HBO’s latest addition to its roster of prestige dramas, “The Last of Us,” is generating massive buzz ahead of its Jan. 15 debut as Hollywood increasingly embraces video game IP for movies and TV shows in an effort to reach built-in audiences.
But Sony Interactive Entertainment is primed to benefit from Sunday’s series launch just as much as HBO hopes to. The company aims to expand “The Last of Us” gaming universe with a multiplayer, live-service game that aims to draft off the attention generated by the drama series starring Pedro Pascal, Anna Torv and Bella Ramsey.
Produced by game developer Naughty Dog, the original “The Last of Us” game was released as a PlayStation 3 exclusive in 2013 to massive acclaim. Together with its DLC expansion “Left Behind,” the game was remastered for PS4 in 2014 and followed by sequel “The Last of Us Part II” in 2020. Combined with a 2022 remake of the first game for PS5, dubbed “Part I,” the games have collectively sold through more than 37 million copies globally.
In its review, Variety called HBO’s adaptation of the franchise a “promising, moving zombie saga,” a sentiment seemingly backed by its 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
As positive as that seems, the stakes are high for PlayStation. Netflix’s 2022 adaptation of Capcom’s zombie-adjacent “Resident Evil” franchise, which previously spawned several successful films at Sony Pictures’ Screen Gems, streamed to middling reviews and was cancelled after one season.
Screen Gems itself abandoned a prior film approach to “The Last of Us” some years ago, but TV could be the golden ticket, as AMC’s “The Walking Dead” wrapped in November after 11 seasons.
This has left an open gap for “The Last of Us” to shimmy through if it becomes the next big HBO hit. But beyond the show, major gaming plans have been underway via a multiplayer, live-service game set in its universe as part of a wider push at SIE to expand audience reach.
As successful as PlayStation is, consoles only accounted for 28% of the $184 billion global video games market in 2022, per Newzoo. “The Last of Us Part I” will get a Windows release March 3, marking the first time the franchise has been on PC. Still, mobile gaming is twice as large as console and PC combined.
Naughty Dog’s live-service game is likely to utilize the same revenue model as mobile games via in-game spending. More colloquially known as microtransactions, this model relies on players making purchases within regularly updated gaming experiences.
“Fortnite” has been the face of these types of games, though they can just as easily be geared toward adults. Rockstar’s “Grand Theft Auto Online” is the bread and butter of Take-Two-Interactive’s business, where 79% of its $1.4 billion net revenue came from “recurrent consumer spending” in its most recent quarterly earnings.
By contrast, only 31% of Sony’s Game & Network Services segment was derived from “add-on content” in its last quarterly earnings, though that percentage doubles if you isolate software sales, showing how much in-game spend SIE already earns from mostly third-party titles.
Naughty Dog won’t reveal more about its multiplayer game until later in 2023, but described it as a “fresh, new experience” that is “rooted in Naughty Dog’s passion for delivering incredible stories, characters and gameplay” in a recent blog post. June is when the original game reaches its 10th anniversary as Summer Game Fest and E3 showcases return, making it probable a bigger presentation will come that month.
While the HBO series is separate from the games and isn’t intended to extend the story past the second game, should it get a renewal, the release of “Part I” on PC just as the first season finishes comes across as an intentionally aggressive attempt by SIE to synergize the franchise’s mediums.
If that’s the case, there’s a serious opportunity for a live service to help bridge the gap between potential new seasons of the show and pair the IP’s newest converts with its seasoned fans. If successful, this ought to become the gold standard for games in Hollywood, where each experience helps the other to endure and survive.