When No Man’s Sky launched in 2016, it did so to little fanfare. Years of E3 demos, interviews, and even late-night talk show appearances had put gamers into a state of anticipation that matched the likes of Half-Life 3. Unfortunately, the game released in a poor state, lacking many of the features it had promised, and disappointed a large contingent of the fans who’d followed its development and marketing push.
The backlash was immense. At the time, many, including myself, wrote Hello Games off. The studio did little to dispel this attitude by going silent at a time when communication seemed paramount. Communication with the audience plays a significant role in the success of games, especially as we transition into an era where ongoing ‘games as a service’ experiences take center stage. Take Warframe or Rainbow Six: Siege, for example. Digital Extremes and Ubisoft have built their image of those games around the community, frequently communicating with community members and hosting developer live streams. These efforts can foster a lot of goodwill for a project; however, Hello Games decided to take a different approach with No Man’s Sky.
The team retreated to their bunker, only to seldom reappear to drop an update for the game, before hiding away once again. It would appear they believed their words would be futile to stem the flow of criticism directed their way, and instead opted to let the game speak for itself. The last two years have seen several significant updates for No Man’s Sky and this past week saw the biggest update in the game’s history: “Next.”
“Next” adds many of the features promised before the game launched, such as improved base-building, multiplayer, a third-person camera, and much more. Unlike the game’s initial launch, they didn’t use Sean Murray as a marketing tool this time around; the message of the game was conveyed by the game itself. Although Sean’s done a few interviews, they have been supplemental, rather than to hype the game up. After all, they know the dangers of over-promising.
The news stories generated for No Man’s Sky this time around haven’t been from quotes from Sean Murray, they’ve been from what the update has added, or how the player base is spiking and how the game is jumping up Steam’s top-sellers’ chart. The game is being discussed on the merits of the game, not on what we’re being told it can or will be. This is a perfect display of the ‘show, not tell’ strategy. Grand promises may lure some people in, but they may turn others away, afraid of being burned, again. However, allowing people to play, stream, or watch the game and make up their own mind will enable it to be discussed on what it actually is, and it underpins the importance of allowing a game to speak for itself.