Experienced Points: No Man’s Sky Was Never a Con

By Shamus Posted Wednesday May 15, 2019

Filed under: Column 52 comments

This week I try to convince people that the No Man’s Sky hype and subsequent backlash was the result of youth and inexperience rather than a calculated campaign of deception.

I actually felt sorry for Sean Murray. If you look at the things Murray claimed were going to be in the game, it seems like he was just doing the usual indie developer thing where you talk candidly about your ideas and your plans. In the small-scale indie space, the line between “it would be cool to add this” and “this is in the spec and we plan to add it” is really blurry. You’re in charge of of the spec, you’re in charge of the schedule, and you’re always free to change your mind and do something different if you get caught up chasing a different (and hopefully better) idea.  There’s an understanding that indies are often following their passions.

After the game came out, president of Sony’s Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida said:

I understand some of the criticisms especially Sean Murray is getting, because he sounded like he was promising more features in the game from day one.

It wasn’t a great PR strategy, because he didn’t have a PR person helping him, and in the end he is an indie developer. But he says their plan is to continue to develop No Man’s Sky features and such, and I’m looking forward to continuing to play the game.

Sony was all too happy to shove the kid out on stage and let him say whatever he wanted, and when things went badly they promptly threw him under the bus. Note how continuing to work on the game was entirely Murray’s choice. Also note that when you partner up with a publisher, public relations is usually one of the services they’re supposed to provide. It’s possible Sony Offered Murray PR help and he refused. I don’t know the details of the agreement between Hello Games and Sony. I’m just saying the whole thing was really weird.

Murray’s mistake is a very easy one to make. I know what it’s like when you’re deeply immersed in a project that’s going really well and you find yourself in a state of constant uncontrolled brainstorming. You’re used to verbal daydreaming about all the cool shit you’re hoping to do, and then suddenly you’re interfacing with a bunch of prospective consumers who are going to base their purchasing decisions on what you say. Talking about planned features isn’t any different than talking about a painting you’re planning to do or a book you’re working on. If the final product doesn’t match what you’ve said in the past, I’m not going to accuse you of being a liar.

It’s not just individuals. Companies can make these kinds of mistakes too. When Valve was working on Left 4 Dead, they started talking about the stuff they were working on. New campaigns, new infected, new mechanics. Then part way into the project they realized the changes were so extensive that this stuff ought to be a sequel rather than free updates. However, people had taken their earlier statements as irrevocable promises, and then went on to assume that Valve deliberately misled them. Valve has made sure they never made that mistake again. That was the end of them talking about stuff in public. Lesson learned, I guess?

Having said that, I understand why people get angry. The industry is full of guys like Peter Molyneux or Randy Pitchford who have the opposite problem: They’re fully aware of how their public claims will inform sales, and they’re happy to exploit that to get you to buy a game that’s not going to meet your expectations.

It would be nice if developers were free to express their ideas without fear of being personally attacked and harassed by internet randos. It would be nice if we could count on people to be completely honest and candid in an interview. But on one side we have angry jerks that get off on harassing people whenever they can find an excuse, and on the other side we have charlatans who are perfectly willing to make misleading claims and deceptive trailers to rip people off. So we wind up in a world where developers are often hidden behind a wall of protective PR and where the buying public needs to regard everything with suspicion.

As usual, a few jerks ruin things for everyone.

Taking this back to the game in question: I’m delighted that Hello Games has put so much hard work into polishing and expanding the No Man’s Sky experience. NMS is a better game than it was 3 years ago, but it’s a better implementation of a game I fundamentally dislike.


From The Archives:

52 thoughts on “Experienced Points: No Man’s Sky Was Never a Con

  1. Asdasd says:

    It always struck me that rather than Murray, it was some among the press that, as with Spore, got carried away by the promise of a limitlessly emergent, dynamic OmniGame that existed only in their heads. Having bought into that fantasy, they sold it in turn to an audience that proved just as receptive, and the hype began to snowball from there. Sony and Murray were only too happy to let imaginations run riot because a modestly scaled indie product was suddenly getting a million preorders, and what sane person is going to turn that down?

    I know there were plenty on both sides who even from the beginning were pointing out all the ways the game couldn’t possibly hope to live up to expectations. But the narrative that this was the coming of Gaming Jesus seemed to have such a momentum that it beat out the scepticism handily right up until release.

