No Man’s Sky Is Losing Fans On Steam, But That’s Fine

No Man’s Sky Is Losing Fans On Steam, But That’s Fine
Image: Steam Spy

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.

Image: Steam Charts

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:

Image: Steam Charts

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.


    • I wondered about that. Technically those players can return to being players at any point, since they still own the game, so they’re not lost as such. But if people are done with the experience it’s more representative to say they’re no longer fans of the experience. I suppose it could go either way.

      How’s dentistry going BTW?

      • Yeah it’s normal for a game to lose subs. That doesn’t mean it’s a good game though just because it sold well at launch. I think we can all agree Batman vs Superman made a lot of money but was also terrible. It’s not like we had demo free options of trying no mans sky. (Note I have not bought it)

      • There’s a difference between players and fans though in the same way that customers are different to clients. A player will play your game and move on but a fan will be invested in continuing their appreciation of the game. If you lose a player it’s not really that big a deal to a certain extent because they just wanted to play the game. Losing a fan though is a sign of a problem because you’re pushing away the people who are the most invested in the game and seeing it continue to thrive.

  • It’s fine because they’ve already got the cash by charging $60 a pop. No need to retain players when you’ve just made a small fortune.

    Cynical, I know.

  • Isn’t Counter-Strike: The One They Monetise Off more of a DOTA2 example? It’s its own ecosystem and all, but people are technically playing a sequel, aren’t they? Not exactly an evergreen title there.

    Dark Souls as an IP was always trumped up and overblown once the sequels started coming out – and I say this as ardent fan of the games. They don’t fit within the bally-hooed AAA news/launch/release cycle. I’d rather them keep coming out of course, because I’m selfish. But it’s always going to be my favourite niche series done good.

    Do we call these people who are content with one game and one game only for years on end casual? No of course not, I’m glad that term has all but died out too. But still, “squatters” for lack of a better term who stick around for No Man’s Sky might find themselves with a better end-product than what was reviewed.

    How’s that going to help someone like me who is still keen for it but literally can’t start playing it until maybe Christmas? I’ll have no choice but to seek out an ever-dwindling amount of diehards who can tell me what to expect. And that’s just the PC version.

    • CS:GO was actually dead in the water when it first launched, and it only started to massively take off after the automated matchmaking system was introduced. Before then it was much like CS 1.6 and Source, with dodgier mechanics and just an overall lack of polish — and people hated it.

      People still hated it after matchmaking, but the functionality basically eliminated the need to go to IRC/third-party services to find multiplayer matches that weren’t “go into a random pub server”. And that’s what brought a lot of people into the game, and particularly a lot of oldschool fans back.

  • Really lost interest a couple of systems in. For a procedurally generated game. I keep seeing really familiar creatures and the buildings are all the same.

    And what about the stars? Green stars, red stars, blue stars, they all look the same in game. Also what is the deal with the portal gates that you can’t do anything with? And what is the deal with all the things Sean Murray said you could do in game that you simply cannot. And systems he said governed the game that don’t exist.

    I feel this game was oversold. Developers being too ambitious and cutting things because they couldn’t fit them into the deadline. They may be able to add these things into the game and it may be worth playing then but for me the more I explore the more of the same it is. I was happy to have a pretty free time exploring but what is the point of exploring when all the planets and creatures start to look the same.

  • I don’t know, 90% of the playerbase in 11 days seems like something of a significant decline for a game that people were hyped for and promoted longevity.

    • It’s not the full player base though — not everyone playing on PC is playing through Steam. And it’s not out of the ordinary for people to be done with a game after 2 weeks, no matter how big the game is. Most people just don’t stick around that long, especially for games that are singleplayer (or turn out to be singleplayer only, as was the case).

      • I’m just going by the other graphs used in the article as a comparison point though which show the decline being over several weeks or months. For a game whose main selling points were the exploration and 18 quintillion possible planets I’d have expected a shallower decline as people took their time exploring and discovering the game’s secrets. It would be interesting to know the story behind it though. Is it really people dropping the game because they’re done, or are they waiting for the problems to get ironed out and the new content to drop or is everyone just playing the console version instead?

  • Its no worse of better than the whole Destiny thing. While a subset of the community was rambling on about lies and conspiracies, about it being the worse game ever, a flop blah blah , criticising everything from bad reviews to players numbers a strong fan base of players who actually judged it on what it IS not what it failed to be are actually playing it. Flaws and all.

    you see like Destiny, all the bad reviews and numbers and some online sheeple making it nothing but a punch line to a bad joke, ultimately means nothing at all. Two years later the only joke Destiny is, are those players who still troll its Facebook page on every single posts, like some sad jilted lover.

