Naughty Dog needs a break from The Last of Us

The famed developer is a sign of the unsustainability of the AAA development space and I think it needs to change strategy to maintain its stardom.

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I adore Naughty Dog as a developer. This talented and long-standing company has given the world countless great experiences and adventures throughout the years. Be it Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, Uncharted, The Last of Us, this developer has been effectively the gold standard for game creation for a long while. However, the last few years have been a little disappointing for Naughty Dog, if you ask me. Ever since The Last of Us: Part II in 2020, we've had a remastered Uncharted collection, a remake of The Last of Us: Part I, and a remaster of the sequel. There has been a distinct focus on former content, and while that former content is of an excellent quality, this developer has felt stagnant for a while.

I think Naughty Dog is a prime example of how unsustainable AAA development has become. This studio is (like BioWare, CD Projekt Red, Bethesda, the list goes on) heading down a path towards cranking out a new game every six years or so, a game that costs hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and requires millions of sold copies to break even. Considering it seems like The Last of Us: Part III is miles away still, and following the cancellation of The Last of Us: Factions (a game I also believe would have been fundamentally wrong to concern Naughty Dog's talents and resources with by turning them into a live service developer), it's unclear what the studio's next game will be. Due to this, Naughty Dog has to find other ways to generate revenue between major tentpole launches and hence why we get cost-effective games, or rather upgrades, like The Last of Us: Part II Remastered.

Naughty Dog needs a break from The Last of UsNaughty Dog needs a break from The Last of Us

The reason why I bring this up is because I think it's time that Naughty Dog, and other developers that fit this bill, change their strategy. As much as a complex 30-hour AAA adventure is a blast to play through, these games take too long to make and cost far too much money. So, why not delve back into the treasure trove of IP, or balance out content production with smaller scale projects that can be slotted in between? Insomniac is a great example of what this effort could look like, as this amazing developer has churned out Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Marvel's Spider-Man Remastered, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, and Marvel's Spider-Man 2, all in the time that Naughty Dog has debuted TLOU: Part II and three remakes/remasters. Oh, and we know that Insomniac intends to debut Marvel's Wolverine relatively soon, and judging by rumours has a Venom spinoff planned as well, all while having other projects in the works too, many of which will likely see the light of day way before the next actually new Naughty Dog title.

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While I'm not going to tell you that anything Insomniac has created in the past four years is on the same level of brilliance as that of TLOU: Part II, their creations have felt fresh and fun. Insomniac is a prime example of how you can use smaller-scale efforts to continually entertain fans between big launches, and I think this is what Naughty Dog needs to explore. Why not attempt a Miles Morales-sized adventure set in the world of Uncharted? Perhaps a return to Jak and Daxter could be an interesting idea to rival Ratchet & Clank? Hell, why not look to collaborate with other PlayStation studios on spinoff projects, or even look to explore the Marvel world with an interesting tighter adventure that could open the doors to further projects down the line.

The point is, as much as I love a big Naughty Dog title, I'm steadily losing interest in the developer, as right now it's essentially just a The Last of Us content factory, a factory that only seems to dish out updated versions of former products. At the moment in time, Naughty Dog reminds me of director Quentin Tarantino, who creates very few movies very infrequently, albeit to a very high standard. The difference is Tarantino is one man, whereas Naughty Dog is a multi-million dollar company 100s of people in size. So, I would like to see an increased frequency of launches, or smaller experiences that are less risky. At the end of the day, there's no pressure on a spinoff or a family platformer to be the next critical masterpiece, unlike the heights we're all expecting The Last of Us: Part III to reach.

Naughty Dog needs a break from The Last of UsNaughty Dog needs a break from The Last of UsNaughty Dog needs a break from The Last of Us

You may say that surely having multiple titles in production at once is too much for Naughty Dog to manage, but this studio is confirmed to be at least the same size as Insomniac in a personnel metric, and likely even bigger considering its storied and successful history. And to add to this, Naughty Dog has been working on multiple projects at the same time for years, however the projects have just been rather predictable or too much of a sign of the times. This developer has been making the live service Factions for years, all while rebuilding TLOU from the ground-up for the remake. Naughty Dog has the capacity to manage multiple projects at once, but it just seems unwilling to grow beyond what we know of the studio as of late.

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I've used Insomniac as an example multiple times, but FromSoftware is another great point of reference, as while this Japanese developer tends toward action-RPGs, the games it makes are unique and highly different in a multitude of ways. No one is comparing Elden Ring with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon because they are so unlike the other, and yet all three of these games (two of which won Game of the Year) have debuted since 2019, a year before TLOU: Part II.

I'm not trying to shame Naughty Dog, but for a developer many would consider one of the greatest of all-time, they're without a doubt in a rut. Naughty Dog has potential unlike many other companies in this industry, and yet we're only really privy to their talents once or maybe twice in a decade, and this pretty much means something related to The Last of Us. There has to be a more efficient and cost-effective way to keep fans entertained, because we can't keep waiting six plus years for a fresh injection of blood, and my god do we need something else set beyond the world of TLOU. And don't get me wrong this mindset of new strategy applies to Bethesda Game Studios, CD Projekt Red, BioWare, and all the other major AAA studios that tend toward mega releases that are effectively expected to keep the developer afloat until the next big project debuts six or seven years later. There has to be a better way to operate.

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