When we look back on video games in 2016, one of the most memorable and impactful tales of the year will be the No Man's Sky controversy. With the latest development seeing the team officially investigated for advertising fraud by the ASA, Sean Murray and Hello Games have incurred the hate of thousands of gamers, many of whom have taken to Steam and other platforms to voice their concerns—and spout vitriolic rage.
Overwhelmingly Negative: No Man's Sky on Steam
With only 12% of its most recent reviews being positive, No Man's Sky's user consensus looks something like this: "Overwhelmingly negative."
A drop in the ocean. But Steam isn't the only place where No Man's Sky has come under fire from players. On Metacritic, the game currently holds a score of 2.7 out of 10 and you'd be hard pressed to find a positive sentence amongst the carnage. Even the game's sub-reddit was shut down by its moderators in an effort to wipe it clean and purge it of its "hate filled wastehole" reputation. So all of this leads us to ask a number of questions, namely, "How did it come to this?"
Understanding the No Man's Sky Hate
Who's at fault here? Are we to blame for hyping the game up too much, or does that lie with the developers and Sony? Were we blatantly lied to about the kind of game No Man's Sky was hence the reaction? Does it deserve the hate it's generated from the community?
In order to properly understand what happened with Hello Games' space adventure, we need to talk about hype.
Video Game Hype
As gamers, we're painfully familiar with how publishers sell their products. Nothing else in the world is sold on the same scale as video games. We even have a popular phrase for those pulled along by this excessive form of marketing.
And, boy, was that hype train chugging for No Man's Sky. But although Hello Games certainly got the train moving in this instance, we helped keep it fuelled.
Yes, Sean Murray described various aspects of No Man's Sky that are blatantly absent from the finished product, he even demoed some of them on stage and if I went on to list them we'd be here all day. Hell, even the trailers for the game depict occurrences and features that quite simply aren't available—hence the whole advertising fraud investigation.
But there were several instances where we saw that the problem with No Man's Sky's hype was exacerbated by the actions of the gaming community. The most toxic example of how people attached to this game came before the developers revealed that No Man's Sky was going to be delayed, when Kotaku journalist Jason Schreier reported on the news and received death threats for doing so. Sean Murray also received death threats for the release date push. Let's think about that.
This was prior to No Man's Sky release. No one had any idea of this title's worth. And yet, individuals felt pushed to write death threats to others, with one stating that "Its [sic] the only thing I live for" when referring to No Man's Sky. This is not just a marketing problem, it's a community problem.
Gamers are passionate. We all know it. If you love a game, you're going to want to defend its merits before those that would desecrate its memory. But there's a line between passion and obsession that some in the community seem much too willing to lunge across.
We all have different opinions on art, that's the beauty of it. Aren't we supposed to have contrasting views on video games? Our opinions on games should be as varied as the people playing them, and we should be accepting of other opinions. But for some, a bad word (or a release date delay) is seen as an attack on their beliefs and they choose to lash out in horrific ways. Of course, this isn't supposed to be representative of gamers as a whole, but too often these kind of voices rise up from the crowds, damaging the reputation of the fun-loving gamers around them.
How Will We Look at No Man's Sky in Years to Come?
But I must admit, the hype around No Man's Sky was different. Everyone was on board and all reason was set aside as we imagined a video game that would fulfil our wildest space dreams. And for the most part, the game's mastermind supported those dreams.
So in the end journalists, gamers, publishers and, of course, myself were swept up by this game's mantra. This infinite universe was going to give us an incomprehensible number of planets to explore, with each one as diverse and interesting as the last. We would be free to explore the universe in whatever way we saw fit. But it wasn't meant to be and it wasn't the video game we thought it was.
There are plenty of aspects about this game that disappointed me. The crashes, the glitches, the horrific inventory management systems, the forced and banal survival elements, the repetitive nature of the planets, the uninteresting wildlife, the lack of lore; there were plenty of frustrations. But what frustrated me the most with No Man's Sky was how it failed to give me that sense of freedom and exploration that was essentially promised. The minute-to-minute gameplay was impeding on my enjoyment of this universe and I eventually retired from my space campaign unsatisfied.
Yeah, No Man's Sky isn't the game I wanted it to be. But does that mean it deserves to be torn apart on Steam and Metacritic? Is it fair that the game's developer has gone into hiding and hasn't posted on social media since its release date?
This title has some redeeming features and the fact that this universe was created by such a small team is a remarkable achievement. Perhaps if No Man's Sky wasn't discussed the way that it was on both sides of the fence we wouldn't be in this situation. I mean, in terms of numbers Hello Games succeeded. The game tore up the Steam and PlayStation stores. But it was sadly a purchase that a great deal of people were unhappy with and even regretted. How do we reconcile that?
No Man's Sky was sold to us in a certain way and many answered with blind devotion (and money). But if we blindly pre-order a video game without waiting for news on what kind of a product we're dealing with, that's on us.
Many of us advocate for the boycotting of pre-orders, and while we have the freedom to throw our money at whatever we see fit, ultimately we pay the price. How we allow a game's marketing and salespeople to convince us of a product's worth is on us. We've seen games change so much over the course of development, remember Watch Dogs? We're not learning. We're being duped repeatedly. Just take a look at the fiery passion of this game journalist arguing over why No Man's Sky is game that cannot be rated.
Brandon Jones is the only logical, unbiased guy in the room. He was looking at No Man's Sky as objectively as possible. He wasn't buying into the hype, he wasn't falling in love with Sean Murray, he was attempting to do his job and uncover the truth about this game, to everyone else's frustration. Hindsight is a beautiful thing and it paints him in such great light. But at the time a lot of other gamers would have been infuriated by his comments. Now? Not so much.
Time has proven that No Man's Sky is not exempt from game ratings. In fact, it's been decimated by them. But this whole situation shows us that there are several problems with how video games are marketed. Publishers know how fervently gamers will argue over something and support it, even before they've played it. Thus we see them give us information on a game that they think we want to hear. It's dangerous, and it's unfortunate that it happened to Sean Murray, clearly an intelligent game designer with a big dream. Fans of No Man's Sky turned on him quickly and he's been ridiculed ever since the game launched with countless videos tearing apart previous interviews and statements. What can we take from this?
No Man's Sky was a great lesson and the story of its controversy is far from over. But hopefully we'll be able to examine it, adjust our expectations and learn from it in the future.