No Man’s Sky sparked a lengthy and heated debate about video game returns over the weekend, and much of the discourse turned a bit on the ugly side. There is a collection of gamers who feel not only misled by the game, but actively angry at features that were discussed before the game’s release and are now nowhere to be seen.
A reddit thread detailing the difference between the game that was discussed and the game that was launched has become legendarily in the No Man’s Sky community, with the post ultimately removed when the author deleted his account.
"I wanted to take part in an interesting discussion, not put the gavel down on it," the post’s author told Vice Gaming. "The torrent of negative attention I was getting was just more than I could handle."
That sort of nightmarishly negative reaction to discussion of this game is nothing new. Players threatened a Kotaku writer for reporting on the delay. Game developer Shahid Kahmal Ahmad, who used to work for Sony, is now the victim of targeted harassment after commenting on the issue of No Man’s Sky returns. It’s hard to find a time when the discussion of this game was ever reasonable.
Silence is not a good weapon here
What’s striking is that the work needed to deconstruct and humanize the issues around the game has mostly been done by other game developers. Rami Ismail wrote a wonderful and illuminating post about day one patches and why they’re important. Paul Kilduff-Taylor, the co-founder of Mode 7 Games, wrote a long and detailed look at communication with the press and fans during a game’s development cycle.
Both pieces go a long way to help players understand what happened and why things are handled a certain way in game development. I would argue both of those pieces are mandatory if you want to be an informed member of this conversation.
Neither Sony nor Hello Games offered anything close to that level of candor about the game at all, much less addressing the dropped features or glitchy launch of the PlayStation 4 and PC versions of the game.
The inability of either company to communicate anything about the game is destroying how players see it. A number of outlets ran stories about how the concurrent number of players for No Man’s Sky was dropping, and how terrible that was. This was the sort of data used for the story, care of SteamSpy, and in a second I’ll explain why this graph made so many other smaller game developer scream on social media.
Did anything jump out you? How about the part where the game had over 200,000 concurrent players at its height, which qualifies as a huge success for the development budget that likely went into No Man’s Sky. SteamSpy is estimating that over 750,000 players purchased the game, and that’s only on Steam. These numbers don’t take the game’s PlayStation 4 audience into account, nor services like GoG.
"The numbers speak of a phenomenal launch for a game, the huge amount of players and respective playtimes speak to a far more content number of people than internet chatter would have you believe," game developer Rob Fearon wrote. "Holding out in the Steam top sellers for days, even during the release of a much awaited big box title is an amazing feat for a game. Despite the internet at large’s story, people want to play No Man’s Sky. People are playing No Man’s Sky. No Man’s Sky is not a failure. It is a success."
But those numbers were reported on as if they constituted a failure, instead of proving that No Man’s Sky is likely to be one of the most successful games of the year. Neither Hello Games nor Sony ever stepped into with any data or even analysis to set the record straight. So the negative perception of sales and players is willing.
This is a huge problem in games in general
I personally enjoy No Man’s Sky, and I know plenty of other folks who do as well. I’m not playing it right now, so I contributed to the sharp drop of concurrent players. Does that mean I "abandoned" the game or that it’s a failure? Well, no. I’m not playing because other games have been released. In general I don’t play many games after the first two weeks of my purchase.
I would argue that many, if not most, of the many people who purchased the game either enjoyed it, are still enjoying it or put on the back burner, or don’t like it as much as they thought they would and have shrugged at it before moving onto other things. The game has likely sold an ungodly amount of copies, and the number of concurrent players on Steam is still very high for what amounts to an independent release.
But neither Hello Games nor Sony have given us any of that good news. They have not blown their own horn, nor done much to talk about what the players who like the game enjoy about it. No Man’s Sky is an ambitious game that sold a shit ton of copies and has a Metacritic score of 64. Everyone involved has much in which to be proud.
But instead, the loudest, most negative voices are shouting unopposed. Their version of events and perception of the game as a failure and / or result of years of lying is more or less going completely unchallenged by the people who have the most to gain by defending, or at least explaining, the situations that led to these controversies.
Instead we get a few mealy-mouthed change logs for patches and then silence. No Man’s Sky is a huge success, but when it’s viewed as a failure Sony and Hello Games will have no one to blame but themselves.