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No Man's Sky and the Dangers of Hype

No Man's Sky is one of the most anticipated games of the past few years...and that is almost assuredly going to hurt it when it finally releases. 

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During the 2013 Spike VGX game awards show, Joe Danger developer Hello Games revealed No Man’s Sky, an exploration-based sci-fi game in which players travel to procedurally generated planets in their own personal aircraft.

The trailer was a compilation of in-game actions, including swimming, running on the planet surface, and flying a small spacecraft inside and outside of a planet’s respective atmosphere. It was impressive, and a stark deviation from Hello Games’ previous cartoon-y projects.

Three years later we find ourselves on the eve of No Man’s Sky’s launch, and the stakes could not be stacked higher against a game developed by a small ten-person indie studio. So much hype, so many insurmountable expectations, such hyperbole built up the foundation of No Man’s Sky so much that it cannot possibly satisfy everyone upon release. In fact, I am fully expecting a huge backlash against it, and the only thing to blame will be its messaging. 

No Man’s Sky is what happens when buzzwords successfully take root and begin to grow. During E3 2014, Hello Games’ managing director Sean Murray took to the stage, rolling out an impressive level of vague-but-promising buzzwords and hype phrases in such a neat package it’s hard not to get excited listening to them.

“This universe we’ve created...it’s so vast, it’s so boundless. It’s actually infinite. We don’t even know what’s out there,” he said wistfully.

“Infinite” is the key word here, used over and over as often as “innovative” and “unique” are thrown out during so many other reveal events. It's the key phrase, a magic word used to describe something bigger than it can ever realistically be. But damn, does it sound good to the ears of people who are growing tired of multi-sequel franchises.

Murray’s use of “infinite” becomes a dangerous concoction when it’s mixed with the other confusing messages of No Man’s Sky. “Infinite” suggests endless possibilities and ways to interact with the universe, a veritable fountain of opportunity. But realistically, No Man’s Sky has limitations. You’ll just never hear them say that.

Instead, the constant narrative behind No Man’s Sky is basically “The world (or in this case, universe) is your oyster,” combined with this need to emphasize that everyone’s games will be different depending on what they choose to do.

Realistically, No Man’s Sky is a survival game not unlike many of those found in Steam Early Access. The gameplay loop is actually pretty standard; travel to planets, land on the surface, discover creatures, environments, and biomes, name things, fight a few hostiles, collect resources, craft, and depart the planet’s surface in search of another. It’s a lot of survive with some added exploration and discovery for good measure.

Even the supposed quintillion planets is a bit embellished, when you consider the limitations of procedural generation. Sure, every planet will be different. But how different? There’s realistically only so many ways moving parts can combine to create something wholly new, and the changes will likely vary from being drastically different to a slight deviation from planets you’ve visited before.

And yet, No Man’s Sky has been built up with three years’ worth of hype, having been lauded by many as the last game you’ll ever have to play. It’s seen as one of the most ambitious, one of the biggest, one of the most impressive feats ever accomplished on a gaming system, all before anyone’s had a proper chance to experience it for themselves. It’s the ultimate form of hype, the fully-evolved result of what happens when a marketing campaign takes things a bit too far for its own good.

My prediction? No Man’s Sky is going to be fine. It will look pretty, perform technically well, and deliver on having a nearly-endless number of places to explore. But it will not be the end-all game so many are hoping for, which could create some backlash upon release.

The biggest issue with No Man’s Sky’s marketing campaign is the continued refusal to fully answer questions, instead opting for an open-ended, we-won’t-tell-you-what-to-do approach. For every definitive “yes” or “no” answer, we get “maybe,” “sort of,” and “if you want that.” Multiplayer? Yes, but you probably won’t encounter anyone else on account it’s a massive universe and there’s too much to explore. Space combat? Yeah, although that’s not necessarily the main point of the game. Character customization? Sort of.

It’s a series of qualifiers, half-statements without any concrete details. Which is arguably more dangerous than delivering definitive yes and no answers to each of these questions. “Maybes” build expectations. “Sort ofs” means there’s a chance. “If you want” allows for seemingly endless possibilities, no matter how limited the technical aspects of a game might be. All of these add up to open interpretations, allowing a person’s imagination to run wild and concoct a very specific vision in which they project their wishes and dreams until they’ve built an impossibly large, cohesive product that can never actually exist in its entirety.

Right now, the narrative driving the hot anticipation of No Man’s Sky is that it’s a be-all, end-all; it is the last game you’ll ever have to play, a game in which one can literally live out their every space fantasy. Fly a spacecraft, engage in epic dogfights, explore planets, see new creatures, label your findings, and embark on a Lewis and Clark-esque adventure unlike anything you’ve seen before. Spend billions of years exploring before you ever reach the elusive ‘center’ of the universe, never tiring of the process, constantly feeding your imagination and insatiable need for discovery.

In reality, No Man’s Sky is a survival game with a lot of ground to explore. But how long until that becomes tiresome? How long until you grow bored with tagging creatures and planets with your own goofy, probably meme-related names? What happens when you exhaust the upgrades? Will there be a rewarding end to collecting resources beyond merely crafting or trading? And in a galaxy devoid of NPC life, what will make your interactions unique or special?

“It’s up to you,” seems to be the definitive answer. And as much as I want to believe, that may be the most dangerous answer to fan the ever-increasing flames of hype.

Contributing Editor

From The Chatty

  • reply
    August 8, 2016 5:00 PM

    Cassidee Moser posted a new article, No Man's Sky and the Dangers of Hype

    • reply
      August 8, 2016 7:10 PM

      So this is a review for the game's...hype? Seems rather unnecessary.

