You probably missed it, but No Man’s Sky was released a couple of weeks ago. Launching on August 9 on PS4 and August 12 on PC, No Man’s Sky was the culmination of almost three years worth of hype and anticipation. Those of us who had witnessed its initial reveal at the VGX Awards back in 2013, or its wider reveal at E3 the following year, have waited a long time to dive into its procedurally generated, near infinite universe.
As it turns out, a lot of people are disappointed.
(Please note that I do not intend for this post to belittle or disregard that disappointment. You are perfectly entitled to feel however you feel about No Man’s Sky. This post is only intended to talk about the runaway hype train that No Man’s Sky has been riding for the past few years)
It happens. Games are bigged up pre-release all the time that eventually fail to resonate with an audience. Sometimes they’re simply not what we expected. Sometimes they’re missing key or promised features. Sometimes their characters literally don’t have faces.
In the case of No Man’s Sky, things are a little more complicated than a single, definable problem.
The biggest problem No Man’s Sky has faced has, as it turned out, been the media. Its reveal at the VGX Awards all those years ago left people excited by the promise of a nearly infinite universe to explore. That excitement grew when Hello Games’ Sean Murray appeared on Sony’s stage at E3 months later to essentially announce the game to a wider audience.
As the months and years rolled on the game saw massive coverage from video game outlets both large and small (we here at Words About Games dedicated a fairly significant amount of coverage to the game). This turned out to be one of the major problems No Man’s Sky has faced. Check out the image below:
There’s quite a disparity between the previews of No Man’s Sky and the reviews it has eventually started getting. These disparities exist between previews and reviews at the same outlets too, as highlighted by the image above. Rock Paper Shotgun called the game “poetry” leading up to release before describing the combat as “weakly delivered” in its final review.
This is not just limited to Rock Paper Shotgun. Gamespot were quoted as calling No Man’s Sky “revolutionary” before settling on “repetitive” in their review. It’s a similar story across a variety of different games outlets too.
This is partly down to the nature of previews. We run a fair few previews ourselves here at Words About Games, usually around EGX time when we finally get to go hands on with games before they’re out. Fairness dictates that we tend to go easier on preview builds than we would with final retail copies of games.
Any technical issues encountered in a preview build of a game are usually written off, or mentioned in any resulting write-ups but brushed off as being preview builds. I couldn’t tell you how many games I’ve broken at EGX that have worked fine at home.
As for other issues – we mention if games aren’t clicking with us when we play them at EGX, or from other preview opportunities. When we preview games, however, we tend to go looking for the good stuff and give developers the benefit of the doubt. We’re usually only playing these games for 15-30 minutes at a time and they usually aren’t finished. What we’re playing is usually not 100% representative of the final game.
It’s best to err on the side of cautious optimism, basically. We always highlight potential issues with games – we did so when we previewed The Evil Within and found significant technical and control issues. Issues that found their way into the final game.
When we find something we like, we talk about it enthusiastically. As has been the case for many games we’ve encountered at places like EGX. We like to make Words About Games a platform for the things we’re excited about above all else, a place of positivity.
However we always try to temper our excitement for the same reasons we don’t mercilessly tear down pre-release games – they may not be representative of the final products and we only get to try them briefly.
The language used in pre-release articles about No Man’s Sky probably goes overboard. Calling a game that hasn’t been launched or even finished “poetry” or “revolutionary” does nothing but create unnecessary levels of anticipation and hype, which the game cannot possibly live up to.
It’s the beginning of a vicious cycle – a feedback loop of excessiveness. Fans latch onto these previews and get even more excited, and then outlets continue to beat the drum by overblowing the games hype even more, causing fans to get even more excited.
Between the VGX Awards in 2013 and launch two weeks ago, we’ve constantly been one-upping each other. No Man’s Sky was the recipient of over 50 awards before it even came out. It was arguably one of the most anticipated games of 2016. But it was promoted on a level of hype that it simply couldn’t live up to. It’s doubtful that any game could.
I’m not laying the blame for the disappointment that some are feeling about No Man’s Sky entirely at the games media, but we must accept that we played a large part in it. Hype overtook reality a long time ago, and it was the media that stoked those fires unrelentingly for years.
It’s not as if No Man’s Sky was the first game this has happened to. There have been many others. Fallout 4 suffered from it. Destiny suffered from it.
Balance is required. It’s okay to be excited about a video game – positivity should be the cornerstone of our medium, and we could probably all do with doing more promotion of the things we like and a little less tearing down the things we don’t.
But we need to strike a balance between excitement and caution. We never know how a game will turn out until it’s in our consoles or on our PC’s. Until then we need to treat everything we see about these games with cautious optimism, and that includes our own play time with limited versions of them.
Most importantly we need to stop overblowing games before they come out. Creating a situation where a game cannot live up to its insane levels of pre-release hype only leads to personal disappointment. That’s what we’re settings ourselves (and others) up for when we talk about our most anticipated games like they’re the second coming. We think they’re revolutionary, and then people feel massively let down when it turns out they’re just video games.
We’d probably have less “disappointments” if we learned to control ourselves. I’d love to be able to look into a parallel universe where No Man’s Sky didn’t receive too much hype, where it was just another game coming to PC and PS4 that people were looking forward to, and see how it would have been received.
We’re at a point now where it’s almost impossible to separate the game and the hype train that it collided with at warp speed.
For what it’s worth I’ve enjoyed what time I’ve sunk into No Man’s Sky. It has issues of course, but I’ve generally had a good time with it. But I didn’t go into it expecting it to be “revolutionary” or “poetry” – I just thought it’d be a good game.