The coronavirus pandemic that has already killed so many around the world and sent countless more to hospitals is one of the biggest health emergencies of our time. Just five months since the onset of the outbreak, there have been more than 1 million confirmed cases of the infection worldwide, forcing governments to lockdown half of the world’s population to try to prevent the virus from spreading further — with all signs pointing to things getting worse before they get better.
While nothing will ever be as tragic as the loss of human life as a result of the virus, it’s also becoming clear how the pandemic and the resultant lockdowns will affect the entertainment industry going forward. Many upcoming movie releases have been delayed, theaters have closed their doors, and TV episodes have gone unaired. Some people are wondering if cinemas will even be able to survive such a long shutdown.
The video game industry has suffered in the last few months, too. Major trade shows like E3 2020 and GDC 2020 have been canceled or delayed, and even GameStop was forced to close its doors after it originally said it wouldn’t comply with lockdown orders. It shouldn’t be a surprise at this point that upcoming video game releases are also starting to feel the impact of the health crisis.
That said, the last-minute delay of The Last of Part II, Sony’s big flagship release of the spring (and possibly the PlayStation 4 as a whole), startled many. The game was set to release in May before Sony Interactive Entertainment and developer Naughty Dog announced The Last of Us Part II was delayed indefinitely in April.
Naughty Dog explained in a letter that the studio was “nearly done with development of The Last of Us Part II” and was “fixing our final bugs” when the decision was made to delay the game. The studio cited logistical problems as the reason for the decision.
“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. We want to make sure everyone gets to play 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 meant delaying the game until such a time where we can solve these logistic issues,” wrote Naughty Dog.
Naughty Dog concluded its note to fans: “We’re hoping that this won’t be a long delay, and we’ll update you as soon as we have new information to share.”
Just how long could the delay go on and when will The Last of Us Part II finally hit shelves? That will really depend on how long the lockdown lasts as a result of the health crisis. As Kotaku news editor Jason Schreier reported on Twitter, going remote had not affected the final months of development at Naughty Dog. The logistical issues come down to “the challenge of printing, shipping, and selling physical games right now.”
Couldn’t Sony just release the game digitally? It’s not that simple. Schreier suggested that two factors played into Sony’s decision to wait until The Last of Us Part II could also be released physically, the first being the fact that the company has limited download speeds on the PS4 during the emergency in an effort to maintain internet stability as millions of people around the world shift to working from home: “Imagine what a catastrophe it’d be if millions of people tried to download the game at once?” Schreier said.
And while many consumers might prefer to get their games digitally these days, physical game sales are still very lucrative for Sony, according to Schreier: “I believe they ran the numbers and decided that they’d miss out on too many physical sales.”
According to Sony’s Q3 2019 financial report, digital downloads account for a smaller percentage of “full game software” sales, with physical sales still the main way consumers purchase games:
If the release of The Last of Us Part II does come down to when Sony can ship physical copies, fans might be in for a long wait. The shutdown that has affected offices, retailers, distributors, and manufacturers will officially last until the end of April (at the time of writing), meaning that businesses won’t be able to open again until May at the earliest. But with the grim projections that suggest the next few weeks could bring thousands more confirmed cases and deaths, it’s likely that the lockdown could persist into May and possibly even into the summer and fall.
This means Sony could be without the resources to ship physical copies of The Last of Us Part II for months, with a Holiday 2020 release date more likely if you’re an optimist. And that’s without considering the financial toll the crisis will have on the world and how that will affect the rollout of films and video games into next year. When you add the domino effect these factors will create in the games industry (and entertainment as a whole), it wouldn’t be that surprising if The Last of Us Part II doesn’t hit store shelves until early 2021.
The truth is that this situation is unprecedented and it’s impossible to accurately predict when The Last of Us Part II (or any other inevitable game delays) will finally see the light of day. It all depends on the pandemic and the consequences of a months-long lockdown. Gamers should probably prepare for a long wait and more bad news in the coming weeks and months.
We’ll keep you updated as we learn more.