Cancelling The Last Of Us Online Was A Good Call That Feels Bad

Whenever a game gets canceled or prematurely shut down, the public statement explaining what went wrong is typically covered in a thick coat of sugar. Companies don’t really want you to know the specifics of why they dumped millions into a bad investment, and the real reasons are a lot more complicated than what can be communicated in a press release anyway – especially when it uses half of its word count to say how proud the developers are of all the work they’re throwing in the garbage.



When Naughty Dog announced the cancellation of The Last of Us Online yesterday – something we’ve known was coming for months – I didn’t get the sugar rush I was expecting. The studio’s explanation tracks with everything we know about the challenges of making a live service game, and not only do I believe Naughty Dog’s claim here, I think it made the right call. Following through with TLOU Online would have had permanent consequences for Naughty Dog even if it was successful, and as much as I’d like to see what that game would’ve turned out to be, I also can’t blame Naughty Dog for pulling the plug.


The Last Of Us Factions 2 Screenshot Leaks Following Cancellation

A screenshot of the now cancelled The Last of Us Factions 2 has leaked online.

The statement is short and you should read it yourself, but to summarize: Naughty Dog claims that it has been working on an online TLOU for a long time, and while it feels that the core gameplay is strong and compelling, it also realizes that supporting a live-service game is an enormous burden, one that would transform Naughty Dog into a live-service studio and take away from its resources to produce single-player experiences. It doesn’t want to be that kind of studio, so it’s shelving the game before things go any further.

I have no doubt that TLOU Online was going to be a great game. Naughty Dog makes great games, and it makes great multiplayer modes in great games, including Factions MP. I also don’t doubt the claim that making a sustainable online game that meets Naughty Dog’s standard of quality would have required the studio to shift all of its priorities to focus on that game indefinitely. We have plenty of examples of live-service games to support that.

It would be easy to criticize Naughty Dog for pursuing live service in the first place given how fragile and fickle that market is, but it’s important to remember how quickly things change in the game industry. When work on this game began, there weren’t as many high-profile examples of single-player studios venturing into the live-service market and getting completely demolished. Marvel’s Avengers had not yet proven itself to be a dark harbinger for exactly what Naughty Dog was trying to do.

Destiny 2, which has clearly had a big influence over Sony’s live-service gambit, had not yet revealed its volatility. Watching Bungie get crushed under the weight of Destiny 2 this year and seeing how quickly things can change for even the most successful live-service games probably spooked Naughty Dog, and I don’t blame the devs one bit.

Concept art for The Last of Us Factions 2, showing two people defending themselves from zombies from a vantage point.

There aren’t any good examples of games that do what Naughty Dog wanted to do with TLOU online. Respawn makes single player games like Star Wars Jedi while supporting Apex Legends, but it had to grow a totally separate studio at EA, now called Respawn North, to manage Apex.

Same goes for Elder Scrolls Online, which is developed by Zenimax Online Studios and published by Bethesda. Fallout 76 is developed in-house by Bethesda Game Studios, but that’s also a studio that only releases new games once per generation, which has never been the kind of studio Naughty Dog is, and clearly doesn’t want to be. Fallout 76 is also not a blueprint for success.

Naughty Dog could release what it does have for The Last Of Us Online as a multiplayer mode for The Last Of Us Part 2, depending on how much more work would need to be done.

This was a good decision, but it’s still a depressing one. Naughty Dog says it made a great game that’s fun to play, but it has to throw it away because it isn’t prepared to make endless monetizable content for it forever. This matches the report that came out of Bloomberg earlier this year thatsaid Bungie visited Naughty Dog to kick the tires, and determined that The Last of Us Online was missing the things that make live-service games successful.

Things like challenge-based compulsion loop, memable skins and microtransactions, systems that encourage FOMO, and all the predatory dark design tactics that forever games have to use to keep people plugged in. It’s not enough to make a fun online game anymore, it also has to trap its players psychologically and suck them dry.

We already knew all of this, but the TLOU Online cancellation drives home how dire the market is today. Naughty Dog made a game that people would want, but it wasn’t willing to commit to making a game people would need, because that’s all it would ever have been able to do again.

Next: The Last Of Us Part 3 Should Be About Lev

Leave a Comment