It doesn't seem too long ago since Hello Games was being burned at the stake by an incensed online mob following the initial of release of No Man's Sky, and I have to admit I was pretty disappointed myself. But fast forward two and half years and the sentiment has changed: The NMS community is positive, the developers are sincere and the outlook is promising.
What caused this change? How did NMS go from hot garbage to hawt shit? Here's my thoughts:
The Hype Machine
I think one of the core issues with the NMS launch was a combination of insatiable online hype along with a pressured development studio wanting to maximise that opportunity. Rewind to before the games launch and Hello Games had been subtly introducing themselves into the gaming arena through events, particularly their announcement at the VGX awards back in 2013. Soon after they had caught the attention of Sony, who's keen eyes saw the gaming market was craving a new-gen space sim. Sony ultimately funded and help market NMS in preparation for it's launch, and as an indie studio Hello Games couldn't be happier.
This is where I believe things went awry: News and features for NMS began to roll our frequently throughout 2015, culminating in a released date being announced at Paris Game Week during a Sony press conference. From that time things went shaky. NMS dropped from further expos and event with Sean Murray (Lead Director for NMS) stating he wants to devote more time to polish.: "we get one shot to make this game and we can't mess it up." - The weight of the sentence even more visible now. It was clear from that, and other interviews and tweets that NMS wasn't quite ready. My opinion is that Sony wanted to get first-to-market with a new space sim and ride the hype that was palpable at the time. Hype is great tool for marketing, and just being on reddit and twitter it was clear how excited some people were for this game (especially since preorders had exceeded expectations)
Then the game launched, and quickly people realised large portions of what had been promised were not in the game. Including a fundamental component: multiplayer. The following weeks of the launch NMS was slated and review bombed across the board. Many angry that they had been misled, missold and lied too. On a lot of components these people were correct. To make matters worse, Sean Murray and Hello Games went silent. They stopped tweeting, declined interviews and were non-existent as the hate poured out.
Update, Update, Update
Faced with one of the largest backlashes in the gaming community, Hello Games had a mountain to climb to bring back players and bring back integrity to them and the game. In November 2016 (a couple months after release) they broke their silence and released the Foundations update. This update fixed many of the bugs, fundamental features and components of the game. Received well by many, they managed to claw back a lot of the gamer base that had initially left (steam numbers going from hundreds to thousands).
This seemed to be the new strategy for Hello Games: Full, comprehensive updates, with little to no details announced before they are ready. The subsequent updates started to add a lot of what was promised. 'Pathfinder' added planetary vehicles, 'Atlas Rises' added a new story arc, 'NEXT' (arguably the most important update) added full multiplayer, feighters, enhanced graphics and heaps more. 'Abyss' and 'Visions' added underwater and a wide variety of biomes and environments.
This update schedule seemed to work, with average player base across platforms steadily rising after each update, and all the while Hello Games were cautious with their communication of such updates.
The interesting thing to note is how Hello Games have conducted themselves throughout. Let's face it, they screwed up big time at launch and released half a game. But their subsequent attitude has brought NMS to a great place. Other studios and their parent companies may have just moved on (ahem EA), some may have lashed back at the community (ahem Blizzard) but Hello Games listened, they listened to the hate, the feedback and abuse (I mean who sends death/bomb threats to a game studio?).
Since then they have been quiet and confident with what they have been working on, showing only fully built features and communicating honestly and openly
The future looks promising for No Man's Sky. Sean has promised heaps of updates to fully deliver on the vision that was promised, and the upcoming update shows this with support for VR. Further updates are promised, and the player base has been increasing over time. The response from the community has also been positive, online sentiment has shifted. Old players are returning, and things are on the up.
I think this is a tale a lot of studios and publishers should learn from. Whether the lesson is not rushing to market, or managing your game post-launch, Hello Games set an example in delivering what is promised.
NB This post probably sounds like I'm a Hello Games shill, but honestly I'm impressed with what they have done