No Man's Sky

The Advertising Standards Authority, a consumer protection organization in the United Kingdom, investigated No Man's Sky for potentially misleading ads showing parts or elements of the game that may not have been representative of the final product. The investigation started after several gamers filed complaints that the game didn't quite live up to what was advertised. Well, the investigation has concluded and they have decided Hello Games, and Steam are in the clear.

Over on the official ASA website, they have a very interesting summary of their investigation and what conclusion they've come to. They mentioned that No Man's Sky and Hello Games is clear of breaching any advertising standards codes, and that the game is representative of what was advertised. They explain...

Taking into account the above points, we considered that the overall impression of the ad was consistent with gameplay and the footage provided, both in terms of that captured by Hello Games and by third parties, and that it did not exaggerate the expected player experience of the game.

The investigation was quite thorough, even more-so than what I expected. They initially involved Valve in the process of the investigation, but admitted in the report that Valve was just the distributor and that outside of developing their own games, they have no involvement over the screenshots or media assets used to promote games on the store pages.

Interestingly enough, when the ASA began investigating No Man's Sky, Valve did update their developer requirements to let them know that they should have screenshots of the actual game on the store pages and not just cool looking concept art and cinematic bullshots. They even had to flag themselves for violating this protocol with Dota 2, whose store page consisted of nothing but concept art and cinematic bullshots. So it was nice that they decided to lead by example, altering the store pages of their own games to better reflect the actual in-game experience.

In the case of No Man's Sky... Hello Games stated that what was on the store page was not concept art or bullshots and that those images can be experienced in a similar or identical way in the actual game.

Now here's the part that actually impressed me about the ASA's investigation... they actually went to Hello Games and experienced No Man's Sky for themselves. They did not just rely on hearsay and word of mouth, they had Hello Games boot up No Man's Sky and actually had them play four whole hours of gameplay in an attempt to recreate scenes from both the promotional trailer and the screenshots on the Steam store page.

It's some thorough work that I didn't expect from the ASA. Hello Games did provide them with the caveat that given the procedural nature of the game, scenes couldn't be recreated in a 1:1 manner but they could find similar scenes. According to the ASA's report, Hello Games used the PC version of No Man's Sky and did attempt to recreate the scenes from the store page as closely as possible. Apparently it was enough to satisfy the ASA's inquiry and they concluded that the advertising was not misleading.

I think the more troubling aspect for most gamers wasn't what was displayed in the ads, but how they were contextualized during interviews by Hello Games' Sean Murray, who did make a few statements about features that weren't available in the retail release of No Man's Sky. Hello Games has promised to rectify the dampened expectations by releasing new updates for the game to bring it up to the standards with which gamers expected from the title at release. Nevertheless, Hello Games definitely dodged both a financial and PR bullet with the ASA's findings, and it definitely sends a message to other developers to be wary of how they present their games before release.

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