Last month saw the release of one of the most anticipated video games in years, No Man’s Sky. First announced during the 2013 VGX awards, the game had received an almost unprecedented amount of hype while in development so it seemed like a tall order for Hello Games to delivery something that would meet those lofty expectations. To say that opinions on the game have been divided would be a drastic understatement. This last week there have been reports of dramatic drops in active players and even players seeking refunds through Steam, Amazon, and the Playstation Store. So while I won’t spend much time on how I feel about the game itself (I’m enjoying it), I want to talk about some of the conditions that have led to such an uproar over the game.
- The Entitlement Issue
This first part is the one that gets me the most worked up and it’s the one that I think is the most… controversial. We seem to be living in a time where certain people are under the impression that they are owed something by the people that create their entertainment. That when they purchase a video game or go to a movie, that product NEEDS to cater to them and live up to their expectations of what it should be or else they throw massive temper tantrums in the nearest comments section (see the reaction to the new Ghostbusters film). But video games are pieces of art, and an artist or creator should never create something with the sole purpose of appealing to everybody, or even to most people. An artist should only answer to their own creative vision. And if millions of people happen to love it? Bonus.
And as far as refunds go? I think if a publisher or a platform holder wants to have a standing refund policy that’s absolutely fine. But as a consumer I would never expect that unless a game launches with crippling technical issues that render the game unplayable. When I go to a movie or eat at a restaurant or read a book and I don’t enjoy it I never ask for my money back. I’m the one who made the decision to spend my money that way and that’s nobodies fault but my own. If you preorder a game 12 months before release or don’t read any reviews before you purchase it than that’s on you.
2. The Preorder Issue
That leads us to another problem. Please, please, please stop buying games before they come out. I understand that there are lots of reasons and incentives to get you to preorder a game, from discounts to Best Buy exclusive pink polka dot skins for your favorite gun in the game. But I don’t think it’s in the interest of gamers to commit to buying a game when in some cases you have little idea what that final product is actually going to look like.
Gamestop is especially good at this sort of things. Right now you can go to their website and pay for games like Spider-Man, God of War and Days Gone which were just announced this summer at E3 and are very likely at least 2 to 3 years away. They would be absolutely thrilled to take your hard earned money the second a game is announced. And any time I purchase a new game at a Gamestop store I am reminded by the cashier how incredibly lucky I am to get a copy because all but one or two were saved for those who preordered. I think the disappointment and anger when a game doesn’t turn out as expected is amplified when you already paid for thing a year ago.
3. The PR Issue
That brings me to our final issue. Please developers, stop announcing your games years before they come out! I understand the desire to start building hype but I think it also tends to build unrealistic expectations. Does anyone think The Last Guardian or Final Fantasy XV can possibly live up to expectations now? This was my biggest problem with Sony’s E3 press conference this year, the only benefit to announcing a slew of games that are so far from release is to hopefully divert peoples attention from the fact that aren’t a hell of a lot of big exclusives on your system right now.
Game development is a very complicated and fluid thing and I would wager a guess that nearly every single game that comes out has to cut or scale back some of the features they originally hoped to include in the game. And when you’re showing off your game 3 years before release you end with a situation like this where people are digging up old videos of No Man’s Sky that don’t match up with the final product. Ideally I think a game should be announced no more than 12 months before release. By that point they should have a pretty good idea of what the final product is going to look like and they’ll avoid the incredible headache that I imagine Sean Murray has right now.
So I think there are many different things that contributed to the situation we’re in now with regards to No Man’s Sky. A premature announcement, multiple delays, vague explanations of the game and unrealistic expectations all played a part. Which is a shame, because it draws attention away from the fact that the game is pretty darn fun and an amazing technical achievement. Hopefully developers and gamers alike will learn something from this and we can avoid going through it when No Man’s Sky 2 comes out.