No Man’s Sky was looking to be one of the most revolutionary games in decades. We were supposed to be able to explore a virtually limitless galaxy of worlds. It was Space, the Final Frontier, and we could have it in our livingrooms and our computers. Unfortunately, the game has not lived up to the hype, and there is so large a gap between reality and advertising that the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – an independent regulator whose role it is to “regulate the content of advertisements, sales promotions and direct marketing in the UK [by investigating] complaints made about ads, sales promotions or direct marketing”—is now turning a critical eye to the game’s seemingly misleading promotional material.
Frustrated with the disparity between the game’s trailers, screenshots and “general information” used to advertise No Man’s Sky on its Steam page and what actually features in-game, Reddit user AzzerUK issued a formal complaint to the ASA, using the terms “misleading and misrepresenting”.
“I can’t speak about other countries, but in the UK [there] are regulations about providing advertising material that could mislead a consumer in some way—[for example] displaying things that do not, in fact, exist,” says AzzerUK. “The ASA say they have received a number of complaints, and so the points below are not necessarily all related to things I personally took issue with, but are the issues they have picked out at the most clear-cut problems from amongst all complaints.
“In the ASA response, they say that both Hello Games and Valve have a joint responsibility, and so both organisations have now been contacted by the ASA and have been told to respond to the following issues which the ASA picked out as the primary issues (compiled from a number of complainants that contacted the ASA).”
AzzerUK points out a long list of details, which you can read here, but the list highlights UI design, large-scale combat, flowing water, size of creatures, behavior of ships and sentinels, and aiming systems, among other perceived discrepancies.
The ASA isn’t a legislative organization, but it does have the power to have advertisements which breach its code of advertising practice removed. This, of course, means those ads can’t be used again. This process has now been put in motion, and, should the ASA deem any of the promotional material to fall foul of said codes of conduct, Valve and Hello Games will be required to respond. Sanctions could follow if offending material is not removed.
A section of the ASA’s reply to AzzerUK reads as follows:
“We will ensure the advertisers are made aware of any points relating to other marketing material under their control (such as the Hello Games YouTube channel and website).
“The outcomes of ASA investigations are cross-applicable to other marketing making the same claims, so any decision reached in relation to the Steam page would apply to other advertising for No Man’s Sky where the same (or materially similar) claims appear.”
Speaking to Eurogamer, AzzerUK also notes feeling “personally misled” and while not necessarily harbouring ill-will towards Hello Games and/or Steam, felt obliged to contact the ASA “after seeing just how vastly different the trailers for No Man’s Sky were from the actual released game”.
The investigation is ongoing, however we’ll update as and when we know more. This latest twist in the No Man’s Sky tale trails Sony president Shuhei Yoshida declaring Sean Murray “sounded like he was promising more features” than he could deliver, at this month’s Tokyo Game Show. Hello Games is issuing patches, but they’re not fixing the core objections, lack of depth of the player experience being one of the big ones. Players quickly found that although there are billions of worlds, once you’ve visited a few dozen of them, you’ve seen pretty much everything the game has to offer.
How will Hello Games ride out this controversy, and what will ultimately happen to No Man’s Sky?
Watch this space.