No Man's Sky is the go-to story for redemption in video games, so it only makes sense that the industry would turn to Hello Games founder Sean Murray. As the person who received all the angry emails in those opening months, he knows what a rough launch can be like. So when asked for his advice on what other publishers can do to bounce back from their own rough launches, he was frank: less talking, more developing.
Murray was the keynote speaker at Develop 2019, a game developers conference in the seaside English town of Brighton. Having given a prominent keynote at GDC about what the No Man's Sky experience was like, he followed up at Develop with more details about what happened in the weeks and months after NMS' launch, and how the team dealt with it.
"I sat down so many times to write the perfect blog post, that was going to explain everything about the development, and where we were, and our road-map for the future — I did that so many times ... but I could see that it didn't hold credibility, for right or wrong," Murray said, according to GamesIndustry.
Murray said that, at that point, Hello Games hadn't spoken to the media in two years and it'd been about three months since they spoke to their community. As he mentioned at GDC, the studio changed its communication strategy to focus purely on patch notes and releases, communicating through what was being added to the game as it was pushed out, rather than talking about public roadmaps and upcoming content. And it's a strategy that more and more developers should subscribe to.
"There have been a number of games that have since come out, had a polarising launch, and that explosive mix of loads of people playing it but also problems. I can see EA or Microsoft or whoever try to placate players by talking to them, and for right or wrong it just doesn't really work," GamesRadar quoted Murray as saying.
"You see this all the time when a big publisher will talk to the community and try to solve the problem and then get embroiled, taking up more and more of its head space."
Given the move to games as a service, it's likely we'll see more and more franchises search for ways to re-engage players after their initial launch when expectations aren't met. The Hello Games strategy has a lot of appeal, especially with smaller studios that don't have the resources to deploy community managers and social teams all around the world.
And it also gets past a key problem Murray feels that exists within the games press and how people consume media: negative stories inevitably do better traffic, which leads to more negative stories. Positive tales "just don't do as well — and that's a problem," GamesIndustry quoted Murray as saying. It's a sentiment Murray told Kotaku directly when demoing No Man's Sky: Beyond at GDC, referencing the stories out Kotaku writer Gita Jackson had written about the NMS community.
"I think what gets lost — and that Gita does a really good job of highlighting — is the nice things people do in games," Murray said. "No Man’s Sky has been amazing for that: weird things that people do that you can’t predict. This is lovely and really meaningful to make games in a time when people are connected enough that they can do that."