the last of us online

Image source: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Stick to what you know.

Developer Naughty Dog has announced The Last of Us Online‘s cancellation. This has got us wondering what exactly the termination of the hapless multiplayer project means for Sony’s controversial live service plans.

Mighty Thin Ice

Let’s be honest: the writing was on the wall. The Last of Us Online‘s development had been rocky, to say the least. Earlier in May, Jason Schreier reported in Bloomberg that Sony developer Bungie had assessed the current state of The Last of Us Online, and found it lacking. Specifically, they were concerned with its ability to engage players for a long time.

Leaving aside the richness of that statement considering the current state of Destiny 2, it didn’t bode well for Naughty Dog’s multiplayer project. Although Naughty Dog insisted that development was continued, rumors swirled that the project was about to be put on ice, until the recent announcement confirmed the cancellation.

At face value, it seems like a shame. The prospect of a huge, interconnected The Last of Us world populated by players all fighting for survival against each other and the infected is an enticing one. Who wouldn’t want to join friends to battle against rival survivor cells, perhaps fortifying a base against infected incursion?

But, in reality, The Last of Us Online probably wouldn’t have lived up to our hopes. Naughty Dog is rightly renowned for their single-player franchises, from Uncharted to The Last of Us, and even Jak and Daxter if you go back further. Live service online multiplayer titles never have been and presumably now never will be their focus.

Sony’s Live Service Plans

So, how does The Last of Us Online‘s cancellation fit into Sony’s live service plans? I’m just speculating, but I’d hazard a guess that it doesn’t.

As reported in VGC, Sony had originally planned to release a staggering 12 live service games by March 2026. 12. In an earnings call in November, however, Sony president, COO, and CFO Hiroki Totoki confirmed that only six of the original 12 were targeted for release by then, with the other six titles being “worked on.” 

We don’t know for sure which category The Last of Us Online falls into, but either way, this significant downgrading in expectations demonstrates that Sony isn’t as bullish with their live service plans as they once were.

Play Has Limits

In my opinion, this can only be a good thing. Sony has built the modern PlayStation brand on immersive, story-driven, single-player games, the complete antithesis of online live service titles. This is what their first-party studios like Naughty Dog and Insomniac are good at. Why try to force them to do things that don’t suit their teams’ expertise?

The other thing to consider is how much of a time commitment live service games demand. They are intrinsically designed to keep players “engaged” for hundreds of hours. Sony’s PlayStation slogan may be that ‘Play has no limits,’ but we players do. Specifically when it comes to our free time and patience. There’s no way most folks have the time to commit to multiple live service games, and I suspect Sony knows this.

Its approach, therefore, smacks of firing out live service games, expecting most to fail and hoping that one or two take off. 

In short, although my initial reaction to The Last of Us Online‘s cancellation was one of disappointment, it may be good news in disguise. If it means Naughty Dog focusing on its specialism – bombastic, compelling single-player games – then I’m all for it.

Now, where’s that new Jak and Daxter game…?