Sony recently announced that The Last of Us Part 2 would be delayed indefinitely, due to the impact of COVID-19.
The main reason given was logistics – as Final Fantasy 7 Remake recently proved, it’s near impossible to make sure everyone gets the game at around the same time. People have been playing that for well over a week, while digital buyers are waiting for tomorrow’s official launch.
Now many of the retailers are closed down due to government-enforced restrictions, it’s unlikely physical editions would make it to customers at all. Then there’s the impact on delivery companies, who are likely looking at staff shortages as people call in sick to self-isolate.
Still, some gamers are petitioning Sony to stick to the May 29 release date for The Last of Us Part 2 and just do a digital release. After all, everyone is stuck indoors. Surely now would be the perfect time to release a game everyone wants to play? Unfortunately, it’s not so simple.
I spoke to my colleague, Chris Dring, at GamesIndustry.Biz for some more context from the business side of Sony’s decision. First up, the impact of lost physical sales.
“The physical games market, overall, was still about 50% of all triple-A games sales over 2019 (GSD data),” Dring says. “In fact, when it comes to a new game launch, that number can be as much as 60 to 70%. In some specific cases, even higher. The majority of new releases are still sold in boxes.
“The Last of Us Part 2 is the biggest game launch from PlayStation since Marvel’s Spider-Man. Sony will understandably want to reach the widest group of people through all available distribution channels. Losing physical retail shops is a blow for a major launch of this type that will almost certainly harm its sales.”
Outside of that, there’s obviously the game itself. The Last of Us Part 2 is set in a world where a deadly fungus has evolved to infect humans. Society has broken down, and humanity is desperate.
“Sony will be wary of marketing a game like this during the current crisis,” Dring explains. “Especially when you consider the content. So from a business perspective, it’s not a great time to launch a game of this importance.”
The Last of Us Part 2 pre-orders are another thing Sony will be taking into consideration. The publisher has already been refunding digital pre-orders after removing the game from the PS4 store, and this process is likely much more simple than the alternative.
“From a gamer perspective, there will be thousands of pre-orders for this game worldwide, including the special edition,” Dring says. “Converting those pre-orders to digital is a complicated task that’s not been tried before, with the other option being that those who want the game most of all, are forced to wait for the shops to re-open and the games to be distributed to them.
Another point of consideration is internet strain. After all, Sony already announced that it is throttling download speeds on PSN.
“Sony is trying to be responsible in terms of its impact on internet speeds globally, and millions of people downloading The Last of Us Part 2 on May 29 is potentially problematic,” Dring admits.
Outside of all of this, Sony will likely be doing its best to keep relationships with retailers sweet for when life returns back to normal.
“The Last of Us Part 2 was a big release for Sony, but also for GAME and GameStop,” Dring says. “These retailers, love them or loathe them, are really important to PlayStation. They sell consoles, they sell controllers, they do trade-ins so that people can afford the latest consoles.
“PlayStation will need these stores come the end of the year and the launch of PS5, and it will be doing all it can to make sure they survive this current situation. Making The Last of Us Part 2 a digital exclusive will be harmful to a retail industry that needs all the help it can get right now.
“Of course, PlayStation could launch The Last of Us Part 2 on May 29th if it really wanted to. But some fans will miss out on their physical copy, sales will be lower and retailers will be hurt. It’s hardly a launch befitting a major Naughty Dog release.”