Over the past two generations, gamers have come to see Naughty Dog as the front runner of marrying gameplay and story together to make award-worthy gaming experiences. Well, the founder of the studio explained why they've been able to make such monumental accomplishments.
In an interview with IGN, Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin explained that selling the studio to Sony to become a first-party studio is what allowed them to gain the kind of success that they did, saying...
According to Rubin, having a bigger budget meant that the studio could make "bigger, badder" and "cooler" games.
I don't think it's as black and white as that. Games like DayZ, Terraria, and Minecraft became huge not because of their budgets but because they were doing something unique and different within the game design landscape. It was about emergent gameplay and storytelling; it was about putting the importance of the character and their journey in the hands of the player, and by proxy making the agency of the player the driving force behind what made the experience compelling.
This isn't to take anything away from Naughty Dog and what they've accomplished with their games, but it is to say that just because a studio is no longer independent doesn't mean they still can't push through and make breakthrough gaming experiences. Epic Games is still arguably one of the biggest independent outfits out there and it's hard to argue that they haven't put out some amazing games over the years without becoming exclusive to one brand or the other.
However, not every independent studio out there is Epic Games. Not every studio can create a highly versatile game engine that can be licensed by others and not every studio can create a global franchise like Gears of War or Unreal. So in a way, Rubin is basically saying that under Sony's wing they were able to push forward and make games like Uncharted and The Last of Us because Sony was purposefully pumping money into the studio to make high-quality, movie-like gaming experiences.
There's always going to be arguments within the gaming community about publisher exclusivity versus independent development, and I don't think there's ever going to be a definitive answer either way about which route works best overall, but indie gaming did give us the original Doom, and the indie modding market is how Dota and League of Legends came to be, which are arguably the biggest games on the market at the moment. So it's an interesting perspective nonetheless, and I think that gamers can appreciate that the call Rubin and Gavin made for Naughty Dog at least paid off in a way that help bring us some of the most memorable gaming experiences in the last two generations.