We’ve all read several articles about No Man’s Sky and what would become one of the largest video game debacles of 2016. The story goes that Hello Games produced trailers and screenshots of a version of the game that never made it into consumers’ hands. Those of us in the gaming community demonstrated our ire at the deception, and as a result, Hello Games saw its pre-orders turn into refunds and sales plummet astronomically. It became the running joke on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit communities, and to this day, it still represents one of the major marketing case studies within the industry.
But should a botched beginning permanently kill the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of an indie studio committed to delivering a great space exploration experience? I think not. There are many pressures to game development that people are often unaware of.
Despite having its internet reputation shredded, Hello Games has remained steadfast in creating updates for No Man’s Sky. The Foundation Update gave players access to new resources, base building, and the introduction of a farming system. Initially praised as providing aspects that gamers wanted in the original release, there was still a pushback on the update as players thought that they had lost much of their faith in Hello Games to deliver on their promises. In March, No Man’s Sky received a new update called the Path Finder Update, which gave players new vehicles, Steam workshop options, and enhanced graphics. Currently, there are some gamer theories on what features will be coming next to the game.
With all that being said, I think it’s important to remind gamers that there are many challenges associated with game development. Too often, gamers expect the world from game developers. It’s not easy creating high-quality art assets, immersive levels, responsive audio effects, and robust code infrastructure to manage it all. The reality is that indie studios have to work extremely hard to just create a functional product.
Now, I’m not trying to make excuses for Hello Games not delivering on an overpitched promise. Rather, I’m trying to put the human element into an industry that is often treated as one big robotic production. Indie development is hard because there are so many limitations that range from talent to capital. Think about it: How many of you gamers out there could actually sit down and create just one of the planets or environments that you encounter in No Man’s Sky? Would you have been able to create a procedural algorithm that would adequately randomize and generate new creatures everywhere you went? What about ship controls and design?
Even when padded with investment from publishers, developers have to consider project deadlines, staff compensation, testing, and project support post-launch. Every game that is created and published requires the blood, sweat, and tears from a variety of people to see it to completion. Games on the magnitude of No Man’s Sky require even more still. For many indie studios, a botched launch can result in the closing of the studio’s doors and the stifling of employees’ livelihoods. This is the dark reality that indie studios face, yet many persevere to create titles that we all know and love without the promise of even turning a profit.
My position is simple: games are hard. Making games requires talent and expertise that the average gamer does not have. No Man’s Sky promised a universe of fun and exploration, and it failed to deliver on that. But they are working towards that promise. Indie studios have one of the hardest battles in this modern age of mobile and self-published gaming. There are so many competitors all vying for the same audience, and using limited resources. Marketing matters. Indies need to be more realistic in their product offering and more strategic in their marketing approach. However, gamers also need to be a bit more forgiving. Companies like Hello Games who have demonstrated a commitment to improving their product for consumers should be commended. The truth is, it’s easy to dismiss games like No Man’s Sky, even after its updates, if you continue to see gaming studios as money-hungry businesses.
[Featured Image by Christian Petersen/Getty Images]