All developers want their game to do well. Every creator wants whatever project they are working on to receive universal praise. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Everyone has the right to be proud of their work, especially if they have accomplished something as ambitious as creating a video game. With that said though, there are still perils to over-hyping a game before its release.
Many visionaries have been burnt by failing to live up to the lofty expectations set for the project that they worked on. Whether that hype came from the gaming press, or the studios themselves. One major example of this is No Man’s Sky.
An Exciting New Idea
No Man’s Sky was developed by Hello Games. Hello Games is a small British development studio led by Sean Murray. They first announced No Man’s Sky at the Spike Video Game Awards show in 2013. After the reveal, the title received lots of attention from the other game developers and the gaming press.
One entity that the game caught the attention of was none other than Sony Interactive Entertainment. The Japanese platform holder struck a deal with Hello Games to market and distribute the ambitious game. Then, something major took place during Sony’s conference at E3 2014. No Man’s Sky became the first-ever independent game to be shown on the centre stage at any gaming event.
From that point, No Man’s Sky faced a long, shaky road to release. That road would consist of everything from questions of exclusivity, to several delays, to real-life floods. More details emerged, such as the ambitious scale of the game and just how much of that grand scale would rely on procedural generation.
Eventually, a release date was set for June 2016 and pre-orders went live. The pre-order numbers were through the roof and it became abundantly clear that people believed in the game’s potential. However, the major downside to high pre-order figures is the extra pressure that they put on the finished product to deliver.
After a short delay of a month, No Man’s Sky was finally released in August of 2016.
“A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep”
The much-anticipated game was met with a near-unanimous wave of disappointment. Many of the features promised were not in the final game. What was there was utterly mediocre. At launch, No Man’s Sky wasn’t anything more than a bog-standard, procedurally generated, sci-fi indie game. It also came with a horrific case of environmental pop-in to boot.
To the rest of the world, it looked as though Hello Games were a small, overzealous studio that bit off way more than it could chew. No Man’s Sky was deemed a failure and the majority of the gaming audience moved on.
One of the most famous quotes used to describe No Man’s Sky upon release was originally published in a review from a critic called; ‘Antimacro’.
The game is a mile wide and an inch deep. It’s a sandbox without the bucket and shovel.
Perseverance Pays Off
Those who did stick with the game were thankfully rewarded down the line. The game received a plethora of updates over the following years. These patches placed No Man’s Sky closer to the original version which was promised prior to release. Despite the odds being stacked against them, Hello Games managed to turn things around and largely redeem themselves in the eyes of the consumer.
A few years later in 2020, Hello Games developed and released an indie puzzle game called The Last Campfire. This title was given practically no fanfare and was developed by a team of just three people. The game received generally positive reviews from critics and people started to wonder whether Hello Games had learned a lesson.
Was the overwhelming, visceral backlash received after the release of No Man’s Sky taken as a sign by the small British studio? Were Hello Games unlikely to repeat the hype train that they talked up during the development of No Man’s Sky? Was the old adage of, ‘once bitten, twice shy,’ ringing true?
Sean Murray Is Still Pursuing the Impossible
On April 13th, 2022, IGN published an interview with Sean Murray. During the interview, he spoke about how his team is still developing updates for No Man’s Sky. The fact they are still updating the game more than five years after its initial release shows their passion. He also divulged a few details regarding a new game, which the team has been working on since September of 2021.
For a while now, we’ve been working on something pretty ambitious in the background. It’s a small team, but we like it that way. Similar to No Man’s Sky, it’s the kind of project that even if he had a thousand people working on it, it’d still seem impossible.
When that interview was posted, it caused somewhat of a frenzy in certain corners of the internet. People immediately began to panic that the No Man’s Sky fiasco was happening again. It seemed as though history was repeating itself. As if the world was once again witnessing the perils of over-hyping a game whilst it is still in the early stages of development.
At first glance, what Sean Murray said in the interview may seem like a fairly harmless quote from a developer passionate about their current project. Although, when the quote is broken down, the online panic suddenly becomes somewhat more justified.
Breaking Down the Statement
‘Something pretty ambitious,’ is the first part that stands out. There is nothing inherently wrong with a creator wanting to be ambitious. However, it was No Man’s Sky’s vast ambition that became its greatest hurdle. Even if this project is somehow more ambitious than procedurally generating an entire universe, perhaps Hello Games would be better served to keep that fact under wraps until the company is sure that they can deliver on that ambition?
‘It’s a small team,’ is the next part of the quote that could cause concern. Having a larger team does not guarantee success, – just look at Cyberpunk: 2077. With that said, the words, ‘small team,’ indicate that Hello Games have not expanded a great deal since No Man’s Sky was released. The studio must be careful not to bite off more than they can collectively chew. Otherwise, they will be publicly called out for it.
“If he had a thousand people working on it, it’d still seem impossible.” Knowing that many out there are likely waiting to scrutinize and criticize your work, based on what was said about it prior to release, it does not seem wise to insinuate that the company is stretching for an unreachable goal.
Using the word, “impossible,” this early in the development of the company’s next game, is a major red flag. Why publicly state that Hello Games is attempting an insurmountable task? These words will undoubtedly come back to haunt the team further down the line. It is as if nothing has been learned from the No Man’s Sky debacle.
Whilst Hello Games were eventually able to deliver on the initial promise of No Man’s Sky, it took great perseverance, multiple years, and countless software updates. Although Murray is clearly excited about his team’s latest project, (which there is nothing wrong with), to make such lofty promises so early in the development could be setting this game up for failure at launch.
Sure, going off of the life-cycle of No Man’s Sky, it is a fairly safe bet that at some point in the future, whatever game Hello Games is developing will be incredible. The question is, do the studio and its employees really want to go through another five years of struggling with online abuse and negative reviews because the company lead failed to consider the peril of over-hyping the game when it is so far out?
Despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being proud and passionate about an exciting project, there is something wrong with not learning from past mistakes. Especially as a CEO of a company. Someone who has a team of people relying on them and has dealt with the perils of over-hyping a game in the past should really know better.