Those who don’t study history are bound to do stupid shit. That’s how it goes, right? Close enough. Today we’re going to look at one of the more well known gaming kerfuffles of the last few years and how the story has unfolded since. I’m speaking, of course, of No Man’s Sky.
Let’s preface this with a few things. First, yes I have been critical of this game and how it was launched. Second, I am still a fan of this game and enjoyed it at launch despite it’s short comings. Third, despite my criticism I have wanted the game to improve because it had potential.
So, let’s set the way back machine to the summer of 2016. Here in the south it was uncomfortably hot. There was no better way to cope than barricading myself indoors with a good game. Lo and behold, the newest incarnation of hype was upon us. A space exploration game boasting the largest play space ever created and endless possibilities to explore. Players around the world loaded in to a brand new universe with high hopes and a song in their heart. Then the shitshow started…
On launch day the game was found to lacking many of the major features that the de facto face of the company, Sean Murray, had promised us. No multiplayer, no variable physics, no meaningful factions, and so many more. The list is still disappointing to read even now. We were promised the world (18 quintillion of them in fact) and were given a shell of a game.
I was a little late to the hype party for this game and only learned a lot about this after the fact, and that probably shielded me from a lot of the disappointment. Unfortunately for Hello Games I was in the minority. The backlash was fast and brutal. They tore the game apart and unleashed hell on Hello Games.
After that, Hello Games went radio silent. For months. No answers, no responses, no nothing. The customers raged and threw their frustration against a silent wall.
All that changed when Sean Murray emerged and began to speak to the press in conjunction with the release of update 1.1 and the first step towards making amends to the people that bought their game.
In the time since that initial update, Hello Games has consistently, if slowly, pushed out content for their game. As it inches closer to the game they originally announced there are a lot of lessons to learn.
To start with, lets talk about the way Hello Games handled the initial backlash. Going completely silent has some definite upsides. You can’t lie if you don’t say anything. You can’t say anything that makes anyone mad or gets twisted into another problem. There’s negatives too. Obviously it leaves the people who bought your game wondering if you’re abandoning them. You lose the ability to have any say so in the narrative being told in the community and in games journalism. So did they make the right call? I say yes. It wasn’t a perfect solution but, frankly, there wasn’t an option that would be great for them. They were going to catch hell no matter what direction they took. The alternatives were worse. If they had said they were working on fixes it would have blown back at them as people asked why it wasn’t fixed before. Saying that you hear your customers concerns is, as I’ve discussed before, a terrible idea because of how much that has been tainted by others. Cough cough EA cough Bungie cough. No matter what they did they couldn’t win so they took the approach that allowed them to come back in to the conversation on their terms. By breaking the silence with an update to the game they gave themselves a leg to stand on. They showed that they were working to fix things rather than saying it. It also explained the silence as them keeping their noses to the grindstone and focusing on the game. Personally I think it was a much a strategy to cover their asses as it was genuine desire to fix the game. In the end, however, it was a smart move.
Something else I’ve seen thrown around as a major point of praise for Hello Games: All of the updates have been free. Is it good? Of course. Should we be singing their praises over it? Not so much. People paid for a game based on what the developers said would be in the game. They didn’t get it. So when the devs started putting out content that they originally claimed would be in the launch title for free they weren’t doing some noble act of altruism. They we’re giving people what they had already paid for. Yes, it was the right thing to do. That doesn’t mean that they should be hailed as gaming saints as I’ve seen from so many people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’ve done it. Doing the right thing is always the right thing. It shouldn’t be this much of a surprise when it happens. Maybe that says more about the state of the industry than it does anything else.
So what does this mean for the future of No Man’s Sky and Hello Games? What should it mean? Those are complicated questions and the answers will continue to evolve over time. For now, we have to continue to temper excitement for new content with remembering what happened before. We can’t follow hype. We can’t get distracted by the sizzle if there’s no steak. Take the time to evaluate what they say and do honestly and make decisions based on what is actually there.
With all that said, I still enjoy the game. I still want it to grow and get better. I believe it will. But I’ll be watching. You should too.