    I’d say the saga has left us with two lessons. 1) when it comes to selling a game, there’s no product you can make that will beat the perfect game that exists in the customer’s imagination, so sell them that; 2) when people are disabused of their preconceived notions of what something they paid for will be, the backlash will be something fierce, so make sure you’re ready to deal with it.

    1. Geebs says:

      Before NMS’s release, I got into the habit of asking what one actually did in the game whenever one of those hype articles came out, and never got a useful answer.

      I ended up buying it on release, mostly because (I’m pretty sure it was) Shamus was talking about the cool procedural generation stuff and I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

  2. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    From what I see online, especially on reddit, people have mostly forgiven No Man Sky and appreciate the efforts done. I’ve seen it quoted favorably several time when compared for example to Anthem and Fallout 76.

    And hopefully some people learned their lesson too. Don’t trust everything they tell you. And do not preorder!

    1. madoni says:

      So far as i am aware, most people still pissed off with NMS were the people that didn’t bought the game and don’t plan to no matter what. But maybe i’m just having a bubble perception.

  3. Asdasd says:

    Also I’m not sure that the fact that Hello Games put in the post-release support makes the fact that it broke promises with the product it launched go away. Rather than saying that’s evidence Murray isn’t a conman and Molyneux is, could’t you just as easily frame it as a question of Murray being a smart conman and Molyneux a stupid one?

    Both secured a lot of money spreading hot air about features that didn’t materialise in the products they sent to market. But Molyneux hopped from project to project, failing to ever (or rarely) make good on his word until his reputation tanked, he got publically tarred and feathered and was all but forced out of the industry. Whereas Murray secured a huge amount of money from (perhaps dishonestly) cultivating the NMS hype, and then spent some of it repairing the reputation hit, allowing him to retain his position and work in other games in the future. Whether you one or the other a con is a matter for debate, but I see them as employing similar tactics; it’s just one was much cleverer in seeing the pitfalls of the strategy and what steps were necessary to offset them.

    No Man’s Sky as launched could be compared to something like Fallout 76, a game I doubt anyone will be writing a touchy-feely retrospective on no matter how much post-launch support it’s provided with. They both very much resemble examples of the ‘minimum viable product’ strategy. And I guess the question is: does anyone really want to wait two years for the game they bought to resemble the one that was sold to them? Obviously it’s better late than never, but still – are we as a society prepared to agree that’s an acceptable way to do business?

    1. Joe Informatico says:

      Peter Molyneux had a solid reputation built in the 80s and early 90s when he invented and further innovated the whole god game game genre, and later, even though the Fable games were near the beginning of his pattern of promising more than he could deliver, they were all successful nonetheless. If the games industry is anything like Hollywood (and I imagine there are a lot of similarities, seeing as no one can actually predict with certainty what will be a hit and what will bomb), if you’re a white guy with at least one big hit and manage not to personally piss off anyone with power or wealth, you can coast on that reputation for a long time despite multiple failures before people stop giving you money.

      Molyneux’s behaviour is probably more desperation than anything–promising too much and not delivering didn’t stop Black & White and Fable from being big successes, so why not keep doing it? Except that the AAA industry turned hard against “rock star” developers* in the past few years, especially older ones (how many of the big name devs from the 90s or early 00s have actually put out a game in the past 5 years? A lot of them seem to have moved into ancillary sectors of the industry, like journalism or consulting, or left it altogether) and that particular grift isn’t working for him anymore.

      *Tangent: This is going to sound conspiratorial, but I wonder if the AAA industry was happy to push the “games are art” line in the early 2000s when there was a serious threat of US government censorship, and that included spotlighting big-name devs as auteurs (see, we have our own Spielbergs and Scorseses!), but when that threat mostly receded they no longer had a need to prioritize artistic vision over pure commerce (cue “live services” soundbite) and thus auteur developers were no longer valuable. Maybe there’s an essay there someone far more informed than me could write.

      1. baud says:

        For the video game auteur idea, I guess that it was also pushed a few year back during the kickstater craze, because it was (apparently) easier to drum up support around a few well-known names, at least in the adventure games, RPG and strategy games genre. And now that some/most of those Kickstarter didn’t pan out as well as expected and the well has mostly dried down, it’s not pushed as heavily?

