I’m certain that I’m late to the party on this subject, but I do want to throw in my two cents on the broader pattern of the presence of “hype culture”. The recent release of “No Man’s Sky” helps to highlight a key problem with how consumers and media creators interact.
Hype culture is the result of the process of elevating the consumer’s expectations through tantalizing press releases, trailers, demos, or other forms of marketing and promotion that are meant to produce “buzz”. After the product is promoted, consumers begin to jump on the bandwagon in anticipation for release.
But does this expectation always match with reality? To that, we turn to the case study of No Man’s Sky. What happened with No Man’s Sky, and why did it turn out the way that it did?
About the Numbers
Let’s start with the first key feature promised and successfully delivered. It is omnipresent in the marketing. That is the infinite universe. Of course, it’s not really infinite. But to the player, it might as well be. The actual number exceeds 18 quintillion planets. That number is actually 18,446,744,073,709,551,616.
Numbers are great for marketing, because they are quantitative and objective. Sega learned this when marketing the Genesis against the Nintendo Entertainment System. Even though most consumers at the time were young, and probably had no idea about what 16 bit processing architecture meant in terms of gameplay experiences, it was an objective number. Sixteen was more than eight.
Of course, Atari attempted to repeat this with the Jaguar. and despite the fact that it was indeed 64 bit, it suffered from a multi-chip architecture that made game development difficult. So, we can see that raw numerical data on its own doesn’t necessarily translate into an improved gaming experience.
This applies to No Man’s Sky, since with that many planets, it’s hard to feel like you’re accomplishing much by exploring a single planet. It also doesn’t help that the rest of the gameplay was fairly repetitive. Dropping someone in a sandbox isn’t going to be much fun if there’s nothing fun to do within it, no matter the scale.
I Didn’t Sign Up For This!
There have additionally been lists curated online regarding features missing from the game that were once promised. Overpromising has been with gaming for a long time now, everyone can recall the tall tales spun by Peter Molyneux regarding the ill-fated Fable franchise.
The process of game development virtually guarantees that something will have to be removed, either because it’s not worth expending resources to produce or because it doesn’t benefit the product as a whole. Needless mechanics complicate elegant design.
In fact, the website Unseen64 is a database that curates just that. It catalogs changes made to the betas of games, as well as provide a window into games that could have been.
However, the listing of those features in marketing create the byproduct of expectations to follow through with those features.This sets the stage for a process known as loss aversion, in which potential losses are prioritized over equivalent potential gains.
Also, sometimes even with all the features listed, expectations are inflated to a level that can’t possibly be fulfilled. Marketing must be careful to temper those expectations, otherwise it results in the player dropoffs that occurred with No Man’s Sky’s release.
Cooler Heads Prevail
Ultimately, however, a little bit of patience can do the most good. Waiting until reviews come in can be the best antidote against purchasing a product that will not fulfill. Pre-ordering is a no go for me personally, as I must now mentally justify that preorder in order to feel like I didn’t make the wrong decision. Not even if it comes with delicious looking morsels of additional merchandise.
Marketing is meant to convince the consumer to buy a product. It is important to remember that. But, if consumers begin making more informed decisions about what they buy, then companies will take note.
It appears to be catching on now, thanks to the visibility of the backlash that followed the release of No Man’s Sky and the building distrust that consumers are harboring. As game development budgets continue to balloon to unsustainable levels, this will likely become a bigger problem. What will most likely assist this is by modifying the scope of the games produced. Instead of an expansive universe like we see in No Man’s Sky, we’ll see games that feature smaller worlds with a wider variety of meaningful gameplay activities.
But only time will tell if consumers will retain this lesson, or find themselves distracted by the next blockbuster release.