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How Naughty Dog Marketed The Last of Us Part II

Being scheduled for a Windows release in March 2023 and the soon-to-be-released TV adaptation by HBO put The Last of Us franchise on our radars once more. So, of course, we had to revisit Naughty Dog’s marketing strategy for The Last of Us Part II.

Key Takeaways

  • When it comes to existing intellectual property (IP), marketing is a tough job because of the risk of it seeming like a greedy corporate move.
  • Existing IP also comes with a dedicated fan group and their expectations about how the story will evolve.
  • Naughty Dog, however, handled these expectations beautifully by diverting the fans’ attention and manipulating them through the marketing material.
  • The result was a shocking twist to match the franchise’s emotional depth and a game release to be remembered years down the lane.

What’s The Last of Us About?

Allow me to explain for those of you who don’t know. The Last of Us is a 2013 action-adventure game developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. Players control Joel, a smuggler tasked with escorting a teenage girl, Ellie, across the post-apocalyptic United States.

One of the Most Anticipated Video Game Releases: The Last of Us Part II

Released in 2013, The Last of Us was an instant hit and received “universal acclaim” on Metacritic. The game received rave reviews for its character development, story, subtext, visuals, sound effects, and depiction of female and LGBT characters.

The Last of Us is recounted as one the greatest video games of all time, so naturally, upon its announcement in 2016, The Last of Us Part II became one of the most anticipated video game releases in recent history. 

From now on, we are entering the spoiler territory of the article. Proceed at your own risk.

Marketing with a Twist

The first trailer from The Last of Us Part II was released at the PlayStation Experience event on December 3, 2016. In the trailer, we see an older Ellie play the guitar, which Joel promised to teach her in the first game, and sing about revenge: “I know I will kill my enemies when they come”. Minutes later, the game’s theme is confirmed when she promises to find and kill “every last one of them”. 

Later, at the E3 2018 event, a gameplay trailer was released where we see Ellie dance with and kiss a woman named Dina. As a result, fans naturally drew conclusions about The Last of Us Part II based on these “clues”.

Let’s recap: We see Ellie talking to Joel about revenge in the announcement trailer. And it isn’t until  after Ellie kisses Dina that the gameplay trailer shows her hunting and killing people in the woods. 

The most logical conclusion players reached? Ellie wants to avenge Dina’s murder. 

However, fans were in for a surprise when they finally got their hands on The Last of Us Part II: They were controlling a character named Abby, not Ellie, as Naughty Dog had them believe.

Abby seems to be seeking revenge on someone, who turns out to be Joel. She somehow charms Joel and Tammy while they’re on a patrol and lures them back to her friends, the Washington Liberation Front.

In a horrific burst of violence, Joel is beaten with a golf club. Abby brutally finishes him off just as Ellie arrives, finally revealing the punchline of Naughty Dog’s marketing strategy for The Last of Us Part II.

The Aftermath: Did Naughty Dog’s Marketing Strategy Work?

The critics were divided on the game’s narrative and themes. Nevertheless, The Last of Us Part II was praised for its improved gameplay, graphical fidelity, cast performances, characters, audio design and music. It also received “universal acclaim” from Metacritic, just like the first game.

In its release weekend, The Last of Us Part II sold over 4 million copies worldwide, becoming the fastest-selling PlayStation 4 exclusive, beating Marvel’s Spider-Man’s 3.3 million and God of War’s 3.1 million in the same period.

What Naughty Dog got right with The Last of Us Part II marketing strategy was that they built on the first game’s emotional depth and the complex nature of feelings. After all, marketing without substance is bound to be forgotten and become dust in the wind.

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