If we consider the cost of developing a new game, it’s not difficult to imagine why some companies are made or broken by a single success or flop.
On average, to make a AAA game these days, it can cost $20 to $100 million (not including MMO’s, some of which can go as high as $200 million to develop). Generally speaking, to invest that much money in a new piece of intellectual property can be a huge gamble. Developers and publishers need to have a considerable amount of confidence or cajones in order to even attempt spending money on an unknown franchise.
When The Last of Us was released in 2013, that gamble paid off for Sony’s first-party developer, Naughty Dog. The game has since become one of the developer’s most successful titles both in imagination as well as in sales, deeming the almost equally successful The Last of Us: Remastered a must-have for PlayStation 4 owners (you almost literally have to own it since it’s bundled with most PS4’s these days). With that said, it’s unlikely that Sony and Naughty Dog are going to give up on this established franchise anytime soon. With the Uncharted series seemingly wrapping up its universe for a slumber with the fifth installment, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End releasing in early 2016, it’s more than likely something is in the works behind closed doors, and recent events may be alluding to more than these companies would like to let on.
“For now, I know they’re doing The Last of Us 2,” renowned voice actor and Naughty Dog games’ regular, Nolan North said to an audience while on a Metrocon panel early last week. While the equally renowned Troy Baker, who played Joel in The Last of Us, claims ignorance of any such development, the topic seems to have stirred up some of the ongoing controversy surrounding popular series and the constant need, or lack thereof, for sequels.
Really, this argument applies to just about any beloved story or experience that you can think of, but for the sake of remaining relevant, let’s just explore what makes The Last of Us so unique and such a point of contention for its development into a series.
To begin, it’s just a spectacular game. The Last of Us is a master of intensity, emotion, and a technical feat unlike any other for its time. It demonstrates how far gaming has come as a way to tell a story, mold characters, and immerse players in a world of linearity, but also how the most minute strokes of detail can paint more than an image of honest graphical fidelity. To many, this game is the quintessential experience gaming has accomplished thus far. Naysayers be damned! The game is a masterpiece to most who venture into its oppressing and blossoming world of color and artistry.
Now that I’ve had my moment (probably not to be my last) to reminisce over one of my favorite games, let’s get to the point. Who wants a sequel? Well, I think everyone does, and before you get all huffy about that, allow me to explain: everyone who enjoyed it (so, everyone…) wants more of The Last of Us, more of the universe, more of the great storytelling and character design and environments and subtle moments that make us reflect on life, fragility, and the importances of our place in the world. Why wouldn’t we want that? Because it could be bad? Because it could be bad.
Seriously, it could be bad. I’ll be hardly the first to say that this story does not need to be continued. The plot lends itself to the gameplay perfectly, infusing the darkest themes with some of the brightest scenes, and ends just where it should to spark thought and admiration for all of its underlying elements swimming alongside the player throughout. If it were a book, The Last of Us would be held as a work of literature: art. I like to think of it as art, and many others do too. But art hardly ever needs a sequel. It stands on its own, pure and complete.
Business, however, is not an art, nor does it have much patience for art. The gaming industry, much like the movie and television industries, is ruled by reviews and sales. How much fun is it? How well is it selling? These are not questions by which we base art, but Naughty Dog, a developer I have no qualms calling a modern-day artist, must negotiate that line between selling a product bound to make oodles of sweet, sweet cash and just allowing it to be as they intended: a singular, profound experience.
At this point, it’s unlikely that The Last of Us 2 won’t happen, and that has nothing to do with the confirmation or denial of prominent voice actors with industry know-how. If The Last of Us was going to be a one-off, that ship sailed along with the millionth copy sold. Whether we like it or not, there’s a new Sony franchise in town. But it could be a lot worse. A sequel to this game really has no bearing on the quality of the first. While purists might see it as tarnishing the original, the first game will remain its own experience. Hey, who knows? The next game might even be good, or maybe even better. I can’t think of another developer I trust more to do a game justice. Let’s not forget that Naughty Dog created The Last of Us in the first place. Let’s give those folks a little more credit, and maybe a few more bucks down the road. I think they deserve it.
Jordan Loeffler is an Associate Editor for MONG who drives a 2006 Pontiac Vibe with Minnesota license plates even though he lives in Portland, OR. She’s seafoam green, and she drives like a wave. You can also follow him on IGN and on Twitter.