When you think about the most influential games of all time, several names come to mind, but Bungie’s Destiny may not be one of them. When first showcased, many scoffed at what seemed to be a generic Borderlands clone. However, upon release in 2014, it was a massive success, despite its various issues. More importantly, it gave us a glimpse into what would become a trend that lingers today: Live service gaming.
Of course, several other trends would contribute to the rise of live service gaming over the years, namely Fortnite’s explosive popularity when the battle royale mode launched. However, after a relatively successful period, live service games (interchangeably known as games as a service) haven’t been at the same level of success over the years.
That didn’t stop Sony from acquiring Bungie last year and announcing that it would release ten live service games by 2026 (which it later updated to 12 live service games by April 2026). Even if it couldn’t have predicted the layoffs that the industry would suffer a year later, there was plenty of concern over this decision based on trends alone. Over time, we learned that Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us multiplayer project is one of them.
It wasn’t the first time it was mentioned. Naughty Dog confirmed that the multiplayer mode from the first game, wouldn’t be in the sequel but teased its eventual return. In 2022, a dataminer discovered some leftover assets in The Last of Us Part 2, which indicated potential multiplayer implementation. However, the year prior, the developer confirmed it was working on an “ambitious project” and would reveal more “when it’s ready.”
An official reveal would finally happen at the Summer Games Fest in 2022 when director Neil Druckmann officially announced the untitled multiplayer project. Very few details were provided, but it was to be set in a different part of the United States with several veterans who worked on Uncharted and The Last of Us onboard.
It was also touted as being “as big as any of our single-player games that we’ve done, and in some ways bigger. It’s got a story. The way we’re telling that story is very unique to this game. It’s got a brand new cast of characters, it takes place in another place, another part of the United States, and it’s really cool,” said Druckmann.
More details were promised for 2023, and Druckmann touted it as the “most ambitious project” the team had ever done. If reports from Giant Bomb’s Jeff Grubb about it being “very, very live service-y” weren’t enough, Anders Howard would join the studio as Principal Monetization Designer, having previously worked on the Battle Pass and monetization systems for Epic Games’ Fortnite. For the most part, it seemed that this multiplayer project would become the tip of the spear for Sony’s live service initiative, if not a major component.
However, at the PlayStation Showcase in May – where other multiplayer titles like Concord, Fairgame$ and Marathon – there was no sign of Naughty Dog’s project. It later confirmed that the project needed more time while reassuring that it had “other games in development, including a brand new single-player experience.” Once again, there was the assurance that additional details would be shared soon.
Behind the scenes, trouble was brewing. A report by Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier revealed that the multiplayer project had run into issues following an internal review by Bungie (which provided its expertise to evaluate Sony’s upcoming live-service titles). Questions were raised about its “ability to keep players engaged for a long period”, and as a result, Naughty Dog decided to reassess its “quality and long-term viability.” The development team was scaled back, with several members moving on to other projects, but the project wasn’t cancelled.
Unfortunately, it seems any semblance of active development has ceased. A new report by Kotaku revealed that 25 contract workers had allegedly been laid off at the studio from departments ranging from art to quality assurance. Sources also claimed that while The Last of Us multiplayer project wasn’t “completely cancelled,” it’s “on ice” for now. While nothing is official, Anders Howard updated his LinkedIn profile to indicate that he has left Naughty Dog.
This lends further doubts to the project’s future. No permanent employees were reportedly affected by the layoffs, but that so many contract workers were released indicates that it isn’t a focus for Naughty Dog at this time. For now, it’s focused on its next single-player game, which is confirmed to be directed by Neil Druckmann and rumored to be The Last of Us Part 3. The studio is also working with a new San Diego studio established by PlayStation Studios Visual Arts to co-develop an “exciting new project” in a “beloved franchise.” Place your bets on what that could be, from Jak and Daxter to Uncharted.
There may be some concern over when the studio will reveal its next project and how it’s been several years since The Last of Us Part 2 launched (not counting the recent remake, Part 1). However, Druckmann has indicated that the studio will wait longer before officially unveiling its projects to avoid issues with work-life balance and production. In a way, that can be seen with the multiplayer project – it didn’t receive any gameplay, much less an official name or marketing campaign.
It doesn’t change the fact that we’ll have to wait a while to see the studio’s next project, much less play it. Or that the live service push from Sony isn’t exactly paying dividends, with three years to go and not a single title available.
Not that any of this is stopping the publisher from investing $2.13 Billion in R&D for live service titles for the fiscal year. Unless revised before March 31st, 2024, we could see changes from April 1st, 2024 onwards. In May 2022, former Sony Interactive President Jim Ryan said two yet-to-be-announced live-service titles would be released by April 1st, 2023. The Last of Us project and the long-rumored Twisted Metal reboot may have been those two games.
Ryan is retiring from his position by March 2024. Considering there are live-service titles in the works at Jetpack Interactive, Guerrilla Games (namely its Horizon co-op game), PlayStation London and more, there may be more layoffs if things don’t go according to plan. It’s also possible that Ryan’s replacement cancels a few projects because they aren’t worth the continued investment.
For the foreseeable future, Sony will continue delivering its specialty: High-budget, triple-A single-player titles based on its best-known IPs. The PlayStation 5 will continue to sell millions and set new records for the company. We’ll likely forget that there’s anything wrong behind the scenes or that some of its plans (like PlayStation VR2, which has fallen by the wayside since launching this year) aren’t panning out.
However, it feels like the walls are closing in on Sony’s live-service games initiative when it never really got off the ground. Some studios like Naughty Dog may continue as normal, but for the hundreds of developers toiling away on other projects, the future seems tenuous.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.