    • reply
      August 8, 2016 7:23 PM

      So an article discussing the dangers of hype while extending the hype and providing a before-you-play-it-pessimistic view of the game? -1

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      August 9, 2016 1:32 AM

      Did they ever imply or state that the gameplay or interactions were infinite? I always assumed they were referring to the universe size.

      I also feel that Sean's vagueness of the specifics were a little of retaining a little mystery, and also gave them a lot of room as tbey were developing in a very agile manner so the game was a moving target.

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      August 9, 2016 2:12 AM

      Never get excited about things! Then you will get let down :(

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      August 9, 2016 2:29 AM

      "So much hype"

      Where? the marketing has been almost invisible, very little marketing hype. Lately there has been plenty of talk, mostly negative actually. But the classic hype, sorry no.

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        August 9, 2016 6:00 AM

        I agree. Marketing is when you see Call of Duty ads during NFL games. Some game makers blow millions of dollars to create and sell something. This team of 10 people created something so anticipated people are already calling it a flop.

        I suspect this game will be VERY profitable for this little game company. But people will still call it a failure.

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          August 9, 2016 6:35 AM

          "marketing dollars" and "hype" are completely different things. Sure, this might not have the reach of a game like CoD, but the hype in gaming forums and communities has reached critical mass for this game.

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            August 9, 2016 7:15 AM

            Hype is supposed to be positive.. That is not the hype I have seen.

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              August 9, 2016 7:23 AM

              It was very positive... Before people actually started playing it. Which I'm assuming it was the Shacknews article is about. I think it's probably a fine game that can't live up to expectations people created in their head. That's what hype does.

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        August 9, 2016 6:30 AM

        You don't need traditional marketing for hype. Fans can manufacture and spread hype just like developers/publishers.

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        August 9, 2016 6:54 AM

        The hype is real, but it's not necessarily coming directly from the devs. It's the fan base, or potential gamer. It's just been universally built-up. I kinda agree with the concept of the article. They could have drawn any number of illustrations from Daikatana or some other long in development games that couldn't possibly live up to the hype. Hype, not marketing. Blogs, gamers and the community are to blame in this case. Well, Daikatana did have Romero, so not entirely a 1:1 analogy about hype source.

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        August 9, 2016 7:21 AM

        No Man's Sky is probably safe to consider the most hyped game of all time. Lucky for you that you missed all of it, but the hype has been out of control since the moment it was announced. And I'm not talking about marketing hype, of which there was very little.

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          August 9, 2016 7:34 AM

          I remember when it was first shown at the VGA's a few years back and then IIRC the developer spent what was left of his life savings to fly to the show and present the game.

          Also I remember the game development almost died when someone robbed his place and stole the laptop and hard drives or something. Then Sony picked up the game and for a short while people thought the PC version would be held back for a long time as it was gonna have PS4 exclusivity. My memory may be fuzzy but how much the developer was being followed like a cult and everyone wishing they be the next Valve or something to that Effect.

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        August 9, 2016 8:01 AM

        Theres been a ton of hype. But since you probably weren't looking you didn't see it.

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        August 9, 2016 9:19 AM

        Hype was created around this project for a long time. You can make the case on whether it was intentional or not, but it's there.

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      August 9, 2016 7:59 AM

      This article couldn't have been more wrong. I've played it and only put down the controller because if I didn't sleep I'd be useless at my job today. I feel like it delivered, and did it wonderfully.

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      August 9, 2016 8:07 AM

      Sounds like a lot of buthurtedness coming from the comments here. I feel about 90% of what the article states exactly how I feel about the game.

      My personal prediction is that for about the first two months or so,most people playing the game will laud that it's the greatest game ever. Come year's end, most of the player base will be on to something else and this time next year,you probably won't see anyone on your friends list playing it at all.Unless there's some interesting DLC on the way,I just don't see this game keeping people's interest for very long.

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        August 9, 2016 9:17 AM

        I give it 2 weeks.

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        August 9, 2016 9:21 AM

        2 weeks life, first month will be full of GOTYs and lauding, then 6 weeks in, it'll turn to hyperbole in the other spectrum.

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        August 9, 2016 9:29 AM

        If people expect it to be another Diablo II or WoW, then that's certainly building it up way more than they should be. If I get a couple months of fun out of it before I start to lose interest, then that's actually really great. All games get old sooner or later, most sooner than later.

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        August 9, 2016 9:33 AM

        It looks like a $20 game. I'll definitely check it out when it's cheap.

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          August 9, 2016 9:37 AM

          Agreed that is a good price point for what its currently offering.

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          August 9, 2016 10:04 AM

          I really want to play it, just to check it out.... but honestly, yeah that's about the price point I expect to pay for a game like this. maybe 25

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        August 9, 2016 9:34 AM

        2mo for a game like this would be remarkable. if the average person can stomach more than 20hrs of the gameplay loop i'll be impressed.

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        August 9, 2016 10:18 AM

        2 months of "greatest game ever" lauding for a single player game would probably make NMS rate pretty high in terms of audience favorability, right? Most games don't make it two weeks before falling into irrelevance.

        The "infinite" nature of this game basically ensures it'll have huge ass legs, I think. Then you add in the fact that the devs have expressed a desire to support modding and you have a sort of infinite Bethesda open world game vibe. I think this game is going to be huge and lasting.

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      August 9, 2016 1:45 PM

      Bravo, Cassidee Moser is the best reason to visit Shacknews frontpage these days.

      Speak the truth. People high on hype will get pissed off. The blinders will have to come off eventually, just like with Doom 3.



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        August 9, 2016 1:52 PM

        I was actually interested in Doom,but after watching Angry Joe review it,it looks like the most boring single player FPS I've seen in a while. Every monster is a massive bullet sponge,and the world looks totally uninteresting.