Bruce Straley, co-director and co-creator of The Last of Us — the original, 2013 PlayStation 3 game — is not mentioned in the credits for the new HBO TV adaptation, which aired its first episode this week. His co-director Neil Druckmann, however, who is actively involved in the show as its executive producer and co-creator (with TV showrunner Craig Mazin), also gets a mention as the writer of the original. “Based on the PlayStation Studios video game created by Naughty Dog and written by Neil Druckmann,” the on-screen credit reads.
Straley, it seems, isn’t too happy about this outcome. Although his primary responsibility on the game was gameplay while Druckmann’s was script and story, the pair have repeatedly said that they created the world and the storyline of The Last of Us together. But, when asked about his lack of credit by the Los Angeles Times, Straley chose his words — and his targets — carefully.
“It’s an argument for unionization that someone who was part of the co-creation of that world and those characters isn’t getting a credit or a nickel for the work they put into it,” Straley said. “Maybe we need unions in the video game industry to be able to protect creators.”
It’s perhaps an unlikely comment from someone who used to be a senior developer at Naughty Dog, a studio with an unhealthy reputation for crunch. But Straley has had plenty of time to reflect on that. Straley left Naughty Dog in 2017 after 18 years with the studio, following an apparently unhappy experience making Uncharted 4. He and Druckmann had inherited that project from Uncharted creator Amy Hennig after her departure from the studio, and the accelerated development time on a game he wasn’t personally invested in left him feeling burned out.
The L.A. Times characterizes Straley’s relationship with Sony and Naughty Dog as “strained”. But the significance of Straley’s comment is not that it points to a personal beef with Druckmann or anyone else at Naughty Dog. Rather, it highlights how little ownership anyone working in video games truly has over their work. In the widely unionized TV and film industry, credit is jealously guarded and strictly regulated, but in games, it’s easy for Sony to claim complete ownership and carve a key creative like Straley out of a licensing deal.
Straley’s comments come at a time when unionization is a hot topic in the game industry, with an increasing number of studios’ workforces choosing to unionize. Perhaps Wildflower Interactive, the new independent studio Straley formed last year, will join their ranks.