      2. noanoga says:

        When you have market value you don’t have to conspire. The Publisher will always prefer to build up the reputation of studios franchises and themselves rather than individuals who could move from place to place in the industry, and in general are harder to control (including, regarding our subject, in publicity )

        The movie industry is built anyway on people working in different configurations, so it’s rather different than other job markets.

    2. Matthew Downie says:

      A possibly interesting comparison on the honest/weasel/con-man scale is the Fyre Festival. The organizer promised a lot, sold tickets, failed to budget properly in time or money, could not deliver what he promised, and failed to warn people that he wasn’t going to be able to deliver. It’s not that he didn’t want to deliver, it’s that he couldn’t, because he promised too much.

      This is very similar to what Hello Games did. The difference is (a) the stakes were a bit higher for the people who paid a lot of money for Fyre Festival tickets and found themselves in conditions resembling a refugee camp, and (b) Hello Games got paid enough for selling the shoddy initial release of their game that they could start trying to make it up to people.

    3. Kylroy says:

      If he really were a smart conman, Murray wouldn’t have put himself in a position where he was obligated to spend years working the same project after earning everyone’s hatred – con artists kinda by definition skip out after making their score. And if the plan was “overpromise to get funding and hype, get backlash for incomplete game, use hype and funding to eventually make the game we promised”…that doesn’t sound like the plan of a con man to me.

  4. Kamica says:

    So, I don’t know if he was bullshitting or was being genuine, but in this video interview thingy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeNGLhNM5Kk Molyneux seemed to be well aware of his reputation, but also attribute it to him talking to the public the way he would talk to his fellow developers. Where he’d just kinda talk about potential ideas, not promises of what would be in.

    1. Geebs says:

      For a guy who knows how to engage with the public for the purposes of fuelling the hype machine, Molyneux has done an amazing job of failing to notice that he has had a reputation for being completely full of shit that stretches back to the days of Black and White*.

      I thought the tears that accompanied the (by all accounts, rather sensitive and genteel) public trashing of his reputation in the mid-2010s looked like they were precipitated more by realising that the game was up rather than actual remorse. I suspect that the God of Godus would probably agree.

      * he was also pretty good at being at the centre of press attention in the Bullfrog days in a way which, in retrospect, probably annoyed the hell out of those of his colleagues who were actually doing the work.

    2. ccesarano says:

      I was going to bring that video up as well. I think Molyneux is a guy aware of his reputation but was always unable to see things the same as those around him, and this leads to trouble communicating. You can actually see some of this in Jonathon Blow’s replies to reviews of Braid, where he developed a negative reputation by telling reviewers “What are you talking about, you don’t get my game”. He seemed like a pompous shmuck incapable of taking criticism to the rest of the community while, from his perspective, the reviewers were misinterpreting his intent or refusing to engage with the game in the manner he designed.

      True, Jonathon Blow learned, as has Sean Murray, whereas Molyneux continued to get more and more excited about his games. Watching that video you also learn that Molyneux wasn’t quite a developer. He’s basically what happens when you put an Ideas Man in charge of a company. By the end of his tenure at Lionhead there were enough PR goons to try and control him, and as you can hear him when speaking about Milo, he was …well, lying simply because he was supposed to be selling the Kinect for Microsoft. I think 22Cans is effectively him losing that PR wall and continuing to just have these optimistic visions and ideas that are completely disconnected with what he is capable of and from what people actually want. He doesn’t wait to play test his ideas to see if they’re actually good, he just goes ahead and tries to get the product made.

      That’s my read of him, at least. I don’t think of him as a Con-Man, but it’s amazing he’s managed to get as far as he has.

      1. Kamica says:

        I mean, even though he’s over-promised a LOT, the games that have his name on them are in general actually quite good. (Let’s not look at Godus for this =P), I don’t know how much he had to do with each of the games, but Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Black and White, Fable… All of these are games people will remember for a long long time, often fondly.

        I might be a very forgiving and trusting person, but I’m willing to believe him on what he said in that interview =P.

        1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

          I mean, were they?
          The Fable series seemed rather mediocre, and anything they managed to put out after that was practically a mobile scam.
          And considering his track record, i’m not sure how much of an influence he had with the games pre-2000.

  5. Dev Null says:

    “It would be nice if developerspeople were free to express their ideas without fear of being personally attacked and harassed by internet randos.”

    Sure. As if _that’s_ gonna happen.

    1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

      Developers, definitely*.
      Salesmen? Not really.

