I’ll admit that I was never super excited for No Man’s Sky based on the first footage years ago. But, with every announcement made during the game’s development and the ambitious goals Hello Games was trying to meet, my curiosity in the title certainly increased. Promises of a truly astronomical universe so big that you might never find what someone else has discovered. Immersive space flight and fights to the death against space pirates. A plethora of alien flora and fauna that you find as you explore brand new worlds. It’s easy to see how so many gamers were incredibly excited about the title. However, I’ve been playing games long enough that I know when to be skeptical of what I’m seeing. No Man’s Sky isn’t the first game to promise an experience that seems almost impossible to have in a game. Anyone familiar with games made by Peter Molyneux will recall that the man has a nasty habit of promising features that would ultimately never make it in-game. Perhaps one of the most infamous of these comments was the promise of trees that grow in real-time in the first Fable game. Given the technology at the time, it’s no wonder that never happened.
But Hello Games is not Peter Molyneux and from the trailers and live demos, No Man’s Sky seemed like the real deal. Still, I didn’t rush to preorder the game or buy a copy on day one. I wanted to see what the game was really like. I was still skeptical as to whether or not this was going to be any good after all. Well as it turns out, I was right to be skeptical. The consensus since No Man’s Sky’s launch is that while the game does do some things well, several of the game’s mechanics don’t live up to the hype. To add insult to injury, the PC version is riddled with bugs making the game almost unplayable. Needless to say, I’m not getting a copy of No Man’s Sky anytime soon. In fact, I don’t know if I ever will. And while it’s easy to say hindsight is 20-20, looking back on the journey of No Man’s Sky’s development it’s easy to see where things went wrong.
The first thing that stands out in my mind is how the game was marketed. Watching other gamers play the game or listen to them talk about their experiences, it’s become clear that No Man’s Sky sort of like Minecraft. I don’t mean in terms of the mechanics; the only real similarity gameplay-wise is collecting resources to be used to craft and build. Minecraft was an indie game that got popular and was then heavily marketed by a major publisher, in their case Microsoft. Before the game was even launched, Sony attempted to do that for No Man’s Sky. In many ways, this was perhaps the biggest mistake in No Man’s Sky development. With Sony highlighting the game through marketing and pressers, it gave gamers the impression that this was going to be a triple AAA title when in reality this was an indie game that should have been significantly less publicized. If we were playing No Man’s Sky with the idea that it was an indie game that would be worked past launch like Minecraft, we probably would have been far more forgiving of its issues. Instead, we have a game that Sony thought would be next Minecraft-like indie darling. But Sony isn’t the only party to blame here.
It goes without saying that Hello Games also bear a certain amount of responsibility for the game’s poor reception. There are numerous reasons why this is the case, but I think it boils down to one central reason. There were several features that were promised that we either haven’t gotten or may never get. One of the big things to come from the gaming community is plenty of analysis of what was promised during demos and press conferences and what we got. I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty of what’s in the game, but I am going to include a video that I think sums up all the “lies” nicely. A lot of the blame gets put on Sean Murray, and I believe that it’s more due to his inability to manage expectations rather than all of his outright lies. Though there are plenty of lies as well. For example, if Sean Murray had said during the games development “You’ll be able to play with your friends eventually. We’re working on it”, it would have made them look a lot better than just simply saying “you can totally play with your friends.”
I’d like to point out that I’m not condoning game developers using white lies to save face, I’m just saying how easy it would have been to mitigate expectations while still generating some degree of hype. With both Sony and Sean selling us a game that didn’t live up to expectations, it no wonder the internet is in an uproar. But to some degree, I also blame the gamers for allowing the hype to get out of control. In our way, we encouraged this poor behavior, but I digress. At the end of the day, the game is out, and it’s probably going to go down as one of the biggest disappointments of 2016. I knew that there were going to be some things that No Man’s Sky wouldn’t be able to live up to, I just didn’t realize it was going to be the whole game. Looking back; however, we probably should be less shocked.