Sony and Naughty Dog have decided to delay The Last of Us: Part II “until further notice” just weeks before a previously planned May 29 rollout. But in what may be an industry first, those companies say the cause of the delay isn’t a need for more development time. Instead, it’s because of what Sony calls a “global crisis… preventing us from providing the launch experience our players deserve.”
Games are delayed all the time, even shortly before their planned launch, in order to give developers more time to polish up their work. But Naughty Dog says that it is “nearly done with development” of The Last of Us Part II and “in the midst of fixing our final bugs.” An unnamed Naughty Dog developer also told Kotaku that the game is “nearly done and ready to go.”
The problem, it seems, is in getting that nearly complete game to potential players in a safe and efficient way. “Even with us finishing the game, we were faced with the reality that due to logistics beyond our control, we couldn’t launch The Last of Us Part II to our satisfaction,” Naughty Dog wrote in a tweet. “We want to make sure everyone plays The Last of Us Part II around the same time, ensuring that we’re doing everything possible to preserve the best experience for everyone. This means delaying the game until such a time where we can solve these logistic issues.”
Logistics are lacking
In one sense, this seems like the perfect time to launch a high-profile game like The Last of Us Part II. Gaming platforms are reporting record usage as populations worldwide are being ordered or urged to stay at home to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
But that’s only a positive if people can actually get your game. And despite the rising importance of game downloads on consoles, in the last four fiscal quarters anywhere between 47 to 63 percent of full-game software sales on the PS4 have come in the form of physical discs, according to Sony’s earnings reports.
Those disc-bound players wouldn’t be left totally in the lurch in the event of a launch amid quarantine. While GameStop has now closed all of its storefronts to regular foot traffic (a move that came only after Doom Eternal and Animal Crossing: New Horizons were out the door, we’ll note), it still offers curbside pickup in many locations. Amazon and other online retailers are also still delivering new game discs to gamers’ doors, though such shipments have been delayed of late as those retailers prioritize delivery of more crucial supplies. And then there’s the issues inherent in just shipping those millions of discs to suppliers around the world amid a pandemic.
That might not seem very important to the roughly half of PS4 gamers who simply want to download a copy of The Last of Us Part II without leaving the house. But physical shortages and shipping delays of even a few days could be vastly frustrating to players that can’t or won’t download the game. Such players would be forced to dodge spoilers, tune out social media chatter, and ignore Twitch streamers talking excitedly about a game that they can’t get their hands on just yet.
Some publishers have made these kinds of time-staggered launches work to their advantage—see the pre-launch “full trial” downloads available on EA Access, for one example. Still, the prospect of physical disc players needing to wait in the cold is probably why Naughty Dog said a delay is “what’s best and fair to all of our players.”
Efficient player access aside, launching a physical game in this retail environment is probably not ideal from the publisher’s point of view, either. With shoppers not even allowed to step into “non-essential” stores in many locales, Sony loses the potential impact of point-of-purchase advertising displays, newspaper mailers, and simple impulse buys from brick-and-mortar browsers. That might not be “the launch experience our players deserve,” as Sony put it, but it’s definitely not the marketing experience that Sony envisioned.
While Naughty Dog says it’s “hoping that this won’t be a long delay,” it’s still a very open question when post-quarantine logistics will be “normal” enough for Sony’s liking. Microsoft and Sony are still confident they can launch major console hardware by this holiday season, though. Until that changes, a 2020 launch for The Last of Us Part II still seems in the cards.
Listing image by Naughty Dog