      *assuming their ideas are not horribly unethical

  6. Jack V says:

    That sounds about right.

    I think it’s important to recognise there’s a spectrum. Not every con is a premeditated con: most people fall somewhere on a scale from “perfect honesty” to “we overpromised but maybe we can make it work somehow, it would be worse to come clean now” to “deliberate con”. Even really serious ones like financial embezzlement shenanigans usually have someone committing small indiscretions, which are bad, but you expect some people to commit, and then getting in deeper.

    And some people’s first encounter with a “getting in deeper” situation is to immediately come clean, even though that’s hard and often will have people blaming you a lot for things that were only partially your fault. And others will just ride the wave, and move on to a new project, and if they over-promise — well, it turned out ok before.

    This clearly felt like the “oops” end of the spectrum: he didn’t really do anything wrong yet, expectations got too high, he didn’t know how to correct them, and ended up doubling down when they probably would have preferred not to. He definitely screwed up by not trying to correct expectations then, but i’m not surprised that was hard when it might have tanked the launch, and when they were all features they genuinely DID want to build. And I imagine Sony wasn’t helping. And since they’ve done all the right things, so I think it’s clearly in the “expect screw-up” category not “deceit” category.

    But I think it’s important to note that some don’t fix it, some people do this again and again, and genuinely seem to believe what they’re saying, but after setting themselves up as president of project X five times before and they’ve all crashed and burned, even if they’re sincere they’re culpable for not realising that their promises are more hot air than reality.

    I’ve definitely been incensed by people promising good stuff before. But I’m also disappointed how much weight people seem to put in predictions: even with the best will in the world, I don’t expect most games to fulfil everything they’re aiming for, so I’ll almost always be in the “wait and see” camp, unless a developer has a track record of delivering efficiently.

    1. Hector says:

      This is one reason why I have a personal disagreement with Extra Credits: Games are fun because they *don’t* matter. It’s just a side hobby many people enjoy, with interesting things to see and challenges to overcome, but it in no way is important. A bad game is not the end of the world; neither is a bad movie or a bad painting. A good game probably isn’t going to do the world much good in the long run, either. If they were really important, it’d frankly spoil the untrammeled joy of playing.

      It’s for this reason above all that I loathe when people get over-hyped about something, bicker and argue so cruelly about it, and when companies try to exploit that hype. (The backlash after the cycle is merely justice, as far as I see it). A game, a console, or even your favorite developer simply isn’t worth saying something nasty and brutish to anyone else. Unfortunately, people exploiting the hype cycle love to encourage that kind of angry, defensive behavior in their audiences.

      1. Ander says:

        Really depends on how much of an impact something has before it “matters.”
        “A bad game is not the end of the world; neither is a bad movie or a bad painting.”
        EC asserts that games are art and they assume that art, which would include movies and paintings, matters. You might disagree that art should matter, but for a lot of people, art says something to them about what the world is like. They then act based on what they think the world is like. Movies and paintings also affect (and effect) emotional states, and many would say that matters. EC says games do that and, therefore, they matter. You talk of changing the world, and EC centers a lot of their “because games matter” advocacy to individual people and stories. That might be the disconnect, although the question of art’s ability to change the world is out of my scope.

        1. Hector says:

          I have my own opinions about Games as Art, which I have stated before. In my view, the game as abstract data has no value and is not art. It can only become art through a performance, whether or not that is public. The devrlopers are playwrights, but the player can be director, actor and audience all at once.

          Regardless, though, the essential quality of art is that it is un-necessary. It does not matter; it can be dispensed with without material impact and yet is judged valuable enough to do. Which is why I brought up the hype cycle. The game needs to stand on its own and dishonestly hyping it ultimately damages the final game. Promote it, sure – but make sure not to spread lies because it creates a toxic stew, that eventually will backfire in some way. I have no reason to think that Sean Murray intentionally mislead people, but not clearly communicating, clarifying, and explaining brought him a heap of trouble in the end. It also means that while Hello Games got bug initial sales, they lost out on a ton of goodwill and earned themselves a lot of future scrutiny. They sort of became Bethesda with the Fallout 76 debacle, just with the entire company history compressed into one game.

