With the gaming industry making more than music and movies combined, it’s sometimes hard to remember just how young it truly is. For the most part, I believe this to be an amazing asset – each one of us are at the forefront of innovation and exploration (especially with VR on the rise). But this fact can also prove itself to be a struggle as the industry sometimes lacks regulation on appropriate working conditions and may have just helped the next generation become addicted to gambling. One of these somewhat predatory profit makers for the big guys is what is known as a “live-service game”. In it, the publisher and developer usually release a bare-bones experience with the promise of addition and expansion as it goes. While No Man’s Sky, and the other games I’m going to mention, may seem like this practice, I am going to be defending it as a whole other thing.
For those of you who don’t know, No Man’s Sky is a PC and PS4 exclusive space exploration game that came out late 2016. What makes this of note is that leading up to its release, the hype that surrounded No Man’s Sky has almost never been surmounted – with the game’s director even showing it off on late night television and other non-gaming news networks. Hello Games, this small gaming studio, set out to make something unlike the world has ever seen… the only problem was its more than a bit shady marketing (yep, this is where my long-winded intro ties in!). Hello Games used pre-rendered and custom footage and passed it off as gameplay and even straight up lied during interviews about features and gameplay. While I do believe Hello Games, as a small studio, found themselves under extraordinary pressure after simply following a dishonest business practice that has run rampant through the AAA gaming industry with zero regulation, the backlash was enough to warrant the FCC to look into them for false advertising. This made this small studio the poster child for a gaming industry kerfuffle. Sure enough, the No Man’s Sky launch in September 2016 was immensely successful, selling millions of copies, as this practice often helps push. But No Man’s Sky also launched to nearly universal disdain and hate, with some outlets offering refunds and many developers on the game receiving death threats for what they had done.
To most, this is where the story ends – with the possible most happy ending being a possible change to a shady practice (fat chance) and Hello Games sitting on a mound of money and hate. sure enough, this seemed to be the end of the narrative, with the developer going nearly completely radio silent after launch (other than a couple of simple patches) and had fans and haters feeling like they had been abandoned.
It must be stated what No Man’s Sky was meant to be and what truly made this game the scapegoat of the industry. No Man’s Sky was set to be an exploration and survival game in which things were promised like the ability to meet up with friends flying the galaxy, take part in intense faction wars and trading, and being able to discover and name completely unique creatures and planets due to their fantastical procedural generation. It was set to be the largest game ever made with a realistic number of planets (meaning you could spend an entire lifetime playing and never see all of them). While that promised scale was preserved, what was delivered seemed like an entirely less ambitious product. There were three alien races that are rarely seen, all the creatures looked similarly wonky and disturbing, and the multiplayer aspect was completely absent. What added insult to injury, as stated before, was the fact that the gameplay shared before of planetary exploration looked nothing like the ugly mess we got. While not entirely a bad game, what was released was a shallow shell of what was promised and expected.
It was somewhat of a surprise after a couple of months when Hello Games emerged in November to state that they were not giving up on the game and that they have been listening to the players. This commitment took form as an update scheduled called Foundation, where they would be creating something to be built upon. While offering hope, there has been a decent amount of developers justifying releasing a broken game by saying that they will fix it as it goes, so this surprising reemergence didn’t turn many heads when it came out.
Then came the updates.
Sure enough, Hello Games began to roll out the additions and changes to the game for the following years (not even months!), adding things like base building, ground vehicles, improved planets, missions, third-person perspective, and yes, finally, multiplayer. These additions were part of many patches and updates including the likes of Foundation and Next. But was it too late for the players they had alienated?
Honestly, this whole narrative is pointless without the side of the gamer… and truth be told, I actually quite enjoyed No Man’s Sky when it came out. Sure just like everyone else, I was strapped into the hype-train when it came crashing into the station, but from the very get-go, just the idea of exploring was enough of a hook for me. It was disappointing on a deep level, but even with wonky creatures, barren planets, and repetitive gameplay, I had myself a pretty good time flying around. I logged a few binge sessions, then, after a couple of days, I put it down and haven’t touched the game since… until very recently.
There was a pretty big ripple in the industry as of late from No Man’s Sky dropping its sexy final form with the update Next, that got the game to the back of my mind once again – so as I scrolled through my bloated library of games to pick which ones I wanted to have downloaded for the next couple of months, I saw No Mans Sky and thought “what the hell” and downloaded it play on some fateful day. As I found myself finishing major projects and taking a break I decided to boot it up for a mindless play and to see what’s new.
This is the game the world wanted.
I, this time, was immediately hooked and found myself playing a game that truly felt more like a sequel. I picked up new minerals with which I crafted new items, as the game lead me on loose missions that had me completely customizing and decorating a base on a planet of choice (God bless my base K-Pop Prometheus on New Winporp). That is where I have remained, together with my best friend, expanding my base and recruiting beings from other systems to help me, in a game I haven’t touched in three years and never intended to again.
There is a very intentional reason I brought attention to the fact that this was a small independent studio creating a game that wasn’t a “live service”. If this was something created by a major developer with a major publisher behind it, they would have either abandoned it three years ago or we would be playing No Man’s Sky 3 right now. Instead, this small studio turned No Man’s Sky from the scapegoat of the industry — into a story with a happy ending.
That is something that is only possible with the passion and love of a crew who cares. While many jumped ship when the game got rightfully torn apart and forgot about it, Hello Games didn’t. This is something we’ve seen from other passionate developers and communities across the generations: the community and mod support for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the bug fixing and fleshing out of Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines (which now is even seeing a full sequel!), and now the realization of potential in No Man’s Sky.
And THAT is something that is only possible in a messy, frustrating, broken, and altogether exciting and beautiful community like gaming.
With No Man’s Sky VR update coming soon it seems like anything is possible.
I love a happy ending