    And like Destiny, I am not convinced No Man’s Sky’s sins are as terrible as all the bad press and complainers will have us think. (NOTE: i am not saying they are all wrong or some of the dislike is not justified) but the sheer level of outrage is more about people online mouthing out and attacking the wounded game, which in turns people on the fence, about to buy, read it all as ‘truth’ and turns them away, making the sales slump

    its nothing but a self-fulfilling prophecy, we see it happen to games and movies all the time this year. Is it really always the quality of the thing itself or the mass outrage that sours the mass opinion?

    The only thing souring my No Man’s Sky journey is this constant barrage of hate for it. Destiny launch all over again, only for me after 700 hours Destiny still remains my second most played game of all time. Funny how things work out.

  • I’m more alarmed by the lack of complaints. I mean some of the passion that was there a few weeks ago is still around in the form of anger, but most of it seems to have just faded away. I mean moving on is normal but it feels like it’s more significant with No Man’s Sky. This feels like a kid finally getting to open that bike shaped box under the Christmas tree then going straight back to bed.

    • Could be that most of the complaints (apart from the bugs, which were switly patched) were from people that were expecting Elite Dangerous combined with Star Citizen with a big dollop of Minecraft.

      Now they’re moved on to bashing ED for not being SC/SC for not being ED, depending on which horse they are backing 😛

      • But this is sort of my point. You’re giving reasons to dismiss the relatively small group of people who are very critical while ignoring the way that nobody seems to have anything to say about it except a small group that says it’s awful and an even smaller group that says ‘it’s not awful’ in response to complaints but stop short saying unprompted positive things about it. You’re focusing on the complaints but I’m questioning the lack of praise. Even bad games get praised when the audience was this hyped.

        A drop is normal but when a game has such a large group in a hype frenzy it doesn’t usually go cold this fast. The hyped up group normally splits into people who love it and people who hate it, with both groups being way too passionate about their opinions, but this time it feels like most of the people who couldn’t wait to get it played it for a few hours, didn’t hate it, then never felt any desire to play it again.
        Look at YouTube. YouTubers will generally milk something like this dry. It’s either positive and they cover it forever or it’s negative and they blast it forever. In this case they seem to have covered it for a week then moved on with their lives. They don’t seem to have been distracted by the next big thing they just went back to business as usual.
        Kotaku seems pretty disinterested in the game now it’s out. It’s not dominating the headlines the way this sort of thing normally does. Even the clickbait articles seem to be coming in slowly.

        I think No Man’s Sky landed on a very thin line. It’s exactly as good as it needs to be in order to not offend (most of) the people who were crazy for the idea, but it’s just far enough from what they imagined that they don’t want to play it.

  • Time.

    Or lack thereof. Played NMS exclusively since it came out, want to keep playing, but other games have put demands on my time and so I’ve decided to put it aside for the moment and come back to it once the “crunch” is over.

    SWTOR is running its Dark Vs Light event, so there’s a lot of grinding to do there. WoW is doing its pre-xpac events, and the xpac launches in 4 days. Fallout 4 is launching Nuka World DLC in 4 days as well.

    So much to do, so little time – so something had to give, and it was the game that is single player and will be there, improved, waiting for me in a couple of months when I’m looking for something to play again in the lull between content deliveries on my “main” games.

    I’m still pretty happy with NMS, and my “lack of concurrent playing with everyone else” should not be taken as a sign that I am “over” it or that it failed. I never felt like I had wasted my $80.

  • I’m playing on PS4 which has been faultless until the latest update, where my save file was corrupted. But the game has been fine since. Having heaps of fun with the game atm.
    I don’t see myself leaving the game anytime soon, but I do feel for the PC players whom have had trouble running the game. That sux big time.

  • Either this article misses the point, or is trying to deliberately mislead. The point was not loss of players, but loss of players quite so quickly.

    Xcom shows a gradual downward trend over a little over a month. Dark Souls shows one over SEVERAL months. That title should really be commended for retaining players.

    In stark comparison NMS shows a steep loss in less than two weeks. To directly compare to Xcom looking at the graph you provide it still had 50-75k players at around the same point now that NMS is hanging around 15k. (And it sold far less mind you!) Yes by March its players evaporated. But by that point many would have either finished the game or chosen not to.

    The numbers for NMS are showing a highly unusual number seem to just be abandoning the game. That is not good news and it seems silly to try and misdirect attention away from that.

  • lol fanboy article…

    comparing story driven games like DS and XCOM with NMS so they dont have to admit that NMS is one of the most boring and stale games out there.

    NMS was supposed to be a huge sandbox with a whole universe to explore, but in fact it is a repetitve boring game that already starts to get boring after 5 hours and after 10 only retarded players continue to play.. somehow their memory has to be defect and so they dont realise that they do the same shit over and over again

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