The Last of Us Part 2 is the fastest selling exclusive for Sony this generation. The critical and consumer success has been solid, but in a new podcast, the game’s creative director revealed that some upset fans have been lobbying their hate towards individual staffers and cast members.
Druckmann made the comments on Talking Games With Reggie and Harold, a short-form podcast for charity starring former Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé. Druckmann was asked about handling mixed or negative receptions, particularly pre-release after parts of the game’s story leaked online.
“People just hold some of the first game in such high regard … it became sacred,” Druckmann said. “We’re a slave to the story and what the story’s trying to say.” “The leaks threw everything out of the window as far as how we wanted people to go into the experience fresh, and all of the reactions are kind of mixed with that. I don’t know how to decouple that from the conversation about the game,” the Naughty Dog director added.
The leaks revealed some of the game’s biggest story beats, including the fate of major characters and key establishing themes. Immediately after the leaks, certain forums, sub-reddits and a vocal minority declared that they had cancelled pre-orders and that the studio, Druckmann in particular, had ruined the game.
In a separate podcast with Kinda Funny, Druckmann revealed how watching the leaks in real-time created absolute panic and chaos in the studio. “It had maybe 100 views before it got taken down, and then you just sit there, your heart sinks. ‘It’s out there. It’s only a matter of time before it goes up.’ And you’re just waiting. A few hours later, it’s everywhere: You’re starting to get hate on every social media you’re on, that turns into death threats, anti-Semitic remarks, and just craziness I could have never anticipated.”
In the podcast with the former Nintendo of America president, however, Druckmann revealed that one of the cast members — who he chose not to name — had been singled out for abuse.
“You have to create some separation; we’ve made this game, we believe this game, we’re proud of this game, now it’s out there,” Druckmann said. “Whatever reaction people have it, whether they like it or not, that’s their reaction and then you don’t fight that.”
“The more hateful stuff, the more vile stuff, that’s harder. And it’s harder when I see it happening to team members or, weirdly, cast members that play a particular character in the game. We have an actor that she’s been getting really vile stuff because of a fictional character she’s playing in the game, which I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that.”
While Druckmann didn’t mention the actor or the character in-game, portions of the internet have been lobbying abuse, vitriol and mockery at the game for months. The game was being review bombed the day it was launched — despite the virtual impossibility of most people having completed a 25 to 30 hour game within that timeframe. Months beforehand, the internet drummed up a faux concern about Abby’s appearance and gender identity. And the week of the game’s launch, a Brisbane store for JB Hi-Fi pulled a promotional stand for The Last of Us 2, which replaced the game’s title with “One Angry Lesbian”.
Oh JB… pic.twitter.com/QVwCAFCM0w— Steen, Friend of Mara (@Steenium) June 14, 2020
Similarly, the leaks spawned a quotient of angry fans who were angry about what happened to Joel, the lead from The Last of Us. Joel appeared in the marketing for the sequel, going as far as to include fake scenes in trailers featuring the character.
Druckmann added that he’d been talking about dealing with that divergent reception to Craig Mazin, the writer on Chernobyl and the upcoming Last of Us adaptation for HBO.
“[Mazin] articulated it pretty well, it’s like people have to get educated. This is kind of the cost. When you’re doing something big, and you might disappoint fans, there is a cost to it now,” Druckmann said.
There’s still a wild divergence between the game’s critical reception, commercial success and the public response. On the aggregator site Metacritic, user reviews of The Last of Us 2 are sitting at 4.9 from over 100,000 ratings, with just over 4,000 of those reviews being “mixed”. However, sales of The Last of Us 2 have been so strong that the remastered Last of Us re-entered the top 10 retail charts in the UK, almost six years after its original release.