          1. Ander says:

            Oh, that is an interesting view. As you suggest in “regardless,” the word “art” is beside the point. Thanks for sharing.
            I agree strongly that there are valuable superfluous things – an awful lot of them – that we call “art.” I don’t then say, “Unnecessary therefore does not matter,” but I guess that clarifies for me what you mean by “does not matter”: it can be dispensed with without material impact.
            The hype cycle is a largely logical result of unnecessary things meeting with business requirements (i.e. money that is important to someone). This isn’t to say it’s good, but it is interesting how the business of making superfluous things naturally results in acting like they aren’t unnecessary.

          2. DerJungerLudendorff says:

            I think you’re mostly right in in the sense that art isn’t necessary to survive.
            But how I always interpreted that is that art has a very real impact on people. The art we consume helps to define a lot of our worldview, ethics, and preferences.

            Completely agree on Sean Murray though.

          3. Taxi says:

            Oh come on. There’s more to life then just to breath, eat, sleep and f**k. Look at the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You could make an argument that nothing about the base level ‘matters’, but the actual fact is, we humans need that stuff. Including art, whether you include games or not.

            Also whether it’s just ‘fun’ or not, many people’s lives be greatly diminished without games. I can tell you I wouldn’t have spent hundreds of hours in helicopters simulators if it was just stupid pastime. I’m not even sure if I’d call that time spent ‘fun’. Similarly lots of games have important things to say, I’ll just mention Spec Ops The Line (it’s on my mind cause it came to GOG just a few days ago).

            Well and there’s a whole universe of arguments about how games help improve logical thinking, vision, coordination and all that… Even though many are so eager to jump on the ‘fun’ bandwagon where only stupid shallow games like Bulletstorm are approved (because everything with the tiniest bit of thought is pretentious, apparently), dismissing the whole industry as ‘just fun’ is very undeserving.

    2. Joshua says:

      You are correct. Most people who commit fraud/embezzlement start out with something small, and it spirals out of control. There’s also the issue of the first time being the hardest, because once you cross that line most of your reticence for future fraud is gone.

  7. MarsLineman says:

    “NMS is a better game than it was 3 years ago, but it’s a better implementation of a game I fundamentally dislike.”

    Shamus, when was the last time you tried No Man’s Sky? I would’ve partly agreed with this statement as recently as 6 months ago- they added so much new stuff to do in the game, but the core loop (to me) of landing on planets and exploring hadn’t been meaningfully expanded. But having just played the game again for the first time in a while, I was blown away by how much new stuff there was to see (underwater biomes, far more interesting/ realistic weather/ landscapes/ caves/ ecosystems). Before I knew it, 5 hours had passed from just wandering planets I’d already visited before the latest updates

    Also, if you’re like me- someone who put a lots of hours into previous versions of the game, but hadn’t played much since- chances are your ship/ multitool etc will have lots of “obsolete technology” which can be broken down for nanites. If you use those nanites to buy scanner upgrades for your multitool, you can vastly upgrade the $ made by discovering new plants/ animals. After 3 S class upgrades, I now make ~ $200,000 per animal, and $80,000 per plant. It means that simply exploring becomes extremely lucrative, strongly reinforcing that part of the loop

  8. Gurgl says:

    Aliens Colonial Marines is mentioned in the article as an example of a game that failed to deliver and was then abandoned.

    This is absolutely untrue, the game got several GBs of patches + a DLC campaign, and no one is going to play the unpatched version ever again. As it exists today the game has become a solid and very fun shooter, even moreso in coop.

    While there are legitimate flaws that you can pin on the game, I wonder how many 100% perfect games we are drowning in that a potent but average shooter becomes the “worst game ever” that everyone picks on.

    It’s very telling that the author specifically wishes to go against a bandwagon (“they get called con artists but it’s not true, hear me out”) but just rolls with whatever he hasn’t personally verified yet… which to me is exactly the problem: hate-bandwagons absolutely need you to not try the game, otherwise the narrative falls apart.

    I get it, gaming discussions are about having fun with like-minded people, and no one, especially in the era of YouTube thumbnails and forum memes, wants to get outed as the one who liked something everyone else has been making fun of for years. But if I had to pinpoint one game in particular that made me disregard “gaming journalism” once and for all, ACM would be the poster child, because for all its actual flaws and failure to meet its hype, it is still a competent and very enjoyable Aliens fix.

    The most educative is when you don’t know you are supposed to hate it because you never follow gaming news. At the end of my first coop playthrough with my girlfriend, I told her that everyone says this is the worst game ever, and needless to say she WTFed pretty bad.

