No Man’s Sky: We forgive you.

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f you’ve been listening to the Arcade Gaming podcast (you totally should be), there’s a very good chance you’ve heard us ripping into No Man’s Sky. Again and again and again. Here’s a quick breakdown for the stragglers out there.

Pre-release

ALL THE HYPE, ALL THE CONTENT!

Release

Uh, where are all the features you promised?

Last few months

*Crickets*

Last week

BAM – major update!

What happened?

Well, we’re not quite sure – but there are a few possibilities.

Over-marketing

In order to sell a product and compete with others in the market, it has to be comparable or, in a perfect world, better. The No Man’s Sky that was shown during demos and at conferences – even just weeks before launch – highlighted features that would have separated it from Star Citizen and Elite Dangerous…if they had made it to the final release. Was Sean Murray showing off these features simply to fill the hype train and push more copies, or did something else happen in the weeks leading up to launch?

Bug dominoes

The “it was probably buggy” excuse has been brushed off by many gamers, but hear me out. Potentially dozens of demoed features never made it to the final release, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were all buggy. When you’re developing a procedurally generating, open-world game, you face a pretty intense domino effect. While only one feature may be buggy, or not up to standard, it has the potential of taking down everything connected to it – and resetting those dominoes may be more work than temporarily removing them, completely.
 
In the case of No Man’s Sky, the dev team may have discovered a bug with the ‘rotating planets’ feature late in the development cycle. Their initial thought may have been to simply remove that feature until it’s fixed, but the code that controlled the rotation may have been directly interacting with the code that generated ‘rings’ around a planet and the code that displayed freighters in the atmosphere. Now instead of just one feature being removed, three are on the chopping block. You get the idea.

Of course these are just theories and likely extreme examples, but as someone who has worked closely with development teams, either of these (or something entirely different) are possible explanations.

Going silent: the uncertainty

After the [very] botched launch, a few small patches were pushed to address immediate bugs and performance issues, which started to give frustrated buyers hope, but silence quickly took over. Both the Hello Games and the No Man’s Sky Twitter accounts went inactive for almost 100 days (excluding the day they were hacked). As the months drew on many, including myself, assumed the worst. Sean Murray and the team jumped ship. The numbers were rapidly dropping, negative reviews were piling up, refunds were raining from the sky, and the subreddit was angry. Very angry.

Surprise – the Foundation update

Completely out of the blue, an announcement was posted that a patch was incoming called the Foundation update. This initial announcement stated the following:
The foundations of base building, and also because this is putting in place a foundation for things to come.
No Man's Sky
Reading this post crushed me. On one hand, it was nice to see that development was still taking place, but on the other hand, the post gave me the impression that this would simply be a small update to prepare for future features – who knows when.
I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Just a few days later, No Man’s Sky dropped the Foundation update and all was right in the vast, empty universe. This was no small update. Two additional game modes were added, in-depth base building with teleportation, farming, beautiful, customizable freighters, new resources, and a lot more! Sure, much of this should have been included in the initial release, but it’s finally here!

Rebuilding more than just the game

The silence from Hello Games and No Man’s Sky drove me crazy, but I get it. Sort of. After the Foundation update was announced, Sean Murray Tweeted this reasoning:

Seeing the deep hole they dug themselves in and previously broken promises, I can definitely understand Sean’s reasoning, but I feel there could have been some communication. Sure, there was that one post in September that claimed development was still underway, but that was essentially it. The longer they remained silent, the more we were convinced otherwise. But that’s in the past. I hope.

The future needs to be chatty

It’s now clear that No Man’s Sky is still very much a thing, and that the team is still dedicated to its future, but the healing process has only just begun. Going silent is no longer an option if Sean Murray and the team hopes to rebuild. As a gamer who appreciates on-going communication, here’s what I expect.
  • Videos discussing upcoming features, similar to Blizzard’s Development Updates
  • On-going emails, similar to Star Citizen’s
  • Frequent Tweets, and blog posts
  • A possible roadmap
This isn’t a ‘nice to have’ suggestion. This communication is necessary to the success of No Man’s Sky. Hell, it’s necessary for any game to survive these days. Look at what happened to Pokemon Go. Before they brought on a community manager, they were on the verge of imploding. Some would argue that they’re still hanging on for dear life, but it would be a lot worse without their new found voice.
If anyone involved with No Man’s Sky stumbles upon this article, we forgive you – but don’t screw your customers over again. Be honest, start a conversation, and keep those updates coming!