It’s been a rare good week for Sean Murray and Hello Games. A large number of lapsed No Man’s Sky players are returning, curious to see what effect the recent Foundation update has on the game. And the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has just ruled that the NMS Steam page wasn’t misleading.
The ASA launched an investigation into Valve and Hello Games after it received 23 complaints that the "game content was not as depicted or described."
Much of Hello Games’ defense rested on the fact that No Man’s Sky is procedurally generated, meaning each player has a different experience. The ASA agreed, reasoning that not everyone is going to see the same images shown on Steam.
“The summary description of the game made clear that it was procedurally generated, that the game universe was essentially infinite, and that the core premise was exploration," the ASA said.
"As such, we considered consumers would understand the images and videos to be representative of the type of content they would encounter during gameplay, but would not generally expect to see those specific creatures, landscapes, battles and structures."
The ASA’s ruling is extensive, dealing with many different complaints. Most of these objected to the footage shown on the Steam store. Hello Games said all the material from the ads appears in NMS “in abundance.” Additionally, the AMA said the in-game assets were “similar” to those pictured; bodies of water, for example, were “consistent with those shown in the ad.”
The large-scale space battles that were teased prior to No Man’s Sky’s release were also a point of contention for players. And while Hello Games admitted that they “were more unusual,” it did provide footage showing a similar type of battle, which satisfied the ASA enough to rule that the marketing wasn’t misleading.
Showing “similar” examples of what was seen in the ads was Hello Games’ response to many of the complaints, including the behavior of animals, ships (player and non-player), and sentinels.
The ASA agreed that NMS's interface and aiming systems differed from what was shown in the ads. However, the watchdog said these were “cosmetic changes” that wouldn’t influence a person’s decision to buy the game "as they were superficial and incidental components in relation to the core gameplay mechanics and features."
One complaint not attributed to procedural generation was the discrepancy between the graphics shown in the ads the those in the game itself. But the ASA said Hello Games didn’t exaggerate the quality of NMS’s graphics; rather, they are determined by the power of a person’s PC.
"From the game and the footage provided by Hello Games (including material from third parties), we understood that the game was capable of producing graphics of much higher quality than that shown in the videos and of comparable quality with the screenshots, and considered that the images used therefore did not exaggerate the game's performance in this regard," the ASA ruled.
PC hardware was also put forward as the reason why warping in the game is not as fast as what the ads suggest, though the ASA added that the differences in speed were not so significant as to be material.
Summarizing its decision, the ASA said: "We understood that the screenshots and videos in the ad had been created using game footage, and acknowledged that in doing this the advertisers would aim to show the product in the best light. Taking into account the above points, we considered that the overall impression of the ad was consistent with gameplay and the footage provided, both in terms of that captured by Hello Games and by third parties, and that it did not exaggerate the expected player experience of the game. We therefore concluded that the ad did not breach the Code."
Hello Games will obviously be happy with the outcome, but those who made the original complaints want to take the matter further. Reddit user AzzerUK told Eurogamer: "Such disappointment can lead to apathy in future. As in - why bother making complaints in the future if you feel like even something as in my opinion blatantly misleading as No Man's Sky advertising is not considered misleading?" He now plans to write to the Independent Reviewer of ASA Adjudications.
The ASA may have cleared No Man’s of any wrongdoing, but the controversy surrounding the game’s marketing led to Valve banning bullshots and a change in the way upcoming games are previewed at The Game Awards.