What Went Wrong With No Man’s Sky?
In the first of our Q4 pieces, Editor-In-Chief Craig Shields looks at what went wrong with No Man’s Sky. Pause Resume’s headquarters are mere minutes away from Hello Games’ HQ, so after failing to get an answer by knocking on their door, we tried to work out what happened to the much hyped game.
Unannounced, unassuming and without any prior warning, Sean Murray appeared on Geoff Keighley’s video game awards show (then going under the VGX name) and unleashed No Man’s Sky to the world.
It was the only positive out of a show where the tension between Joel McHale’s half-assed nature and Geoff Keighley’s professionalism was more intriguing than the games on show. But Sean’s appearance along with his game was the undeniable highlight, showing off a truly procedural universe, the likes of which we hadn’t seen before on this scale.
Sean was clearly not used to the spotlight usually given to triple A developers and Hollywood actors, but here he was, a small indie developer from little old Guildford in front of the world. Never looking into the camera, never looking at the hosts, just talking. Waxing lyrically about Hello Games’ little creation and how they wanted to create a world for players to explore and discover. It was the start of a three year long development cycle where talking too much and too often, is the primary reason for most of the complaints that are riled at them today.
Trade show after trade show and E3 after E3; conferences came and went with fresh information and new possibilities filling the heads of gamers as to what they were going to do when they finally got their hands on the game. Meeting friends on planets? Preparing for huge space battles? Taking on giant monsters? These were just a few of the items that players had heard Sean Murray exclaiming that they could do in No Man’s Sky, and – in regards to the giant monsters – had actually seen in trailers.
The No Man’s Sky fever was real and all over the vast internet people were already wondering (and planning) on how to meet-up with their friends, take part in epic galactic space battles and of course, rule the universe.
Interview after interview, Sean Murray spoke of his love of the game that he and his co-workers were making. He spoke to GameSpot , Game Informer and Rock Paper Shotgun amongst others, exclaiming a number of different ideas and gameplay elements in No Man’s Sky. Unfortunately, a number of them failed to turn up in the finished product.
His interview with GameSpot before No Man’s Sky’s release, alluded to the fact that it wouldn’t be a multiplayer mode per se, but that it would have multiplayer elements, including the ability to meet other players – if you were lucky.
“I guess we’ve always downplayed multiplayer because it’s not really a multiplayer game. Actually, the experience is reasonably solitary. But we want you to feel like you’re playing in a shared universe, and I think it’s important to have those moments.
We’re trying to not say exactly what happens, but it’s not one … it’s a thing that very rarely occurs, so the chances of you landing on a planet that somebody’s actually been to before is pretty rare. It’s a nice thing when it happens. The chances of you being in the same space, the actual same planet at the same time as somebody, is something that might never happen. Certainly for an individual player, it might never happen, and it won’t be your friends for sure.
So when you do, we want you to be aware of it, and we want you to have a sense of it, and we want it to be a real moment. But it’s not like you go off and play deathmatch together, or call Julie, or start meleeing together and tea-bag each other. That is not what the game is about. It’s more of a Journey-esque experience, or Dark Souls-esque kind of thing.”
The Journey and Dark Souls references are interesting as both don’t feature specific multiplayer in the classic sense, but both feature a-synchronous attempts to include other people inside your own single player journey. And while Sean Murray alluded to this being a feature inside No Man’s Sky, he reinforces that fact in a number of interviews that two players meeting would be a highly unlikely event. So it must’ve been a surprise for Sean that after less than a day at release two players managed to land on the same planet, at the same time in the same spot. But couldn’t see each other.
In another Game Informer interview, this time in 2014, Murray confirmed that “you can see other characters, and they can see you.” Things can change over time with development but Murray never came out after this and stated that it wasn’t possible, leading players to believe the hype and the fact they could indeed meet other people.
Instead of directly addressing how the players were able to be at the same place, at the same time but without being able to see each other; Sean Murray tweeted that it had “blown” his mind, but didn’t comment any further on the ability of seeing other players, a feature that he had confirmed before release.
But it wasn’t too long before Sean Murray and Hello Games went radio silent. At the time of writing, Sean Murray hasn’t tweeted since August 18th when he stated that Hello Games were focusing on supporting known issues with No Man’s Sky before going on to work on additional content, some of which may now by paid-for DLC; yet another promise that Sean Murray went back on following his pre-release statement that additional content would be free.
The backlash against the release of No Man’s Sky and in particular the ramblings of Sean Murray has been unprecedented, even going on to have affected Hello Games’ Google Reviews:
Even Sony have been actively distancing themselves away from No Man’s Sky, with President of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida claiming that “It wasn’t a great PR strategy, because he didn’t have a PR person helping him, and in the end he is an indie developer.” This, despite ex-Sony UK head Fergal Gara saying that they’ll be treating the title “…like a first-party release; it is not a self-published small indie title on the platform.”
Following Shuhei Yoshida’s comments on the game, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (the ASA) have stated that they’ll be investigating the game’s Steam page, which contains a trailer and images showing various features – such as the giant snake monster in the first trailer – that don’t appear in the final game. The ASA have already contacted Valve and Hello Games regarding this investigation and are currently awaiting a response.
While on the surface it seems harsh that gamers have had to report a developer for broken promises, there isn’t really anything else they can do. They can’t talk directly to the developers since Hello Games went radio silent, they can’t get a refund on PSN and the same applies to Steam after your play time goes over two hours. So, for those who do feel aggrieved at the final product, this is the only route they can do down if they genuinely feel like the game’s marketing and Sean Murray’s hyperbolic interviews didn’t meet their expectations.
No Man’s Sky was a vastly ambitious game and it’s clear to me that Sean Murray never meant to deceive anyone, at least not at first. Like our piece on Peter Molyneux, it’s a tale of a developer so eager to create a world (or universe in this instance) and is so full of ideas that instead of keeping it to themselves they tell the whole world about it before even working out if it’s actually possible to achieve.
Murray isn’t the new Molyneux, he’s just another dreamer who unfortunately got burnt due to his lofty ambitions which sky-rocketed gamers’ expectations. No Man’s Sky is a cautionary tale for gamers who bought into the hype a little too easily and for developers and publishers to temper their marketing accordingly, set a realistic goal when preparing target renders or pre-release trailers.
For Hello Games, it’s now the long-road of trying to establish the players trust. Unlike Molyneux, Sean Murray and Hello Games have stopped doing interviews, tweeting and even turned down the chance to talk to us for this piece.
While there’s a chance he will do a tell-all interview somewhere, by that time, he’d have hopefully got No Man’s Sky in a position where players will want to explore the universe again. But for Hello Games to get there, an awful lot of grovelling and fixing of broken bridges will need to be done.