    TL;DR: Aliens Colonial Marines is a good game and a lot of fun, especially in coop. It didn’t get abandoned any more than No Man’s Sky was, and anyone who is suspicious of opinion bandwagons should start with the most extreme examples.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      TL;DR: Aliens Colonial Marines is a good game and a lot of fun

      I counter with the fact that no, it absolutely isn’t. The game is a bore, it’s still nowhere as close as what was promised and the patches were there exclusively to boost performance rather than add content (not to mention that they stopped a few months after release). Plus, their DLC wasn’t free.

      This isn’t a bandwagon, is fact. ACM was abandoned. It launched in February 2013 and the last update was in July of that year. For a game with a sizable multiplayer component (read: all of its DLC was multiplayer, and most of its updates were relegated to the multiplayer component) that’s abysmal. And, of course, if any new single player content was ever even considered it was all forgotten the moment they realized the game wasn’t popular.

      You like the game? Good for you. But don’t try to rewrite history in your favor.

      1. Gurgl says:

        All DLC wasn’t multiplayer, the Stasis Interrupted campaign is a full-fledged story, in fact it is superior to the main one in several aspects (pacing, writing and cutscenes, level design, even the lighting engine). Could or should have been free? Maybe, though in 2019 all that’s left is a game that goes for $5 with all DLC. We can’t act forever as if the outrage happened yesterday, it’s not like the developpers’ reputation is going to magically recover if someone tries it out and enjoys it.

        You didn’t like it and I won’t expect anything I say to somehow reverse that, but I’m sure many other people who originally missed out on it would get a good time out of it: a cookie-cutter shooter isn’t all that tempting, but cookie-cutter + Aliens + coop suddenly becomes a much more interesting deal.

        That kind of debate is always awkward from the get-go because the “worst game ever” bit is so strong that any counterpoint is expected to be similarly passionate in the opposite direction. It won’t. I realise “eh, it’s pretty good, I’ll expect you’ll get a good week-end out of this” isn’t as satisfying as a definitive love / hate verdict, but for $5, it’s worth an earnest try, especially in coop.

  9. Darren says:

    Just want to say I appreciate the jab at Molyneaux, who got away with far more disingenuous shenanigans than he really should have.

  10. zackoid says:

    Personally, I thank Peter Molyneux for teaching me a very important, and in retrospect, quite cheap, lesson when I bought Black & White on release date.


    1. Matthew Downie says:

      Hey, me too! It’s the last time I got frustrated by the delays in a game I was eagerly anticipating.

  11. AmmiO says:

    Please stop defending this guy. He was still doing interviews days before release in which he blatantly lied about features.

    1. FluffySquirrel says:

      Yup, that’s the bit that I dislike about him too

      I can kinda believe that they got carried away with it and were scared to say no or blah, but there comes a point where you have to accept responsibility for flat out lying

      I too remember the interview like, a mere 2 days before the initial release. Where flat out asked if there was multiplayer, yes or no. He said yes

      That is not the kind of person I approve of. That wasn’t a case of ‘Oh, well we wanted it to do the stars thing like we promised a year ago but we couldn’t and had to simplify for launch’. That’s just an outright lie, knowing full well that it will continue padding sales

      And taking that as the base, I find it harder to put much trust in a lot of the stuff. I can entirely believe Sony threw them under the bus and might have told them to do certain PR to buff sales. I very much doubt they were innocent of it. But they still want ahead with that, knowing they’d deceive their fans

      Personally, I’m still inclined to believe the entire thing was a very cynical cash grab, designed to grab as much interest and money through hype at the launch as possible. All of the PR and such was geared to that. Don’t watch too far, you don’t want to spoil your own journey etc etc

      Because the game was super fun at the start. And only becomes clear in its grindiness and lack of depth after about the third planet. It’s like the game equivalent of an e3 demo.. ironically

      The only good thing I’ll say about them is that I approve of them putting the money back into the game and working hard at improving it. I still don’t *like* them and what they did.. nor do I hugely like the game still (found it added more grind if anything) .. but the effort is appreciated, unlike other devs who take the money and run/pump it into the next game to flog

  12. Soysauce says:

    There is being naively optimistic about future implementation of features, and then there’s saying for example:

    “When he desired the possibility of green skies, the team had to redesign the periodic table to create atmospheric particles that would diffract light at just the right wavelength.”

