Creating a video game costs a lot, both in time and money. That’s why actions that might seem greedy or absurd make sense when we consider the material reality behind development studios. They simply help keep them afloat. Or at least, sustain them for the future. Even studios that seem to have a guaranteed future must bear this in mind, although it’s not pleasant to think about.
A few days ago, Naughty Dog announced the release of The Last of Us Part II Remastered. Set for January 19, 2024, this is great news for PlayStation 5 users. Being able to play the game with technical improvements, new game modes, and ultimately an enhanced version of an already celebrated and beloved game is good news. However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t some significant “buts.”
The first “but” is the price. Charging ten euros to upgrade the game from the PlayStation 4 version doesn’t seem very reasonable, especially when the norm has almost always been that these kinds of updates are free. Particularly considering the major “but” of this remaster: it’s the same game.
Naughty Dog is dedicating resources to essentially recreate the same game. A game released less than three years ago, which already looks fantastic on PlayStation 5, and whose graphical changes hardly justify this remaster. Neither do the gameplay inclusions, with two new game modes that don’t seem to add anything substantial to the original game, where the focus was primarily on the potential of the story being told.
Certainly, there are reasons behind this decision. Making games costs a lot, and Naughty Dog isn’t in the best position right now to develop them.
Following The Last of Us 2, the studio experienced a significant departure of its workforce due to its precarious labor practices. According to journalist Jordan Middler, the project has been conceived to help new hires understand the game’s workings. Meanwhile, Druckman’s team is working on an original game.
This might make sense in business terms. It’s a remaster that will work financially and helps new members integrate into the studio’s dynamics. The problem is that it also reinforces the more negative trends in the industry that we’ve been systematically witnessing throughout 2023.
Throughout the year, widespread layoffs have become a common trend. If Naughty Dog’s move is a success, other studios might take note and see it as a solution to the problem they’ve created themselves. If they lack experienced individuals to adequately work on studio projects, they could always hire many people and have them work on a remaster, an expansion, or DLC from a previous project they know will sell well. This way, they ensure training without it costing them much time or money.
That’s why the release of The Last of Us Part II Remastered feels bittersweet. Hopefully, being able to enjoy it on PlayStation 5 with minor improvements and some additions is good news, but it’s easy to see a price that’s too high to pay for it. We could have had a new game instead if, simply put, Naughty Dog had better working conditions in the first place. That’s why we can celebrate it, but not too much.