No Man’s Sky: Sometimes Perception Is Worse than the Law

October 4, 2016

In the world of advertising, the product often does not match the description. This is often the truth especially in the video game categories. Games are announced and displayed usually one to two years before they are actually released. Even then, hyped games are often released, only to have less than ideal player experiences. However, in today’s internet age, developers update games through downloadable patches which can mitigate and eliminate problems with games at launch. However, the public perception is often dictated by the original release and patches do not make up for broken games. Beyond broken games, what happens when a developer does not just release a game with a few glitches, but a different game entirely than was advertised? That is the question being asked by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to the Hello Games, the developer of the recently released sci-fi game, No Man’s Sky.
No Man’s Sky was introduced in December 2013 to intense excitement. The game was developed as a console exclusive for Sony’s PlayStation 4, in addition to being released for PC. Most games during the buildup to commercial launch produce trailers and tech demos, sometimes with actual gameplay and sometimes merely rendered visuals. No Man’s Sky was no different, creating a large amount of hype for the sci-fi, space exploration game due to immersive visuals and randomly generated environments allowing players to visit a seemingly unlimited amount of distinct planets. The hype was also propagated by Sony, who gave Hello Games various primetime spots in presentations about their PS4 console. The hype from both gaming critics and publishers was massive and resulted in almost 300,000 U.S. preorders for the PlayStation 4 version alone. In just the first five weeks of sales resulted in over 500,000 copies for the PS4 ranking 14th of games sold in all of 2016. These sells in five weeks put a small developer, Hello Games, within 100,000 copies of games from giant publishers like Ubisoft and Activision.
However, commercial success does not mean critical success. The game has a critic rating of 71/100 for the PS4 version and 60/100 for the PC version on the review aggregator, Metacritic with a user score of 4.6/10 and 2.6/10 for PS4 and PC respectively. Some critics specifically pointed to the overhype of the game for their poor review score with “Game World Navigator Magazine” saying bluntly, “No Man’s Sky is a textbook example of how overenthusiastic PR can hurt a game: in the end, bar was raised so high that fans expecting things that weren’t even promised.”
Beyond just the game, also named by ASA was Valve, the company that makes the PC game distribution platform, Steam which sold PC versions of No Man’s Sky.  They have come under fire for the displaying of videos of No Man’s Sky that did not actually match the actual game, including “a different type of combat, unique buildings, “ship flying behaviour” and creature sizes.” These ads, coupled with the disappointment of the final product has caused annoyance at the Steam return policies which typically require less than two hours of played games. With anything that is highly anticipated, there is likely to be letdowns with the ultimate products and the law does not care about whether video games are all quality. However, when companies sell you one vision and give you another, then organizations like the ASA point it out.
ASA is a UK-based advertisement regulator that operates independent of the Government. Funded by the advertisers themselves through a .1% levy on advertising space. ASA does have some power to sanction broadcasters, who are bound to follow the orders of the ASA through their broadcasting license, however it seems like the big thing that the ASA relies on is damage to publicity. The group practices on the belief that mere bad publicity can lead to compliance with proper advertising standards. For example, one method of “sanctions” may be displaying the name of the company and infraction on the ASA website. In regards to No Man’s Sky, the problem is not the possible fines but instead the damage to the Hello Games and No Man’s Sky brand. In order to gain commercial success, public perception and reputation is often just as important as the product. With Hello Games being a small, relatively new developer, the bad reputation from this negative publicity will likely hurt the company more in regards to the sale of future games than sanctions would. Valve, on the other hand, being an established company with a large install base will likely absorbed the bad press and likely change their return policy in an attempt to get back good will.

In a world where the customer is king, lying to the customer before you are an established company can ruin even the best made plan.