While plenty of people are still enjoying the roaming the universe in No Man’s Sky, the experience has already run its course for many. And if the latest figures from Steam are any judge, the game’s player base has rapidly moved on.
Thing is, that’s completely normal.
There’s no denying that No Man’s Sky has been a big hit. More than 200,000 people were playing the game concurrently when it first launched on PC, and those figures don’t include people who purchased the game through Good Old Games, nor the massive player base on PS4.
But while the game has been technically competent for those on consoles, the PC release has been bogged down by complaints of poor optimisation, crashes and a lack of bug-testing. For some users it’s been largely playable after a few tweaks, myself included, but others have found it completely unplayable. And that’s been reflected in a graph of hourly concurrent users from Steam Spy, which charts a massive drop in popularity.
This is being taken by some as an indication that the game’s suffering, or that it’s somehow in decline. And on the surface, that much is true — hundreds of thousands of people were playing the game, and now they’re not.
But the reality is this happens to every major game to some degree.
Let’s wind the clock back to the first week of February. February isn’t usually the biggest month in the gaming calendar, but more often than not there are a couple of major titles that capture people’s attention.
One of those was XCOM 2. The game was plagued with some performance issues on launch, but much like the original it still struck a strong enough chord to hit a peak of 132,677 concurrent users in the first few days. But by the time March rolled around, most of that audience had disappeared.
Like all of Firaxis’ games — well, anything that’s not Beyond Earth — thousands of players are still playing the game regardless. It’s not a failure by any stretch of the imagination, but if you just looked at the first graph you’d assume there were massive issues.
Another great example: Dark Souls 3. While not enjoying quite the same popularity as No Man’s Sky at launch, it still had almost 130,000 concurrent players at its peak when it launched, with more than 74,000 average players a day. The latter more than halved by the time May rolled around. As of writing, the average amount of players is in the mid-thousands:
If you look at it just on the raw numbers, more people are playing Left for Dead 2 than Dark Souls 3. That seems staggering for a Dark Souls game; it seems staggering for a game that just came out this year. But it’s what happens. It doesn’t mean Dark Souls is a failure, or that the game is struggling. It’s what people do — they play a game, and then they move on.
Most games on Steam don’t have concurrent figures of 10,000 or more every single day. Out of the 10,375 games marked under the Games tab — and that figure varies from region to region — only 30 get more than 10,000 peak concurrent users every day. That’s an exceptionally small figure, and even major titles like Dark Souls 3 don’t sustain regular player bases that large on Steam.
The games that retain the biggest player bases on Steam are multiplayer first, or at the very least multiplayer-centric affairs. There are rare exceptions to that, but that’s exactly what they are: rare. And it’s also not out of the question for a game to enjoy a spark in popularity later on in life, as happened with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and more recently with Rainbow Six: Siege.
People will, of course, argue that the lack of clarity around multiplayer in No Man’s Sky is playing a part here. And they may very well be right. But even if that is a factor for some players, history has already given us the simplest answer: after a couple of weeks, most gamers will have moved on, if not sooner than that. And if Hello Games patches in a suite of features that players want, even if that doesn’t include multiplayer, it’s entirely plausible that tens of thousands would come back for another playthrough.
And don’t forget, that’s not factoring in everyone who plays through Good Old Games, consoles, or elsewhere.