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Naughty Dog: Ellie’s Popularity in The Last of Us “Says a lot About Whether Games can Sell With a Female Protagonist”

August 5, 2013 Written by Jason Dunning

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Out of everything that Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley of Naughty Dog talked about in their giant AMA, they didn’t add any new comments when it came to the initial sales for The Last of Us.

Well, Neil and Bruce took part in yet another interview, this time with VentureBeat, where Neil addressed those sales, while also bringing up the topic of how games with female protagonists don’t sell well:

That’s great, but for us as a team, we need something that’s going to inspire us for the next two, three, four years. It has to be more than, “This will make money.” It has to drive us through those long nights when we’re struggling to put that thing together.

The cool thing about the sales success is that we did the game we wanted to play, not knowing whether it was going to succeed or not. The takeaway for us is, “Okay, that approach worked. Let’s do that again. Let’s make a game that we want to play that isn’t out there yet.”

Also, how popular Ellie ended up being says a lot about whether games can sell with a female protagonist.

THE LAST OF US SPOILERS AHEAD

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I MEAN IT

I’M SUPER CEREAL

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While it is great to have a game that featured a female on the cover and as a playable character, Ellie wasn’t advertised as someone you could play as, with Joel getting all the attention. As it turns out, the team at Naughty Dog was conscious of the decision to be dishonest, with Neil saying, “If somebody asks, “Do you play as Ellie?” we would say no. Even though we knew from the beginning that we were working toward this climactic moment where the roles of the characters shift.” Bruce then chimed in jokingly about this and said, “I’m surprised no one called us out on that in hindsight. “You fuckers lied!”

After talking about how “we did dozens of interview where we outright lied about” Ellie, as well as the decision not to talk about Sarah in the prologue, Neil explains why we never heard anything about Ellie being immune:

The reason we didn’t – one, out of context it just sounds like a cliché. But also, once you know that, then your next question becomes, “Okay, how does that play out?” Everyone would have been guessing about how the story ends, instead of how the story begins and what it’s about. By not revealing that aspect, there was more guessing about why they’re on this journey and why they’re together, instead of just how it might end. That helped the ending be really surprising.

Offering up his thoughts on this secrecy, Bruce said, “By saying that she has the immunity, it suggests that you’re going to have to escort her. We wanted to stay away from that.”

Finally, for characters like Tommy, Henry, David, or the fact that Nolan North is a voice actor not being announced beforehand, Neil said, “That helped people playing the game for the first time be surprised by those moments when you meet those characters.”

After playing The Last of Us, are you glad that they didn’t reveal everything from the get-go? Do you wish other games or movies would do this? Let us know in the comments below.

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