Expectations vs Reality – No Man’s Sky and the Road to Development

In the vast world of gaming, there’s a bittersweet feeling that every fan has had to experience. For some, it’s more common than others. It’s an emotion that is truly in the eye of the beholder. That feeling is disappointment. A recent title that has come under the radar is No Man’s Sky.

High Expectations

 

No Man's Sky first E3 presentation.
No Man’s Sky first E3 presentation.

At one point or another, all gamers have been disappointed by a highly anticipated game that they’ve held dear. Some are hypercritical because it’s a medium that’s well-loved and held to a specific standard. Others are more lenient, and some are completely along for the ride. Nonetheless, disappointment can sting hard. The gaming community dedicates hard earned money and plenty of hours into their gameplay, and expect a positive experience every time they immerse themselves in a developer’s work.

Unfortunately, disappointment can easily cloud one’s judgement. Pair it with misdirected emotions and a lack of understanding, and it’s easy to gloss over the massive amount of time, effort and money that go into creating a beloved title.

 Misdirected Disappointment

No Man’s Sky is an excellent game that’s had it rough as of late. Namely, problems ranging from numerous delays to unsatisfied fans, technical cutbacks, and social media chastising. Put bluntly, fans were disappointed with the product. Hello Games has had its fair share of setbacks over the last few months, and patience has been thinning. But does this make it a bad game?

Twitter mediocrity strikes again.
Twitter mediocrity strikes again.

No Man’s Sky is Hello Games’ first foot in the Triple-A sphere since development ended on the Joe Danger series. No Man’s Sky was a Sony E3 go-getter. With huge stage showings and an even larger marketing push from Sony’s Indie Publishing department, Sony promised that Playstation was “the best place to play”. No Man’s Sky was Sony’s indie darling, and they wanted the world to know.

That is until the game received lukewarm reception.

Publisher Responsibility

Somy's very public pledge to Indie developers.
Sony’s very public pledge to Indie developers.

 

Eurogamer reports that Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony Worldwide studios, feels that the No Man’s Sky PR strategy was not “great” due to the fact that Hello Games did not have a PR strategist on their side through pre-release and early development. “In the end he is an indie developer,” Yoshida mentioned, in reference to Sean Murray, the Managing Director at Hello Games. Not the most loyal statement from Sony’s side.

The reality of the matter is that No Man’s Sky had to be released. Nearly all games that see a wide release are developed with funds from a publisher. In No Man’s Sky’s case, Sony published the retail disc version of No Man’s Sky for physical markets, while Hello Games self-published the digital version of the game for both PS4 and PC. Meaning that plenty of work was done out of pocket for Hello Games.

When publishers are involved with the development of any game whatsoever, there are rules that need to be followed. Development studios are basically contracted to work through a publisher if the publisher is pitched an idea that they deem potentially profitable. Once publisher agreements are made, release dates are set for games through contracts with the developer. And it’s a well-known fact that release dates get pushed frequently within the gaming world. But a game’s success boils down to how well it can reflect on the publisher’s sales quarter, and ultimately their fiscal year.

The Bottom Line

It’s all about what’s worth investing in the eyes of a publisher. And often, a developer’s wishes fall by the wayside due to contracts and agreements. Sometimes this results in a horrible time crunch for developers, and other times features get left on the cutting room floor. Developers eventually have to call it quits when it comes to features in a game that are taking up too much time. This can cause a game to miss its release window, and developers often have to decide which features to implement into a game post-release. A slew of new features that slow down the development of a game is referred to as “feature creep”. To developers and publishers alike, this must be avoided at all costs.

Another important facet of a game’s release is the certification process. Both Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all have certification processes implemented into the release of games on their respective platforms. A master copy of a game is sent in for certification testing shortly before a game “goes gold” and is ready to be printed by the manufacturer. Certification must-haves range from anything like clear autosave indicators, to acceptable console-specific frame rates. Every certification process runs the motions in its own way. And after all this, things can still slip through the cracks.

Certification is also a major reason as to why games, unfortunately, suffer a visual downgrade before release. Sometimes developers are able to fix visual inconsistencies through post-launch updates and patches, given the additional time after a game release date to work on these issues. Other times the game simply exists the way it came to us.

The Takeaway

All these hoops can lead to a vastly different experience from the one gamers were promised during pre-release. Though necessary, these steps are no excuse for publishers to release games in a ham-stringed state. Nobody wants to spend money on an empty promise, but this process is one that gamers must accept and familiarize themselves with. Video games are the byproduct of the blood, sweat and tears of real people who want nothing more than to deliver a unique experience every time someone boots up a piece of their work. In order for these experiences to persist, developers and publishers need to practice transparency with the community. Inversely, gamers must practice patience and understanding. The symbiosis between creator and consumer is what ultimately will decide the trajectory of the gaming experience as a whole.

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One thought on “Expectations vs Reality – No Man’s Sky and the Road to Development

  1. I think the takeaway concept of this article is applicable to just about every facet of supply and demand when it comes to creative endeavours. Consumers can be very demanding without fully appreciating what goes into creating a well-thought out and passionate artwork, be it a video game, a painting, a novel. I feel like everybody was very quick to judge no man’s sky without taking all the factors mentioned in this article into act (also Sony was definitely a little scuzzy when it came to backing no man’s sky when it started coming under fire).

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