The independent regulator for advertising in Britain, the Advertising Standards Authority, has announced overnight that the advertising for No Man's Sky was not misleading to consumers.
In the ruling published on the ASA's website, the independent regulator revealed that 23 users complaints were filed against No Man's Sky, arguing the game was "not as depicted or described" on its Steam page.
As reported back in September, complaints to the regulator ranged from the following: the size of creatures shown in screenshots and pre-release footage; the lack of large-scale space combat; the behaviour of animals in pre-release footage; the UI; the quality of graphics; written references to a lack of loading screens, trade convoys, NPC factions; flowing water; the behaviour of NPC pilots; and more.
As part of their investigation, the regulator reached out to Valve and Hello Games. It appears both assisted the regulator in its investigation, with Hello Games providing additional gameplay footage "from a play-through that had started from the beginning of the game and lasted for four hours". The British developer also gave the ASA a copy of the game and the specifications of the "PC with average specifications" with which the footage was recorded from, in a bid to answer some of the criticisms around graphics.
The general takeaway is that because No Man's Sky was a procedurally generated game, the images and videos used for the game's marketing were only indicative of the content players might expect to see, not guaranteed to see, and therefore not likely to mislead.
On complaints about the change to the game's UI:
We understood that the user interface design and the aiming system had undergone cosmetic changes since the footage for the videos was recorded. However, we did not consider that these elements would affect a consumer’s decision to purchase the game, as they were superficial and incidental components in relation to the core gameplay mechanics and features. We therefore did not consider the ad was likely to mislead in that regard.
When it came to the lack of large space battles in-game:
A number of complainants were concerned that large-scale space battles of the type shown in one of the videos was not part of gameplay. We acknowledged Hello Games’ assertion that the larger battles were more unusual, and noted the footage they provided of a materially similar type of battle. In relation to these features, we considered that the ad did not depict gameplay that differed materially from the footage provided by Hello Games, and that it was therefore unlikely to mislead.
The No Man's Sky developer also supplied the regulator with footage of animals behaving presumably behaving a little more normal than this. And while "animals in the trailer were shown moving large trees", the regulator found that it wasn't a substantial enough element to sway a purchase.
Because the complaints were levelled against the game's advertising on Steam, the regulator's ruling only refers to the game's visual quality on PC. There's no mention of the game's quality on console, or the difference in visuals between platforms, although after viewing "the game and the footage provided by Hello Games (including material from third parties" the ASA found that No Man's Sky was "capable of producing graphics of much higher quality than that shown in the videos and of comparable quality with the screenshots.
It's important to note that the regulator did not reveal the videos or screenshots Hello Games supplied as proof for their arguments; it's entirely possible that Hello Games could have, for instance, pointed at the work of screenshot wizards like Yousbob, jim2point0 and Berduu.
The full ruling makes for interesting reading, although the literal approach by the regulator (as regulators are want to do) gets a little dry.