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No Man’s Sky is now under investigation for false advertising

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority announced it’s investigating the way No Man’s Sky has been advertised on Steam. Regulators from the ASA have examined the game’s Steam page and, based on the information presented there, compiled a list of ways that No Man’s Sky gameplay deviates from what the company’s advertising copy promises.

Rock Paper Shotgun has details on the investigation, as well as the initial findings by the ASA. Discrepancies between the advertised game and the actual title include:

User interface design
Ship flying behavior (in formation; with a ‘wingman’; flying close to the ground)
Behavior of animals (in herds; destroying scenery; in water; reacting to surroundings)
Large-scale space combat
Structures and buildings as pictured
Flowing water
Speed of galaxy warp/loading time
Aiming systems

Size of creatures
Behavior of ships and sentinels
Structures and buildings as pictured
Store Page in general:

Quality of graphics
References to: lack of loading screens, trade convoys between stars, factions vying over territory

The ASA has contacted both Valve and No Man’s Sky developer Hello Games to inform them of its findings. They have the opportunity to remove or correct the false advertising and, if they do so, no further action will be taken. Alternately, Hello Games might be allowed to patch the game to bring it into compliance with its advertising, but the near-complete radio silence from the developer (apart from patch notes) makes that unlikely.

While the above video was made in jest, there’s no doubt that it captures the difference between what some fans thought they were buying and what they actually got. This issue also raises the question of what kind curation companies like Valve should be providing. The general agreement in the gaming community seems to be that Steam does a poor job of either ensuring the content available through Greenlight and Early Access is held to even the most modest quality standards. Its ratings and review systems are easy to game, and Valve’s approach is hands-off to the point that some consumers have formed their own coalitions to rate and review products independently. There’s nothing at all intrinsically wrong with that, but the consumers who use a service shouldn’t have to independently attempt to enforce some kind of quality control. Kotaku has an excellent story on how the Greenlight program has spun out of control over the past few years — and why some developers continue to shovel products into the market, even when they don’t sell well:

Releasing bad games by the grimy, maggot-infested fist-load on Steam is a viable business strategy. See, there’s an entire secondary market for Steam trading cards, emoticons, backgrounds, and things of the like. Developers get a ten percent cut of each transaction on those items, which usually translates to a few cents per transaction. However, those items are sometimes sold hundreds of times per day. It adds up. Moreover, people will often buy low-priced, crappy games and then use programs like Idle Master to get cards without playing. Some even sell those cards to turn a profit. So they have an incentive to, say, buy a $3 bundle that includes all 21 of Digital Homicide’s games.

The reference to Digital Homicide refers to an ongoing court case in which one developer has sued Steam to turn over the details of 100 anonymous users so it can attempt to collect a $100 million lawsuit against them.

Thankfully, No Man’s Sky is nowhere near that bad. But we’ve yet to see any of the various “app stores” (iTunes, Windows, Google Play, or Steam) handle curation in any useful way. The sheer flood of content means all companies rely on automated tools to some degree, and those automated tools are often woefully inadequate when it comes to sorting through the schlock and surfacing great titles.

Hello Games set out to build a game that let players explore and move through an entire galaxy of possibilities, exploring, discovering, and traveling to their heart’s content. The intersection of hype and developer dishonestly has created a toxic situation that has completely overshadowed whatever game HG intended to bring to market. If Hello Games continues to improve their title, it may one day shake its reputation. Today, its as much a cautionary tale as a triumphant success.

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