It’s been four years since Naughty Dog first teased the stand-alone multiplayer project that would come to be known as The Last of Us Online. In that time we have received vague details, a couple of pieces of concept art, and several delays. Now, without even a second of gameplay ever being shown off, The Last of Us Online is officially canceled.
Naughty Dog explains why in a lengthy blog post on its website — it comes down to a desire to keep Naughty Dog from becoming a live-service studio. While any project cancellation is sad, the end of The Last of Us Online has more than one silver lining to come out of a game that never should have existed in the first place.
Since its announcement, The Last of Us Online has been a game defined by reports of its troubled development, which greatly outnumbered official updates about the title. The project began life as a multiplayer mode for The Last of Us Part II but was split off into its own project. The project went silent until 2022 when a single piece of concept art was shared, with the promise that more updates would come in 2023. Naughty Dog did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In May, Bloomberg reported that The Last of Us Online was being delayed after facing multiple setbacks, including receiving negative feedback from Sony-owned Bungie (developer of Destiny 2) during an internal review.
More ill tidings came in an October report from Kotaku which revealed Naughty Dog had gone through a round of layoffs resulting in at least 25 contract workers being cut. The report also revealed that The Last of Us Online was “basically on ice at this point,” according to Kotaku.
This brings us to the December 14 announcement that the game has been officially canceled.
In many ways, this makes sense. A remaster of The Last of Us Part II is coming out in January of 2024 — only three years after the original game’s release. For what was originally meant to be the multiplayer mode of the 2020 game to still be in development by the time a remaster comes out seems... not ideal.
Furthermore, this was never the game Naughty Dog should have been making.
To be clear, it isn’t that Naughty Dog should keep its hands out of multiplayer. The studio can do fun multiplayer — when it is a secondary offering alongside the studio’s single-player tentpoles. The Uncharted series had multiplayer that was fun enough and the original Last of Us multiplayer mode (Factions) was so good that I spent dozens of hours in it.
But the difference with The Last of Us Online is that it wasn’t just a multiplayer mode, it was live service. This is something Naughty Dog clearly became aware of.
“To release and support The Last of Us Online we’d have to put all our studio resources behind supporting post launch content for years to come, severely impacting development on future single-player games,” Naughty Dog wrote in an official blog post announcing the game’s cancellation.
“So, we had two paths in front of us,” it continued, “Become a solely live service games studio or continue to focus on single-player narrative games that have defined Naughty Dog’s heritage.”
Naughty Dog decided to focus on the games that have defined its heritage. It chose to admirably buck the trend of live service that publishers continue to try and force down gamers’ throats. The Last of Us Online was one of twelve live-service titles Sony had in the works. But just last month, a November earnings call from Sony revealed that half of those titles are being delayed past 2025. It’s not altogether unlikely that the distaste for live service creeping into every game and the troubled development of The Last of Us Online informed this move.
In the last paragraphs of the blog post announcing the cancellation of The Last of Us Online, Naughty Dog gives fans just a tease of what this cancellation means for the future of the studio, “We have more than one ambitious, brand-new single-player game that we're working on here at Naughty Dog, and we cannot wait to share more about what comes next when we’re ready.”