    That’s a bold-faced lie, I know it, you know it and he knew it too when he said it. This was not a feature, this was never a planned feature, this was never even on the table. Any amount of thinking about it would tell you that this is an absurd claim. Notice also the use of the past tense, implying that this isn’t just a developer putting ideas forward honestly.

    1. Geebs says:

      It’s an exaggeration, but there’s actually nothing wrong with that statement from a coding perspective. Realtime atmospheric scattering shaders approximate light scattered towards the camera while travelling through a simulated atmosphere and are physically accurate in that the actual absorbance profiles of atmospheric gases and particulates are required in order to get realistic-looking colours.

      What that means is, they had to design a lookup table of imaginary elements and atmosphere compositions in order to get a series of plausible-looking procedural skies which allowed both variation in time of day and space/atmosphere transitions.

      TL:DR the statement is literally true.

    2. Retsam says:

      Yeah – as a rule, I agree with Shamus entirely – but that specific quote is always what comes to mind and makes it very hard for me to give the benefit of the doubt.

      Here’s the full interview, and the creator specifically talks about how the game has “real physics”:

      “The physics of every other game—it’s faked,” the chief architect Sean Murray explained. “When you’re on a planet, you’re surrounded by a skybox—a cube that someone has painted stars or clouds onto.”


      Our day to night cycle is happening because the planet is rotating on its axis as it spins around the sun. There is real physics to that. We have people that will fly down from a space station onto a planet and when they fly back up, the station isn’t there anymore; the planet has rotated. People have filed that as a bug.

      The claims here are very specific, and stated in past tense. AFAIK, NMS ended up with an engine pretty much the same as those games they’re criticizing: it had a skybox (albeit one with accurate star positions), planets did not rotate, etc. It certainly isn’t simulating a periodic table of elements to determine the sky color.

      It seems either they had an extremely more sophisticated physics system that got pulled after that interview – which seems unlikely – or Sean Murray was knowingly saying untrue statements. If his comments were less specific, or not in the past tense, I’d have more ability to give him the benefit of the doubt, but as it stands, it’s hard.

      (And to be clear, I’ve never had more than a passing curiosity in NMS; this isn’t the sour grapes of someone who bought into the hype, just of someone who found the whole fiasco interesting)

  13. Kylroy says:

    The number of people here and on The Escapist who *absolutely refuse* to apply Hanlon’s Razor boggles me. I can get saying “I don’t care if he meant to mislead consumers, what matters is he did” – but the idea that he *must* be a malicious, lying villain trying to con people out of their money because NMS was severely lacking in features at launch is beyond me.

  14. King Marth says:

    I know you were playing Warframe for a while, but have you looked into their dev streams? It’s a medium which is fully in-house which they use to be remarkably open about their plans. Even there, though, I think they’ve eased off on talking about anything they don’t have development assets for, as after being jeered for years about teasing Focus and Umbra as the next eventual big thing, they’ve stuck more with the ideas which are definite.

    Then again, they’ve learned that lesson only recently, by how they just aren’t talking about the loose Shadows of Mordor-style Nemesis system they were exploring, or the Tau System. Maybe they’re just holding long-term reveals in reserve for their convention.

  15. Redrock says:

    I mostly agree, but I have to ask, was Murray really a “kid” at the time of NMS’ development? A cursory search didn’t yield his exact age, but I imagine he was at least thirty, no?

    1. Shamus says:

      That seems about right.

      When I said “kid” I was thinking about how dumb I was at that age and how I’d probably do the same stupid thing.

      1. Redrock says:

        Fair enough. Personally, I can’t say I feel particularly sorry for Murray, but I respect the way he and the team handled the situation long-term. What’s puzzling me is the fact thay Sony would splurge for a seemingly decent PR budget with exactly zero PR management. I have some experience in PR, and that usually doesn’t happen. I mean, it’s not like it’s a lot of work. A decent PR guy could write up some guidelines in several hours, tops. I’ve seen PR budgets wasted on silly stuff, but never with such a hands-off approach.

        1. Thomas says:

          Sony offered Murray financial support but he turned them down. Sony didn’t publish the game, Hello Games did. That’s why it had a simultaneous PC release.

          Sony make indie developers sign a timed exclusivity clause with them if they want to have stage time at E3. I suspect they also hooked him up with interviews later.

