No Man’s Sky: when game developers are worse than politicians

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I’m proud how the general public is dealing with this. It means there are still built-in defense mechanics about bullshit and that marketing won’t have such an easy job. But I’m a cynic, so I’m just happy the situation is marginally better than the disaster scenario I usually see.

Quite long but elaborate comments about No Man’s Sky “meta” are these two. Wonderfully written. Both great and complete analysis:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_HEI8ZfDbM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCG9YLeIB98

So here I talk exclusively about the “meta” and not about the game’s own merits or demerits.

There are a few explicit things NMS did very wrong:
1- No faithful information about what the game is about. They’ve been deliberately very vague and “mysterious” because they exploited deliberately the hype.
2- No review copies until launch.

This created a situation where no one really knew exactly what the core of the game was about, until launch day.

But beside the final game looking nothing like the official trailers, and features missing that they’ve boasted about at length, the real big issue is that this game is being closely observed by other game developers out there, and they are learning ALL THE WRONG LESSONS.

The first aspect is game developers are directly seeing this as: the hype sells what is being otherwise considered very poor game, see metacritic low scores. It’s hype that sells, let’s make more hype and let’s marketing handle our game presentation for maximum effect. (which is obviously false, the game sells because it has an unique aspect NO ONE else offers)

But while that’s becoming the norm and even if that’s not making it acceptable, what enrages me is a different aspect that comes up only when developers are “sincere”. Meaning almost never. Developers are only sincere when they talk to each other semi-privately, and that’s why I started to spot discussions on twitter among devs I follow and have respect for. Their reaction is LUDICROUS. Here some quotes:

“from now on when a customer complains that we won’t tell them what we’re going to ship, I’ll just link this thread”

“The list of “lies” consists almost entirely of quotes like “maybe we’ll do this,” or “in the current build…”

“the moment you mention “oh, it’d be nice if we could do X”, a flood of rabid hyenas begin preparing to eat your face off if you don’t ship X”

“they didn’t promise things. people interpreted suggestions, ideas, as promises.”

“Wonder why AAA devs have such controlled PR? Candor about anything not utterly locked down gets you these idiots”

“crux of problem being too open/communicative. Candor is a dual edged sword. Silence is safe.”

You see this?

This is being actively spun as “they’ve been TOO SINCERE”. They should have been more silent about what the game was about.

As if not releasing any review copy before the release date, and no review copy AT ALL on PC wasn’t to hide the mess, but just because they didn’t want the players get spoilers. HOW KIND OF THEM.

Now this other perspective is surfacing even more officially, see Kotaku.

Of course due to the nature of game development a lot of original plans have to change when you faceplant on reality. And of course this happens for every game, and features always get cut. THAT’S WHEN it’s most important you inform your playerbase. But nope, it’s okay to talk at length when it comes to build hype, it’s great to stay silent when it comes to inform a feature had to be cut.

How the hell is acceptable that information is shared ONLY when it’s convenient? Is that your idea for being “candid”?

Why it is that if politicians overpromise because it’s convenient for getting votes it’s seen as legitimate when we get angry and expose their lies, but if it’s about hype to sell a game then it’s all tolerated and normal? (and journalists ask questions, instead of the “prescribed way to ask questions about NMS”, as seen in that video)

You talk when it’s convenient to you, but then resent if people hold you accountable about what you said? That’s an example of selfishness, not of candidness.

On a forum someone replied to me with:

Curiously, I had always sort of dreamed of the kind of game that that post describes. But I’d also always figured that there was no way NMS would pull off that kind of game.

And would you give free passes like that even to Star Citizen? Immunity from criticism?

Go with a total scam and eventually just blame the players because they haven’t been cynical enough?

I repeat, what enrages me are not the false trailers, nor the lies in the interviews. What enrages me is that certain devs are blaming the PLAYERS, calling them “idiot, rabid hyenas” because they held developers accountable for what the developers themselves used to hype the game, especially on media that are more generalist, and so to reach out and catch the largest public possible.

It’s a dishonest, perverse twist of what actually happened.

Developers are taking NMS success as a success of the overhype model. Of showing what the game is not because the players are too stupid to be skeptical and will swallow everything you throw at them. This is setting a precedent where what they learn is that a pretty fake trailer SELLS more than an honest one.

On the other hand they use the typical straw man argument, saying: ok, lesson learned, we should never say anything. Let’s leave that stuff to the marketing guys who know how to exploit it properly.

Nope, the simplicity of the issue is that devs love to speak when it’s convenient, but will refuse to speak when it comes to announce features were cut. Because that wounds pride, it doesn’t give a flattering picture. And developers love cult of personality. It’s almost religious. You have to BELIEVE and have FAITH.

The idea I have is that Seam Murray & team aren’t as cynical about doing all this to simply exploit the hype. It’s way more subtle. We don’t have skillful liars, we have instead developers who fell in love with their algorithm and ideas. In order to make people believe that hype, they have to believe it THEMSELVES. The hype poison they fed players is hype poison they swallowed themselves.

This means Sean Murray’s brain is very skilled at painting a flattering picture of his own work. He’s the First Believer. When he “lies” he does because he believes his own bullshit. And you can see that reflected pretty much EVERYWHERE. Read again that letter in the manual, or read the kind of PR that is going on now.

Here’s two examples of how you rewrite facts to paint always a flattering picture no matter what:

1- “Even though less than one per cent of players have raised support issues, we’re going to resolve roughly 70 per cent of them this week”

2- “Thousands of lines of assembly have been rewritten overnight”

About the first, 1% of the players are having technical problems. IT’S A SMASHING SUCCESS, BEST PORT EVER. But we are so committed to deliver a flawless game that we care even about that tiny 1% and will resolve their problems too, even if they are so negligible.

About the second. I seriously doubt they have a mad math genius who can rewrite “thousands of lines of assembly overnight”. If such person exists, AMAZING. But it’s far more likely they changed a flag in the compiler (-msse2) and it is recompiling the game overnight.

Oh, of course they aren’t LYING. Thousands of lines ARE being rewritten. But automatically by a CPU and not by some guy who didn’t go to sleep and is chocking on coffee. And of course they didn’t say only 1% of players are having issues, but just that 1% bothered to report them.

But again this is how you exploit the false perception. It’s not being dishonest, it’s about denying what’s obvious at every step because you can’t deal with it. You live in a bubble of self deception and that bubble is completely impermeable to reality. Your brain will automatically create endless excuses before it will accept an unflattering picture where you are not a hero worthy of worship. True believer of an egomaniac personality.

And, notice how the hype works: the game in general didn’t quite deliver. We learned devs are not to be trusted, BUT… What happens at this point? You drop the ball? You admit defeat of the hype?

Nope! Sean Murray says they will patch this game. He says the game will evolve and content that was promised maybe will make into the game. He’s just about ready to replace that hype with more of it. Expansions, DLCs, content patches. WHATEVER IT TAKES TO KEEP THE HYPE TRAIN GOING. Don’t look at what’s in the game, look at what comes NEXT. Believe!

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