The New PlayStation Strategy Behind HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’

"The Last of Us"
Illustration: VIP+; "The Last of Us" courtesy of HBO

The premiere this Sunday of the HBO series adaptation of the 2013 video game “The Last of Us” is considered a make-or-break moment for gaming properties getting the Hollywood treatment.

Naughty Dog co-president Neil Druckmann, who created the franchise, and “Chernobyl” creator and scribe Craig Mazin are taking an unusually ambitious approach to adapting a video game story as creators, showrunners and episode directors of the series.

But for Sony Interactive Entertainment, “Last” is so much more than a gateway to Hollywood red carpets.

For one, the HBO series isn’t SIE’s first rodeo. PlayStation Productions, the unit created to adapt IP from SIE’s first-party studios like Naughty Dog to the big and small screens, already had a hit in debut project “Uncharted,” which netted more than $400 million at the global box office in 2022 and is the fifth-best film ever to be adapted from video game IP. “Uncharted” is also a Naughty Dog IP, with Druckman and co-president Evan Wells executive producing the film.

But even as other IP like “Horizon,” “God of War” and “Twisted Metal” are getting series adaptations at various streamers, SIE is going to great lengths to make “Last” the face of its audience-expansion push.

When the HBO series concludes its first season in March, a remake of the first game that was released on PlayStation 5 in September will be available on PC, marking a first for the franchise. The original game and its 2014 remaster, 2020’s “The Last of Us Part II,” and the 2022 remake have collectively sold more than 37 million units while only being available on PlayStation consoles.

SIE gave the same treatment to its top-selling franchise overall via 2022 PC releases for 2018’s “Marvel’s Spider-Man" and its 2020 follow-up “Miles Morales.” With the HBO show at play, SIE clearly thinks its current “Last” games haven’t reached their full audience yet.

Better yet, Naughty Dog’s lauded franchise is playing a vital role in SIE’s efforts to flood the market with its own spin on live-service games.

While Naughty Dog won’t reveal more details on its multiplayer game set in the same universe as “Last” until later in 2023, Sony projects it will be one of 12 live-service franchises delivered to market by fiscal-year 2025. That’s far more than just its “MLB: The Show” games.

The appeal of live services to publishers is in-game spending, its principal revenue model that shares DNA with how mobile games have come to represent half of the overall gaming market, as recurrent player spending has often proven to sport longer legs for games’ lifetime sales than singular upfront costs to access games.

Until such games release, Sony’s Game & Network Services segment has largely seen its in-game sales come from popular third-party titles like “Grand Theft Auto Online” or “Call of Duty: Warzone,” but even those represented just over 60% of overall software sales in the last reported quarter.

The opportunity to not just adapt “Last” for Hollywood’s sake but also adapt its gameplay to a frequently updated live service that could benefit from new fans of the franchise looking to bide time between seasons of the show, should HBO renew it, could break serious ground for SIE’s efforts to catch up to other companies making most of their revenue from in-game purchases. And, of course, sell more consoles if they intend to keep this multiplayer game exclusive to PlayStation 5.

As much as “Last” games have been lauded for their strong narrative and were overdue for a serious treatment via HBO, it doesn’t change the fact that Sony’s hopes for this brand extend well past accolades.