No Man’s Sky- 2016 epitomised?

Just like the rest of the internet, I’m going to talk about No Man’s Sky…

More specifically, about the 1.1 update announced for release today.

1.1, known as the Foundation update, will add two new modes (Creative and Survival) to the main game, begins the Base Building feature, and add features to existing mechanics such as farming. It also promises to improve multiple parts of the resource management side of the game, by making resources easier to store, automate and use. The patch list is one of the longest I’ve ever seen.

A recap for anyone who needs it: the pre-release material for No Man’s Sky set 2016’s largest hype-cycle in motion. Everything from the showcased graphics to the appearance of a living and shareable world, to the interviews and quotes which never really gave specifics about what would or wouldn’t be part of the game, converged to give the impression that NMS would be “all games to all people”. It created a sort of excited vagueness which allowed the audience to expect the game to be amazing while not knowing exactly what the game would consist of- a recipe for disappointment.

On release (August 9th, 2016), the game couldn’t live up to those expectations. NMS received resoundingly negative reviews both from critics and from users- Steam reviews range from describing it as “amazing potential which falls short” to “the biggest disappointment of 2016” and “a lying simulator”. It was even subject to an investigation by the Advertising Standards Agency, over whether the differences between the trailers and the finished game amounted to misleading consumers.

The 1.1 announcement creates two possibilities for NMS. The first is that, just like with 1.0, 1.1 will not deliver what it promises. The second option is that it will deliver everything listed, and will go some way towards restoring people’s motivation to play NMS. I’m hoping it’s the second option, as to me Hello Games seem to be naive more than malicious. To me, the problem was NMS wasn’t 100% their fault; instead, it seems like a mixture of
i) bad communication/ vagueness from Hello Games
ii) publications and websites uncritically hyping up a game with almost no confirmed information
iii) customer’s willingness to gamble $60 on a brand new IP before release rather than waiting for reviews or gameplay

Swap Hello Games for Bungie, and this is very reminiscent of what happened with Destiny. After pre-release articles making Destiny out to be a console World of Warcraft,  vanilla Destiny was criticised for not having anywhere near the content and scale promised. Then when The Taken King expansion came out a year later, the consensus was that it provided everything missing from vanilla Destiny and added much more depth to the lacking story. If Bungie had waited a year, combining vanilla Destiny and TTK into one game, it would have been everything people were expecting from Destiny- Bungie would have avoided all the negative PR and complaints.

Similarly, NMS 1.1 seems to be basically how the game was described before release; NMS 1.1 is what NMS 1.0 promised to be. Yet the gap between them, rather than being a year, is just 10 weeks. So why could Hello Games not just have waited 10 weeks, and released NMS 1.0 now with all of those features? What could they possibly have gained from releasing 10 weeks early that made it worth the complaints, hatred, and controversy they received?

While I don’t get Hello Games’ logic, and would argue that by rushing into releasing NMS too early they shot themselves in the foot, I’m also going to defend them. That’s because the last two parts of this equation aren’t the fault of Hello Games, but instead have been a problem within game releases for a while. Every major release this year (and as many last year, and the year before) has had problems, and arguably NMS was just the unlucky point where all of these problems built up into critical mass and anger from people who have experienced this situation multiple times already.

However, thinking of it that way can make NMS seem like an accidental scapegoat for the whole industry. The last year or so has seen Quantum Break die on arrival, Star Wars Battlefront arriving with so little content that most players left within a month, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 being gutted and graphically downgraded to even make a bugged release, and every AAA title this year having server issues at launch… given that,  Hello Games should probably be praised for releasing something that was actually playable on launch day. So it raises the question of why a small studio have been condemned and described as scam artists when they have done exactly what  EA/ Activision/Dice/ Robomodo/ Remedy have done all year…
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