I awoke from my beauty sleep to find an uncontrollable twitch in my neck. When I started looking through the news I realised why. No Man’s Sky is in the news again. After a lengthy investigation, The Advertising Standards Authority (the UK’s authority on advertising) has ruled that No Man’s Sky’s controversial Steam page did not mislead consumers.
It’s a rather lengthy report and to be honest it does infuriate me reading through it. Some points you have to concede that based on what they were looking at perhaps didn’t breach the rule but there are some points which leave me wondering if they actually knew what they were doing.
The first point to note is that the ASA were looking specifically at the Steam page so one presumes you have to push all of Sean Murray’s demos and promises out of your mind and focus on the store front. If this is the case then that in itself sets a very worrying precedent as a developer can surely promise the world and create a demo that they simply can’t deliver.
That aside let’s look at some of what the report says and what the complaint was (just in case you hadn’t read one of my well balance and calmly articulated opinion pieces on the game before). The ASA had received 23 complaints about No Man’s Sky’s Steam store page specifically, accusing the assets of painting a misleading picture of Hello Games’ space title.
Complainants said that the screenshots misrepresented the graphical quality of the game, and insisted a reference to a lack of loading screens and factions that contest territory was misleading. (To be fair to the AI, I didn’t see any planets that were worth fighting over either).
The ASA dealt directly with Hello Games who apparently only ignore the consumer post release, as Valve don’t directly decide (or didn’t at that point in time) what goes on the store front pages.
It seems the developer has been sending emails to Eurogamer providing evidence and defence against each of the accusations. Eurogamer report that “It (Hello Games) provided footage of the game and detailed responses to each allegation, stressing at every turn it did not mislead consumers.”
As part of their defence Hello Games said to the ASA that No Man’s Sky was procedurally generated rather than manually developed. Each user has their own individual experience, beginning the game on a unique planet in a different part of the universe. Basically what they are saying is that there is no way anyone can prove beyond a doubt that there isn’t a planet like the one shown in trailers as the game is infinite in size.
Hello Games said, “it would be difficult to recreate the exact scenes from the ad”. Hello Games believed “it was fairly straightforward to locate content of the type shown in the ad and to demonstrate that such content was commonly experienced by all users who played No Man’s Sky for an average period of time”.
The ASA did rule that No Man’s Sky’s interface and aiming system had undergone “cosmetic changes” since the footage for the videos was recorded, but it did not consider these elements would affect a consumer’s decision to buy the game “as they were superficial and incidental components in relation to the core gameplay mechanics and features.”
Hello Games provided the ASA with pictures and footage of buildings and assets that it says is similar to those shown in marketing material. On the issue of the space battles, Hello Games admitted to the ASA that the larger battles “were more unusual”, but it provided footage showing a similar type of battle. So, the ASA said on this point that the assets were unlikely to mislead.
The ASA conceded that they were unable to replicate a scene shown in marketing material where a ship flies under a rock formation but again said that it was unlikely to influence the consumers decision whether to purchase the game or not.
By now we’ve probably all seen that hilariously accurate Jurassic park/No Man’s Sky clip comparing the trailer and the release copy of the game but it seems even these differences weren’t enough to convince the ASA that the advertising was misleading saying, “Although animals in the trailer were shown moving large trees [this is a reference to a large animal smashing through trees as seen in the 2014 gameplay trailer, above], which was not observed in the footage or during gameplay, we considered that this was a fleeting and incidental scene, unlikely in itself to influence materially a consumer’s decision to purchase the game, and that it was not misleading.”
The next point is perhaps the one that shows to me at least that the ASA probably didn’t have someone familiar with computer games working on the case. The issue in question is whether or not No Man’s Sky received a graphical downgrade.
The ASA said it understood the graphics would be determined by the power of the PC used by the consumer, and believed most consumers shopping on Steam would be aware of this. My point here is that I ran No Man’s Sky on a PC that is pretty powerful and I’ve ran the game on a PC that exceeds the the recommended specifications. It makes no difference as the game looks much much worse that anything shown pre-release by Hello Games.
The ASA said “From the game and the footage provided by Hello Games (including material from third parties), we understood that the game was capable of producing graphics of much higher quality than that shown in the videos and of comparable quality with the screenshots, and considered that the images used therefore did not exaggerate the game’s performance in this regard,”
(It never gets old!)
Hello Games claimed there were no loading screens in No Man’s Sky but players complained about the amount of time spent in warp saying it amounted to a loading screen. Can you guess what the ASA said yet?
Yep. The good old ASA said “We understood that during the ‘warp’ sequence the new system would be generated and that, in this sense, it might be thought of as a ‘loading screen’.”. “However, it did not represent an interruption to the gameplay experience, as it was contiguous and consistent with the preceding and following gameplay sequences.”
Hello Games were also able to convince the ASA that there were factions that fought over territory and that freighters traveled between systems.
I’m going to be honest with you I personally despise the marketing employed by Hello Games and Sony. I truly believe that gamers were mislead by Sean Murray in particular but it seems that because they were careful with their store front marketing the lies and deception don’t come into the equation.
I find the rulings made by the ASA very very questionable as I have played the game and I can say with some confidence that what was shown in trailers does not appear in the game. It seems to me that the defence put forward by Hello Games is that the size of the universe means that you can’t say it doesn’t exist and that because there is a very very basic level of factions and meaningless scripted “space battles”, you can’t dispute that the features aren’t in the game.
The ASA concluded “Taking into account the above points, we considered that the overall impression of the ad was consistent with gameplay and the footage provided, both in terms of that captured by Hello Games and by third parties, and that it did not exaggerate the expected player experience of the game,” the ASA said, concluding its ruling. “We therefore concluded that the ad did not breach the Code.
Reddit user AzzerUK who was one of the original complainants, told Eurogamer that he questioned the ASA’s thought process saying, “I feel you have gone out of your way to defend a clearly over-marketed series of videos, screenshots, and store descriptions, play down complaints on individual points, tiptoe around certain other complaints, and do not wish to take action because it could lead to you having to take action on what is, in fact, a large problem throughout games media and could lead to more work if this opened the floodgates for more people to complain about marketing throughout games advertising in general.”
AzzerUK said he was disappointed with the ruling and that he planned to appeal the decision and complain to the independent reviewer of ASA
“I’ll be raising all the points, and putting it in a clear way under the assumption that Sir Hayden Phillips perhaps might not know too much about video games (let alone No Man’s Sky), and draw clear comparisons with rulings they’ve made against misleading marketing in the past to make it clear how something in a video game trailer can be misleading to somebody that doesn’t know much about them,” he said.
Based on my playing experience I have seen many of the limited assets repeated and recycled multiple times on different planets in different systems. I’m fairly confident you won’t find a planet like the one shown in the trailer or that was shown by Murray pre-release.
It seems gamers will have to become highly cautious and suspicious of games developers and wait to to see post release footage before deciding whether to buy a game or risk wandering a barren universe hopping from floating space turd to space turd.
The one piece of advice I will give anyone looking to buy a space exploration game is to not buy No Man’s Sky. Hello Games simply don’t deserve the support. The industry as a whole needs to get a grip when it comes to marketing and Sony and Microsoft in particular need to up their game and start looking out for their users rather than take advantage of them.
Steam has since updated its policies on screenshots which is a small step in the right direction but for now at least it seems the the wider industry seems intent on acting against the best interests of its market and the very people it depends on for survival. We’ve all fallen prey to graphical downgrades or games that don’t live up to the hype but No Man’s Sky not only had the lead developer publicly lie repeatedly but it advertised pre-release footage as representing of the final game and the fact of the matter is that the game that they sold is totally different.