Harnessing Nostalgia to Reach New Audiences

A Look at the Success of The Last of Us in Gaming and Television

About a 2 min. read

Blair Bailey
Senior Director, Data Management

In summer 2020, I replayed The Last of Us Part I to prepare for the release of Part II and to re-experience Joel and Ellie’s story. As I played, my mom would walk by and ask:

“Who’s that?” “Where are they going?” “Where did Joel go?” “How are Joel and Ellie?”

She didn’t want to admit it, but she was invested. She was intrigued by the critically-acclaimed storyline, but off-put by the medium – a video game. While video games have made huge strides in player demographics, they can still be intimidating for others.

By adapting The Last of Us for television, HBO removed a major barrier for non- to beginner gamers (like my mom) by changing the medium from video games to television. Thus, expanding the reach of its fandom and success. The series debuted in 2023 on HBO with 4.7 million viewers, and became the second-most watched HBO premiere in over a decade. Comparatively, when The Last of Us was first released for the PS3 in 2013, it sold 1.3 million copies in its first three weeks. While that still made it the biggest game launch of the year, the accessibility of television as a medium had a much larger reach much sooner. The release of the show has even gone back to inform game sales – The Last of Us Part I sales in the UK spiked 238% after the release of the show.

The success of The Last of Us is part of a larger trend. What made it so appealing? This is a question our clients often ask, whether it be a new product, a new credit card feature, or even a gaming reboot. Through CMB’s wide range of products and services, CMB helps clients gauge their audience’s interest to achieve these goals.

To do this, develop a questionnaire to investigate new product developments (like nostalgia) or explore potential barriers (like the medium of console gaming). Leveraging analytics agnostic tools and methodologies, such as Discrete Choice Models to explore new features or Segmentation to uncover different audiences and their preferences for consuming new or rebooted IPs.

For The Last of Us, while some of the preceding hype and eventual success may have been fueled by established fans of the games, HBO had also figured out their own winning combination: they enticed new viewers by hiring an already acclaimed creator to adapt the story and casting engaging actors, and then kept viewers tuned in each week with the incredible story us gamers already knew and loved.

While HBO found their winning formula in The Last of Us, CMB can help your organization find yours. Reach out to us today!