Did The Games Industry Fail Days Gone?

It was oddly easy for the games industry to dismiss the accomplishment that Bend Studio would set out on when they launched Days Gone. A game that would fall victim to scrutiny by games media across the board. Granted, the post-apocalypse, open-world title would, by no means, innovate the genres it was involved in, but the harsh judgement of the game couldn’t have been foreseen by anyone.

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The development cycle for Days Gone began in 2015. It was officially unveiled at E3 2016, where the game would be met with much excitement following the release of Naughty Dog’s popular title, The Last of Us, which released three years prior in 2013. When Days Gone was revealed to the world, it immediately fell victim to comparisons to the Last of Us, Uncharted and even Red Dead Redemption 2, later when the game would eventually launch. Already, a problematic pattern was forming due to the comparisons made between Days Gone and triple-A titles that, to this day, are held up as the gold standard. The problem was that games media and audiences overhyped their expectations. Suddenly, the Bend Studio and Days Gone creative director needed to reaffirm that Days Gone is nothing like The Last of Us. However, this was a problem because Bend Studio was relatively new to making a game of this scale. For Days Gone to be compared to franchises like Uncharted or Red Dead, both of which were helmed by veteran developers, it was rather unfair.

The problem was that games media and audiences overhyped their expectations.

Of course, as mentioned earlier, Days Gone didn’t break new ground in the open-world, post-apocalypse setting, and criticism of poor performance at launch, as well as a lack of innovation, were just. Still, it’s hardly deserving of scores as low as 2/5 or 1.5/5 by games media reviewers. On Metacritic, the PS4 title sits on a 71 score from critics and a respectable 84 from user reviews. An immediate disconnect between players and “critics” was established, and over the years, fans of the title would find themselves defending the game. When Days Gone was released on PC in 2021 as part of PlayStation’s efforts to widen its audience scope, it saw flourishing reviews from users, and to this day, it has a 92% positive review score on Steam. This is all to say that Days Gone was treated with unfair coverage by game media, which saw a distinct disconnect between critics and general audiences who clearly enjoyed the game.

On 1/6/2021, Game Informer reported that Days Gone outsold Ghost of Tsushima, which hit 8 million copies sold at the time. An impressive feat for a new IP from Sucker Punch, but Days Gone would go on to sell 9 million copies according to Days Gone Director Jeff Ross and was the 19th best-selling game of 2019, a year that saw gargantuan releases from established IP. Most notably, the release of Mortal Kombat 11 came only three days before Days Gone. A new IP up against an established IP with a massive fanbase – Days Gone had little going for it, especially being an open-world game in 2019. The reality is that open-world fatigue had kicked off and was well on its way to being at an all-time high after Red Dead Redemption 2 established itself as, arguably, the best open-world title the games industry has seen six months prior to Days Gone coming out. So, the question then becomes, why did Sony not greenlight a sequel to Days Gone? After all, for a new IP to boast 9 million copies sold is extremely impressive, especially in a year with far larger games.

At the time I left Sony, Days Gone had been out for a year and a half (and a month), and sold over 8 million copies. It’s since gone on to sell more, and then a million+ on Steam. Local studio management always made us feel like it was a big disappointment.

Well, while it was never confirmed by Sony or Bend Studio, there was speculation that Sony had the supposition that Days Gone would meet or even exceed the scope of The Last of Us’ sales and critical performance. Realistically, Days Gone was never going to achieve this, even with a more experienced team, because Naughty Dog struck lightning in a bottle when they created The Last of Us, as even the team behind Naughty Dog’s magnum opus didn’t believe it would be so successful. Regardless, this is only speculation, but Director Jeff Ross did mention when responding to an article by Game Informer about Ghost of Tsushima selling over 8 million copies that local studio management always made him and the team feel like Days Gone was a disappointment, which is a gross depreciation for what Bend Studio created. There was also the belief that Sony was sceptical of enabling a sequel for Days Gone after the critical backlash the game received, which would explain why Sony showed bias against Days Gone as opposed to Ghost of Tsushima or Death Stranding, which had lower sales, but far better critical acclaim.

Sony had the supposition that Days Gone would meet or even exceed the scope of The Last of Us…

Finally, after delays and changes made to Days Gone, the game would see the light of day on April 26, 2019, and with that came some jarring reviews from games media that would orchestrate some truly questionable “criticism” with some media outlets “criticising” that the protagonist was a “gruff white male protagonist”. Regardless, the game did fall short in some aspects, being that it followed the “Ubisoft open-world bloat” and boring fetch/side quests. Yet, the world of Days Gone succeeded in other aspects with gorgeous landscapes and an immersive world that truly showcased the harsh reality of its apocalypse. The game wasn’t without its flaws and shortcomings, but a key point to remember is that Bend Studio hadn’t ventured into making a game this large previously. In many ways, Days Gone was the first independent release from the developer. Despite this, the backlash, criticism and negative light that was drawn to Days Gone became too much for Sony to justify a sequel. It’s a sad reality as Bend Studio has been assigned the task of supporting Naughty Dog. It was reported that a team at Bend Studio was helping Naughty Dog with an Uncharted project before Bend Studio leadership requested to be removed from the project altogether. In June 2022, Bend Studio announced through a PlayStation blog post that they are working on a new IP, bringing multiplayer elements mixed with the open-world mechanics introduced in Days Gone.


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