As a disclosure, I have not purchased or played No Man’s Sky, and have no intention to, either. I suspect I’d lose a year of my life playing that game that I really need to spend doing other things.
It’s bad enough I’ve already poured 155 hours into Starbound.
But this isn’t a game review, nor would one be worthwhile at this point. Depending on who you talk to, No Man’s Sky is either a pioneering attempt into a “universe” sized gaming experience, with easily $60 worth of exploration and discovery to do, or it’s a ham-fisted failure at both exploration and survival that was advertised as something completely different and a lie of an experience that should be punished for fraud.
No, I’m writing about the runaway hype train, and inevitable crash into the wall of disappointment, it became. Bear with me, because there really isn’t any “good” guys here. From developers to players, everyone bears their little sins in the flameout and rage this game has inspired.
Let’s start with Sean Murray and the crew at Hello Games. Perhaps they’re new to the industry, and didn’t quite understand that when you say something in the pre-release period, it effectively becomes a promise. “What we want to do” becomes “What we will do”, and by God will the fans let you know if they think you broke a “promise.”
Gamers as a rule don’t really understand iterative development, nor do they particularly care. In some ways, they shouldn’t be expected to either. There’s a reason why more and more experienced game developers aren’t saying anything until the project or feature is damn near finished, and Hello Games seemed to miss that memo down the line.
Whether that is fair or not, that’s the reality of the gamer population, and to press on up to four months before release with trailers that didn’t live up to the product was dooming your game to a very bitter reception.
On top of that, when Murray tried to walk some of the expectations back, it was in a very tepid and passive manner that gamers were nigh certain to ignore. Most people don’t read the 10pt font correction of yesterday’s headline on page 19A of today’s paper, and very quiet attempts to correct the rails on the train (because you don’t want to scare off sales) only led to a bitter blowback that hurt future sales (and future titles) even more.
If you’re going to make a correction, it needs to be as firm and declarative as any of the prior hype, if not more so. If you’re going to try and direct the train, you can’t be wishy-washy about it, because the fans will take the controls and drive it straight into a wall, then scream at you for months for letting them do it.
Which brings me to the fans, and their own culpability in the process. Gamers can be some of the most fickle, entitled, and obnoxiously demanding people on the planet, and there was no greater example of this than with the hype of No Man’s Sky. They demand “transparency” then get angry when said “transparency” tells them things they don’t want to hear. Then get angrier when developers go silent because gamers demand “transparency.”
It helps to understand that gamers don’t really want transparency or a dialogue. They don’t really just want to talk. “Transparency” is a dog whistle for “I want to yell at the developers and threaten them because they ruined my fun.”
And even if you decide not to engage in the hype train, they’ll build that train and drive it themselves. There is no small amount of conjecture (not just with No Man’s Sky, but with damn near any game that gets significant attention) that increasingly has nothing to do with any official or even unofficial statement… and guess who they blame when the final product doesn’t deliver on their runaway speculation?
Here’s a hint; it’s not themselves.
To players, I don’t know how to say this gently, but if you actually want a healthy dialogue, you as a whole need to learn how to dial it back. Not everything is a promise.
You don’t improve gaming when you turn into a bitter mob ready to torch the Internet whole because you didn’t get everything you wanted. You make it harder to get the sort of products you want because when you start sounding like a perpetually unsatisfied conglomerate of voices… eventually your targeted audience is going to hit the mute button, and stop talking entirely.