Following reports that a pitch for a Days Gone sequel was turned down by Sony, former Bend Studio game director Jeff Ross has now confirmed some of the details of the game’s pitch, including that it would have featured “a shared universe with co-op play”.
In fact, that was the plan from the very beginning of the series. Speaking in a long livestream with God of War creator David Jaffe, Ross explained that “[Bend Studio] wanted co-op from the beginning [in Days Gone], but obviously you have to make concessions for what you’re not going to be able to do.”
Of course, now that it’s been mooted in the headlines, people want to know if a Days Gone 2 is happening or not. Ross stopped short of confirming the reports last week by Bloomberg – “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.”
Having departed in December alongside fellow game director and game writer John Garvin, many have also read between the lines to suggest that, with their Days Gone 2 pitch rejected and the reports suggesting that Bend Studio was at the time working on a Naughty Dog-led project, all of this was related. Ross refutes this: “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.”
Of course, if Bend was working on Days Gone 2, surely there would be further peaks to aim for? Having to run backup to a Naughty Dog project would comparatively be a huge comedown from the highs of leading a studio’s first original IP in two generations.
There’s also been speculation over the reason for a mooted sequel to not be picked up, with Bloomberg’s report stating that the original game hadn’t sold enough copies. Ross was pretty sanguine on the matter, admitting that the Days Gone budget had ballooned. The studio had started the project with around 45 staff, but ended with around 120, with the game also slipping from 2018 to 2019 release. “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.”
Ross considers Days Gone a commercial success – while Sony has not released figures for the game, it has sold more copies than all previous Bend Studio games, through six Syphon Filter titles, a Resistance game on PSP and Uncharted: Golden Abyss for PS Vita. Doing some sleuthing, the first two Syphon Filter games sold 3.17 million copies in the US as of 2007, it also outperformed Death Stranding, which saw player counts around the 3 million march as of April 2020 per the now defunct player tracking site Gamstat.
Of course, as budgets grow, so do the risks of not recouping the investment.
“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.”
I think it’s no secret that the reaction to Days Gone was mixed. The game has a Metacritic rating of 71 where Sony’s first party titles are typically rated higher, but it also has a vocal fanbase who enjoyed its open world not-quite-zombie apocalypse setting and gameplay.
Ross said, “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.”
That, I personally think, is the biggest shame here. Days Gone had its flaws, but it was also by far and away Bend Studio’s biggest production to date. Look back on Naughty Dog’s evolution through the Uncharted series and you see a huge leap in quality from the first game (which was admittedly rated very highly) to the second game, and it would have been hoped that Bend could take a similar step forward with a Days Gone sequel.
While Ross won’t confirm the reports, it certainly seems unlikely that we’ll see a sequel.