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Speaking during a lengthy livestream with God of War creator David Jaffe, former Sony Bend game director Jeff Ross confirmed that he was at one point working on a Days Gone 2 pitch but, due to an NDA with his former employer, couldn’t confirm if it had been cancelled.
However, he did reveal some details on his sequel pitch – including plans for a significant online mode – and heavily suggested that sales of the first game might not have been strong enough to persuade Sony to greenlight it.
According to a Bloomberg report published this week, key staff had left Bend following the unsuccessful Days Gone 2 pitch, and frustration at then being assigned to work on Naughty Dog projects as a support team.
On Sunday, Ross – who confirmed he’s now joined Mortal Kombat studio NetherRealm – said that he was at one point working on a Days Gone 2 pitch, but claimed that his departure from Bend was due to personal reasons and “had nothing to do with the status of the sequel”.
Ross confirmed several elements of Bloomberg’s report, including parts of Bend being assigned to work on Naughty Dog projects, but would not outright confirm that Days Gone 2 had been canned.
However, the director heavily suggested that the original game might not have generated enough sales to warrant an expensive follow-up.
Asked what Sony’s reasoning could be for reportedly rejecting plans for a Days Gone sequel, Ross said: “I don’t think it’s publicly confirmed what the status of [Days Gone 2] is. I don’t want to be the guy who’s the official source for whatever that is.
“To answer your question, in that context, I will just say that the calculus for Sony at this point is… when a game like Days Gone started, we were 45 people, we were walking around asking how we could build an open-world game with 45 people, and the answer was we grew. We changed our number from 45 to something like 120.”
“Days Gone has sold more copies than every game the studio has ever made combined. So it’s successful in that way, and in the community and player response. But the critics… yeah, that was Normandy Beach.”
He added: “There was a starting budget for Days Gone, which was big, but it’s not where we ended. We ended at a much higher number and I think that number is then probably the starting point for the next one.
“Sony with these big triple-A games… they’re not cheap games to make. The first Syphon Filter I think cost $1m or $2m. The second one was definitely $2m because we did it in a year.
“So the return of investment on those is great, [but] for games where you have to sell four of five million copies just to break even… there’s got to be a confidence in the return, because Sony doesn’t have the cash that Microsoft does and they’ve got to use it very intelligently and they’ve got to stay focused on a diverse portfolio.”
On his departure, Ross said: “It had nothing to do with the status of the sequel or anything else that the studio was doing. It just kind of got to the point where I realised that I’d peaked and I was probably not going to go any further.”
Reflecting on the original Days Gone, the director said he considered it a commercial success, while acknowledging mixed reviews from the media. Ross claimed the plan was always to address the original game’s flaws in a sequel.
Sony has not released official sales numbers for Days Gone, but its Metacritic score of 71 will likely have been disappointing for the company, which is used to its first-party releases enjoying near-unanimous critical acclaim.
Ross said: “Days Gone has sold more copies than every game the studio has ever made combined. So it’s successful in that way, and in the community and player response. But the critics… yeah, that was the Normandy Beach. It was a bloodbath.”
He added: “I’m super proud of it. The caveat is I know as well as anybody else what all the flaws are in the game. It’s not a perfect title, but it was the first entry in a series and you always know that the first one is establishing that beachhead, and then it’s a platform you’re going to build on top of, improve and double down on the right things.”
Days Gone 2 plans ‘included co-op’
The former Bend director later revealed that his Days Gone 2 pitch featured plans for “a shared universe with co-op play” – a feature that at one point could’ve been included in the first game.
“We wanted co-op from the beginning [in Days Gone 1], but obviously you have to make concessions for what you’re not going to be able to do,” he explained.
“It would’ve been a secondary mode if we’d have done it in the first one, or even in another one. I wouldn’t have complicated the main narrative… because that’s really what we’re good at. That was the strength of the first title, so build on that and make it better.
“But then take this world that you’ve built, and all these assets and systems, and repurpose them for some sort of similarly themed multiplayer version of this universe. So [it] would be with guys like Deacon trying to survive, building up a clubhouse or a crew. I think it would be fun to be in that world cooperatively and see what horde battles could be like.”
Asked if those plans would’ve made it into a sequel, Ross said: “It’s one of the things that we had in our pitch, yeah. It was the idea of a shared universe with co-op play.”
The Bloomberg report which first mentioned Days Gone 2, suggested that the proposed sequel was a casualty of Sony’s modern focus on big, blockbuster games.
According to the story, Sony’s increasing focus on exclusive blockbusters has come at the expense of “niche” teams within its first-party organisation, including the recent winding down of Japan Studio.
Asked to comment on the report, Days Gone director Ross denied suggestion that Bend was being positioned as a support studio for Naughty Dog, claiming that this was “never the reality” and that its relationship with the Uncharted studio was “collaborative” (the author of the Bloomberg story, Jason Schreier, has since suggested Ross is overstating the situation).
On Sony’s increasing focus on blockbusters, Ross said he had “no idea” on the status of smaller games inside PlayStation, but said he believed it was understandable for the company to prioritise commercial success over goodwill.
“Sony’s got to run a responsible business,” he said. “So it’s OK for them to make decisions based on the anticipated return of investment, because that’s the money they need to fund the next game.
“It’s naive to think it’s all Kumbaya, goodwill [and] we’re all sitting around doing the right thing, as opposed to the best thing for the company and the fans.
“Yeah, a lot of the small games that generate a lot of goodwill and love for the brand, I have no idea about the status of those or what’s happening, but when you’re making a game like [Days Gone] Sony is still pretty hands-off… that’s a pretty great thing for a developer.”
He added: “If they can only fund so many of these now, I think it’s understandable. Unfortunately for Sony, they’ve made their name in the last 10 years on these super-polished, emotionally engrossing single-player games and they sell really well and make a ton of money. But they don’t bring in the Fortnite money through renewables, so they have to be careful.
“Sony’s got to run a responsible business. So it’s OK for them to make decisions based on the anticipated return of investment, because that’s the money they need to fund the next game.”
“For Sony, every era is about survival. They’ve never been cash-rich, so they’ve got to be smart. I think fans should understand that before they really go off.”
Ross claimed that “despite their conservatism of late”, Sony is still “very supportive and hands-off” with its development teams.
“We always assume that places like EA and Activision are letting spreadsheets drive the decisions and that’s never been the case at Sony in my experience,” he said. “We’re all smart and we understand that we have to create something commercial, but they’re not jamming that down our throat.
“Games are expensive, movies are expensive… in order to make more, the initial ones need to make money. I do think that the more you overthink something, the more you’re destined to doom it and that’s why I like the loose format at Sony. Even in the Schreier report where he talks about them tightening things up, they still trust their developers tremendously.”