There is a No Man’s Sky scandal brewing in the United Kingdom. Reports out of England say the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is investigating whether or not the game’s advertising page in the Steam store is misleading.
A spokesperson for the ASA told the BBC that it had begun an investigation into allegations that Hello Games promised certain features in its advertising on Steam “that were not present in the final release.”
The ASA initiated its probe due to complaints from players that the makers of the space simulation did not accurately represent the final product.
— The Know (@RT_TheKnow) September 29, 2016
A No Man’s Sky scandal might not be surprising considering its overhyped pre-release publicity and subsequent reception. While the title received a Metacritic rating of 71 based on mixed reviews from the media, the website’s users score paints a different picture. Almost 5,000 Metacritic users have given No Man’s Sky an average rating of 4.6. This rank is a stark contrast to the mixed media reviews. (Please note that media scores are on a scale of 1 to 100, while user rankings are 1 to 10.)
One Metacritic user with the handle Enforcer122 gave the game a rank of 3 in his disappointing review.
“No Man’s Sky really [is] a different type of game. It’s the anti-establishment sort of game which doesn’t follow the norms and did its own thing. That’s why I hate the fact I find it utterly boring. Unfortunately, it comes down to the simple fact that the game gets very boring, one dimensional and repetitive.”
Enforcer122’s review is fairly typical. Players who bought No Man’s Sky are disappointed that there does not seem to be much to do after the initial excitement recedes.
No Man's Sky steam reviews.. pic.twitter.com/7Wccz5QTDe
— Jón Kristinsson (@jonkristinsson) September 29, 2016
Defenders of the title say that there is plenty to do in the open universe and that some users are disappointed because they expected the game to be something that it is not.
Giving it a score of 9, Metacritic user Rozzm writes, “You have to use your own imagination a bit while exploring and kind of narrate your own story. This is a love it or hate it game for sure.”
Loving or hating a product, or finding it “boring” is one thing, but false advertising is a whole different scandal. Many players feel that they were lied to by Hello Games in general and Sean Murray in particular.
Metacritic reviewer Joe614 is one of those who are claiming the developers misled the community. He gave the game a zero and bluntly said, “Sean Murray straight up lied to everyone!”
— James Wynne (@JamesAdamWynne) September 28, 2016
He then went on to list everything he found that Murray said would be in No Man’s Sky but was not. Some of the lies that Joe614 accused Murray of were either unfounded or were nitpicks on something that was there but, in his opinion, was lacking such as a promise of “Amazing Ship Customization.” Ships are customizable, but maybe not to the degree that Joe expected. However, one lie he lists that everybody seems to agree with is that the game would be multiplayer with players able to go to battle against each other.
Sean Murray did say on several occasions that No Man’s Sky would be multiplayer. However, most of the time he tempered that assertion by disclaiming that encountering other players would be rare due to the game environment’s enormous size. However, there was one instance in which Murray did not disclaim the rarity of multiplayer interaction.
During one interview, the interviewer asked Sean, “Will you be able to play with your friends?”
“Yeah,” was Murray’s brief response.
The interviewer followed up, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, “Will you be able to grief other players?”
As he chuckles Sean says, “A little bit.”
Whether this interview could be considered advertising, and whether it is enough to contradict his standard disclaimer on the rarity of player interaction, is up to the ASA. Still, the agency is not solely focused on the multiplayer aspect of the game.
According to the BBC, complaints that are being investigated include “the lack of space combat, structures and buildings, flowing water, animal behaviour [sic] and issues piloting spacecraft in the game.”
All of these “missing features,” complainants say, are visible in the 2014 trailer, which raises another question: can developers be held accountable for depictions in 2014 for a game that was not released until 2016? It seems unfair of one to expect early footage of a title to accurately reflect the final product. A lot can change during production. Things are added and taken away all the time, just as they are during the editing process of a motion picture. Is it reasonable for consumers to expect to see everything that hit the cutting room floor?
The ASA’s investigation in the U.K. may just be the beginning of legal troubles for Hello Games. While the probe has not erupted into a full-blown No Man’s Sky scandal yet, it could if the ASA finds that Murray and company deliberately misled consumers about the product. It could also become worse if U.S. authorities begin looking into false advertising accusations.
No Man's Sky drops below 1000 concurrent players on Steam – How's anyone gonna find each other?? pic.twitter.com/BmtzX5mqMw
— AllGamesDelta (@AllGamesDelta) September 21, 2016
Even if Hello Games is vindicated of any wrongdoing, the bad press is the last thing that the floundering space sandbox and the young development company needs. The game released on August 9, to 212,620 simultaneously playing users. Just two weeks after release, concurrent users (CCU) had dropped to 25,689, according to the BBC. The website SteamSpy lists the daily CCU at 1,656 as of September 27.
With numbers this low, one may argue that a No Man’s Sky scandal cannot drag the game down any further than it already is, but what about the company? Facing legal frustrations over a title that is not likely to generate much in residual sales does not bode well for a studio whose only other franchise is Joe Danger, which only has four games to its name. If this investigation breaks out into a full-blown scandal for Hello Games, No Man’s Sky will forever be known as “No Man’s Gate.”
[Featured Image by Christian Petersen/Getty Images]