          It’s worth pointing out this wasn’t Hello Games first game. They’d made 3 (smaller) games before this, all of which appeared on multiple consoles, phones and PC.

          Also, No Man’s Sky already had a trailer launch at the Spike TV VG Awards and appear in a bevy of gaming news sites before they even approached Sony, so Murray was obviously quite adept at getting interviews himself.

  16. Dreadjaws says:

    I’m sure Sony has a lot of fault here, but that doesn’t mean we have to just go and let Murray off the hook. Maybe he’s (relatively) young and naive, and making mistakes (that stray too far into the “deception” area), but letting him off with a warning is not enough. Being young and impressionable is rarely a valid excuse because we all are at some point and not all of us end up doing what he did. Like it or not, this is the sort of thing that works nice as a personal excuse when you’re talking to friends, but the Law is most certainly not going to let you get away with using it, and neither will your clients, employers or investors.

    Yes, he and his team have worked these few years to finally deliver something closer to what they promised at first, but that’s, well, their job. They’re doing it late, but they’re doing what they should have done from the start, not something extra because they’re nice. And yes, I know other developers abandon their games rather than work on their promises, but just because others do worse doesn’t mean they deserve the praise. A second chance? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean we should give them props.

    I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, and you know what? I’m glad I got called on it when I did rather than just be forgiven, otherwise I wouldn’t have learned.

    1. Shamus says:

      The dude has been publicly shamed, reviled, called a liar, and personally harassed. He’s spent the last three years of his life making up for his mistake.

      He’s been thoroughly “called on it” as you put it. And then some. What more do you want from the dude?

      1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

        Not being forgiven for doing the thing in the first place?
        I don’t think there is anything we can reasonably (or ethically) do to reverse the damage at this point. But we don’t need to clear him of blame by waving it away as a youthful mistake. We’ve had way too much of that already.

        1. shoeboxjeddy says:

          I think it speaks to warped priorities that “guy made non-criminal but provably false promises about game, which he later made good on” is a crime that you think CANNOT BE FORGIVEN. What if he’d actually committed a crime or assaulted a person? Get a grip, PLEASE.

          1. RFS-81 says:

            Depends on what you mean by forgiving. Should people be skeptical about any grand claims he makes about his next game? Definitely! Should people stop harassing him? Yes, but they shouldn’t have started in the first place.

  17. Dork angel says:

    I appreciate the changes they made, but the updates actually spoiled NMS for me. I played it when it first came out and really enjoyed it. They made a few tweaks which improved some of the issues which was fine. I’d progressed quite far, had a home base I was really happy with, a cool looking freighter and was just looking for a final ship. Then the first major update hit. My home base went from a lush beautiful planet to a radioactive wasteland. My ship became instantly obsolete and I felt the only real way to appreciate the new version was to start again so I did.

    After a while I’d completed some of the new stories and had a temporary base on a dustbowl planet near a crashed exotic ship. I’d flagged it with a beacon and was slowly saving up enough credits to buy a freighter so I could have more than one ship. Before I could get that far however, the next major update hit and my base was gone again as was the ship I’d been waiting to get.

    This time a lot of the mechanics changed too with elements and chemicals being renamed and the formula’s changing. I just can’t face either starting again or continuing with a slightly broken game save. It’s a shame as I really enjoyed it once I got started.

  18. Taxi says:

    If developers aren’t allowed to talk about the game:

    Bad publishers! Let the devs speak! We want to hear their thoughts!

    If Murray, Molyneux or Cage passionately talk about their games and it doesn’t work out:


  19. Armstrong says:

    I think No Man Sky would not have received nearly as much hatred as it did had there weren’t a human face to pin all the blame on. I feel very sorry for Sean. He had to withstand the full might of the internet hate machine. I still don’t think that running his mouth was as expected, acceptable or forgivable as Shamus claims (none of the indie developers I follow/followed were ever as brazen about their plans has Sean had been), but he did not deserve being turned into the game devil.

  20. Rollory says:

    I will say this much.

    About one week before NMS launched, I thought “I’d like to play a spaceship game. What’s this one about?” So I went looking for the various preview trailers. After watching about 7, I thought, “Ok, I think I see what this game is going to be. I’ll pre-order.”

    So I did.

    And the game I got on release day was exactly, one hundred percent, precisely the game I expected to get.

    All the people moaning about how they were lied to can make of that whatever they want.

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