clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Is there any truth in video games advertising?

Truth-in-advertising laws have a noble purpose, but unless a marketing claim objectively fails a promise, they're really hard to enforce. When the product in question is an artistic work more than it is a technical one, it's even harder.

This video, by Super Bunnyhop, explores the unique quandaries posed by bullshot practices and other video games marketing, which came in for a lot of criticism over the past two weeks when U.K. authorities said they were investigating the makers and publishers of No Man's Sky for not delivering on promises made over its three-year hype cycle.

The key point in all of this is "reasonable consumer." Most of us know that the marketing we receive is bullshit — I know Clear Creek is Golden's municipal water supply, but is Coors beer really made from melted Rocky Mountain snow? Come on.

That does not give publishers or developers license to abuse a reasonable level of consumer trust. Bullshots — that is, idealized screengrabs that are impossible under normal play circumstances — pushed that boundary a decade ago. No Man's Sky didn't do anything close to that in its long hype cycle (abetted, admittedly, by yours truly) but the game still made promises that paying customers find unfulfilled.

The essential promise of No Man's Sky was — to me anyway — a vast procedurally generated galaxy that a user could go explore as a camera, more or less, whether on alien soil or in orbit. When the game turned out to be exactly that boring, a lot of people got mad and went to authorities over promises of "ship flying behaviour" and the size of the creatures populating the worlds the user may explore, and other claims rooted in some kind of objective standard that the game has apparently failed.

On one hand, we live in a society where cereal boxes require fine print that say ENHANCED TO SHOW TEXTURE for a closeup of a spoonful of Corn Flakes. On the other, I feel like anyone responsible for promoting Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones owes me a dollar for every minute it takes to explain that film's incomprehensible plot to a first grader. And good luck suing for those damages.

Video games are in the middle of that. They are, like films, mainly artistic expressions whose true value remains in the eye of the beholder. Unlike a film, though, a video game's experience rightly depends on some kind of competent software serving it all up. If that doesn't work, yeah, it's a busted product.

But holy shit, how many broken pieces of shovelware have gone out the door without the kind of civil claims facing No Man's Sky? It all feels like people are going to court over a refrigerator's ice-making capacity, and getting a settlement there, when what's really bothering them is the fact the appliance clashes with the countertop.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon