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.
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