What ‘The Last of Us’ Means to Sony

Photo treatment that combines "The Last of Us" still and the paw print from the Naughty Dog logo
Photo Illustration: VIP+; Last of Us; : Courtesy of Naughty Dog

One year after Disney’s “Shang-Chi” helped deliver a record-setting Labor Day weekend for the box office, 2022’s summer closed with a selection of tentpoles at the end of their runs and rereleases.

A recut version of Sony’s triumphant “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was among those appearing in theaters again over the holiday. But for those spending the weekend at home with controllers in hand, Sony’s revisit of another strong property was the major release of the weekend.

Its initial release exclusive to PlayStation 5, “The Last of Us Part I” launched Friday and is a remake of Naughty Dog’s benchmark post-apocalyptic 2013 survival-horror game that closed out the console brand’s PS3 era.

Unlike the remastered version released in 2014 for the PS4, this new version of “The Last of Us” was rebuilt from the ground up, maintaining the same plot, characters, locations and scenarios but with entirely new visuals and enhanced gameplay meant to take the experience of the original and upgrade it to the technical standards of 2020’s “The Last of Us Part II.”

Sold for $70, the remake hasn’t escaped claims of being a cash grab by Sony, though its reviews are just about as critically acclaimed as the original and its sequel.

Still, it’s important to consider the context of “The Last of Us” within Sony’s goals for its media divisions.

With around 20 million units sold across PS3 and PS4, the original “Last of Us” ranks among the best of Sony Interactive Entertainment’s games released for PlayStation over the last 10 years. However, its sequel has only managed to sell half as many titles after a lengthy development cycle.

Hanging above “The Last of Us” and other SIE games that matched its sales is 2018’s “Marvel’s Spider-Man.” The Marvel character has led to sales topping 33 million, when combined with its standalone “Miles Morales” expansion released in tandem with the launch of PS5 in 2020. As strong as SIE’s IPs remain, acting as attractors to Sony’s leading console brand, they have still ultimately been eclipsed by Sony’s licensing of a separate entity — one that is also the biggest earner for its film studio.

But “The Last of Us” is among those IP leading PlayStation Productions, the Sony Pictures Entertainment prodco responsible for converting SIE’s IP into successful film and television projects.

A 10-episode series for HBO based on the first game is set for 2023 and was given the most love in a highlight reel for upcoming programming that will be available on HBO Max. Given the corporate turmoil the streaming service has been ensnared in under the management of Warner Bros. Discovery, it’s clear “The Last of Us” is expected to be a major attractor to the service.

As such, this new remake achieves the goal of maintaining the IP’s presence at a time when the release climate for games has slowed considerably. With Naughty Dog co-president Neil Druckmann helming the HBO series alongside “Chernobyl” creator Craig Mazin, the remake’s existence is likely intended to capitalize on interest in the series if it results in another hit for HBO, as new fans will be able to play the game it’s based on with technical specs in line with the current console generation.

Sony’s 2022 corporate report highlights the degree to which its game and network services segment towers over SPE, which was turning far less of a profit until Sony’s 2021 fiscal year, when SPE achieved 63% of SIE’s operating income despite earning less than half of SIE’s revenue.

While “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was most instrumental to SPE’s ascent out of a pandemic-stricken film exhibition climate, February’s “Uncharted” film starring “Spider-Man’s” Tom Holland led to more than $400 million at the global box office. “Uncharted” is the first project to hail from PlayStation Productions, its game series having been made by “The Last of Us” developer Naughty Dog.

“Because many PlayStation game IPs have titles marked by impressive stories and characters, they are considered highly adaptable to film and TV,” explains PlayStation Productions head Asad Qizilbash in Sony’s corporate report. While the SPE unit continues to develop a slate of adaptations that includes “God of War,” “Horizon Zero Dawn” and “Ghost of Tsushima,” Naughty Dog is still leading the PlayStation brand’s cross-media debuts.

Beyond that, the universe of “The Last of Us” will also serve as the foundation to a standalone multiplayer game that is part of SIE’s push into live-service gaming, where such a release will be updated continuously in the hopes of maintaining a stable of active players. With Microsoft striving to complete its acquisition of “Call of Duty” owner Activision Blizzard in 2023, it will be crucial for PlayStation to get live services out the door alongside its new command of “Destiny 2” through recent acquisition Bungie.

Cash grab or not, “The Last of Us” is a valuable brand to Sony’s media empire as it continues to make big pushes into multiple sectors of entertainment, making the original game’s remake an integral piece of the company’s synergistic pie.