If you felt burned because you purchased developer Hello Games’ No Man Sky space sim based on its trailers and promotional material, someone is fighting on your behalf.
The United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority is investigating Hello Games for potentially deceiving customers with the way it advertised No Man’s Sky, the organization has confirmed to GamesBeat (as Eurogamer first reported). The ASA kicked off its examination of No Man’s Sky following numerous complaints about how some of the materials on the game’s store page on the Steam PC gaming portal do not accurately reflect the final product.
The ASA has regularly scrutinized advertising in the video game market. In 2014, ASA did not uphold a complaint that a violent ad for Zenimax’s Wolfenstein: The New Order on the Eurogamer.net website violated regulations for age-gating mature content. Last year, however, the ASA upheld a claim that Steam-owner Valve misled consumers about the discount on the strategy game Civilization: Beyond Earth during one of its sales. A promotion claimed that the game was available for 16-percent off at £29.99 even though that was the same price it sold for without a discount before and after the sale. The APA did not take any major action against Valve, but it did require the company to ensure it does not use deceptive discounts in the future.
So while the ASA is investigating, that does not necessarily mean that the group will agree with any complaints.
No Man’s Sky is a space-exploration adventure that uses algorithms to produce a universe with quintillions of planets for players to explore. After building up serious buzz following appearances at tradeshows for years, No Man’s Sky debuted in August on PlayStation 4 and PC and ended up disappointing a number of people. Some complained about the sim’s gameplay loop that has you tracking down resources to expand your inventory so you can carry more resources.
But many consumers felt more than disappointed — they felt misled and betrayed. Gamers hunted down quotes from Hello Games founder and No Man’s Sky director Sean Murray where he made bold claims about features that are not in the product that shipped. But the most damning evidence is a humorous clip that compares a 2014 “gameplay” trailer against the reality of the 2016 release version.
That video shows the majestic, teeming world of the trailer that Sony showed off at the Electronic Entertainment Expo tradeshow in Los Angeles two years ago alongside the theme from Jurassic Park. That bleeds into the final game playing over an embarrassing version of the same track played on the harmonica by someone who is only just learning the harmonica.
For many, that is all the evidence that the ASA should need to find Hello guilty of hoodwinking consumers. The trailer claims it is “gameplay” and the real gameplay doesn’t really look like that. But the investigation probably isn’t an open-and-shut case for the watchdog group. That 2014 E3 trailer is still up on Sony’s YouTube page as well as Steam. Heck, it’s the first thing that loads up when you go the No Man’s Sky stub on the digital Steam store.
If Sony’s or Hello’s lawyers believed that trailer was violating truth-in-advertising regulations, they would likely have taken it down. We’ve asked both Hello and Sony, which published the disc version of No Man’s Sky for PS4, for a comment, and we’ll update this post with any statement from either company. But since they haven’t removed the video, it may signal that the companies are taking a position that claiming the trailer is representative of gameplay is accurate.
This will come down to how Sony, Hello, the ASA, and consumers define what constitutes “gameplay.” We’ve seen developers and publishers use terms like that in fine print to indicate they aren’t trying to pass off CGI as the real deal, but that is typically indicated by “in-game footage.” Sony and Hello will likely have to argue that the term “gameplay” isn’t the same as “in-game footage” and that they need to have the freedom to exaggerate to convey the possibility of something like No Man’s Sky to consumers in a short two-to-three-minute cilp. It’s up to the ASA to decide if that is fair to consumers.