The Last of Us Online finally cancelled because Naughty Dog thinks it will 'severely impact development on future single-player games'

Concept art for a Last of Us multiplayer game.
(Image credit: Naughty Dog)

The Last of Us Online has been cancelled after more than three years in development. Naughty Dog made the announcement today, arguing that the ambitious project would require the studio to pivot entirely to post-launch support (read: a live service future) rather than their raison d'etre: big budget singleplayer narrative adventures.

"In ramping up to full production, the massive scope of our ambition became clear," wrote Naughty Dog in its announcement. "To release and support The Last of Us Online we’d have to put all our studio resources behind supporting post launch content for years to come, severely impacting development on future single-player games. 

"So, we had two paths in front of us: become a solely live service games studio or continue to focus on single-player narrative games that have defined Naughty Dog’s heritage."

The Last of Us Online was originally meant to launch alongside PS4 exclusive The Last of Us Part 2 in 2020, and would retain the format of the original game's beloved Factions mode. In 2022, Naughty Dog's Neil Druckmann said the online mode's continued no-show was because it had "evolved beyond the team's ambition". 

Remember: The Last of Us was a PS3 game, and in the mid 2010s it was standard practice to include a (usually perfunctory) online mode to bolster the shelf life of singleplayer games. Physical games still dominated and this was seen as a way to combat the secondhand market. Even in that context, Factions was unusually good, but in 2023 the landscape is entirely different: no one launches an online game without a big roadmap to keep players engaged, and a big team to keep the content mill turning.

Things started looking a little hairy in May. Naughty Dog announced another vague delay, which was complimented by a Bloomberg report which painted a bleak picture: apparently Sony had tasked Bungie with assessing the viability of The Last of Us Online, and the prognosis was not good.

Still, aside from Factions diehards it's unlikely that the core Naughty Dog fanbase will be too upset by this announcement. Especially since it includes reference to not one but two in-development singleplayer games. "The learnings and investments in technology from this game will carry into how we develop our projects and will be invaluable in the direction we are headed as a studio. We have more than one ambitious, brand new single player game that we're working on here at Naughty Dog, and we cannot wait to share more about what comes next when we’re ready."

The Last of Us Part I released for PC earlier this year, and while its sequel has yet to arrive on our hallowed shores, an imminent PS5 remaster would suggest it'll probably happen at some point. 

Shaun Prescott

Shaun Prescott is the Australian editor of PC Gamer. With over ten years experience covering the games industry, his work has appeared on GamesRadar+, TechRadar, The Guardian, PLAY Magazine, the Sydney Morning Herald, and more. Specific interests include indie games, obscure Metroidvanias, speedrunning, experimental games and FPSs. He thinks Lulu by Metallica and Lou Reed is an all-time classic that will receive its due critical reappraisal one day.