size comes the need to re-evaluate how we structure a Studio Leadership Team that reflects the next chapter for Naughty Dog."
Among various moves, Druckmann announced that Anthony Newman, co-director of the Last of Us Factions—a project that's been spinning its wheels for a while—would become the studio's Head of Production and Design. It's unclear whether his new role will impact the game's uncertain future, but with Sony's current flair for annoyingly-staggered PC release dates, I'm not holding my breath either way.
Druckmann closed his announcement with a heartfelt thanks: "I know I speak for everyone at Naughty Dog when I say, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you, Evan; for your knowledge, your love of this studio and the industry, and for the great care you took to ensure that our studio was always moving in the right direction, your inspiring leadership will forever be part of our DNA."
That inspiring leadership does, however, come with its own history of resistance to unionisation and a difficult, tangled relationship with crunch culture. In a 2021 interview with Game Informer, Wells seemed tepid on the idea of unionisation to deal with development crunch, which produced The Last of Us Part 2 at a "huge cost to the people" as reported in an article by Kotaku in 2020.
That same article goes on to quote a former developer, who stated: "They do try to take care of you, providing food, encouragement to go take breaks [...] But for the most part, the implication is: 'Get the job done at all costs.'" This produced some dire attrition, with over 70% of the development staff on 2016's Uncharted 4 gone by the time of that article's publication.
Regardless, Evan Wells leaves behind a 25-year legacy with the studio, which has produced some of gaming's most influential titles—ones us PC Gamers have only recently gotten our mitts on, alongside some catastrophic performance issues.
I'm curious to see what Naughty Dog does next, even if I do have to wait two-to-three years to actually play it. Plus another few months of performance patches, if their track record holds.