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ASA Investigating No Man's Sky's Steam Advertising

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority is investigating No Man’s Sky. An RPS source filed complaints to the ASA regarding the trailers and screenshots used to sell No Man’s Sky on Steam, arguing that they are unrepresentative of the product being sold. That source – and the ASA have confirmed to us – that the regulator agrees and has contacted both Valve and No Man’s Sky developers Hello Games for their response.

The ASA have compiled a list of the ways in which they believe No Man’s Sky’s advertising is unrepresentative. Here it is in full:

Videos:

User interface design
Ship flying behaviour (in formation; with a ‘wingman’; flying close to the ground)
Behaviour 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

Screenshots:

Size of creatures
Behaviour 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 complaint, our reader tells us, was made not out of malice against this particular game, but rather a desire to make a larger point about the nature of the way he alleges customers are misled by gaming advertising. “My hope,” he tells us, “is this could give Valve a reminder/prod that they themselves have a responsibility, they can’t just blame individual publishers, and this might help them keep future games being listed, more honest.” This wouldn’t be the first time the ASA has ruled related to Steam, after finding a Grand Theft Auto V sale “misleading” late last year.

After being contacted, Hello Games and Valve will have the opportunity to remove the marketing materials voluntarily, and if they do so then the complaint will not be pursued further by the ASA. If no changes are made, the ASA can pursue their investigation further and bring sanctions against both Valve and Hello Games. This all but requires to take down the current trailers and screenshots on the game’s store page, which – without doubt, in my eyes – do not accurately depict the game being sold.

There has unquestionably been a lot of vindictive behaviour in response to No Man’s Sky’s not being what people had hoped/imagined it would be. But there is also room to recognise that No Man’s Sky is undeniably not like the game it’s still being advertised as on Steam. Honestly, I’d assumed they’d have taken down those wholly inaccurate trailers by now, but the game (which I love as much as loathe) is still being sold with years-old promotional material.

Those vast snakes cutting ravines in the ground, the beautiful dinosaurs so elegantly stomping, the ability to upload discoveries without opening the menu, scans taking one second, water lapping against shores, vast fleets of ships warping in to solar systems, AI ships fighting on your side in space, seamless transitions into planet atmospheres, in-atmosphere ship combat… It’s all still there on Steam, and yeah, actually, that’s kind of shocking.

It is of course normal, and almost unavoidable, for a game’s early trailers to not be accurately representative of the final game. Games find their limitations, or make significant changes for good or vital reasons, and of course make iterative aesthetic or design changes in the process of completion and refinement. Complaining about such changes is fruitless, and woefully misunderstands the nature of game development. There is of course a lot of room for debate about the reasonableness of releasing overly ambitious trailers in an attempt to hype player expectation, especially when pre-orders are available (never pre-order, folks!)

But I think a good point is made by raising the issue of such dated promotional material being the front-and-centre face of the game’s store page. Even some of the static screenshots for NMS are unlike the game they’re selling. For instance:

And I’ve played at least a hundred hours of the game and never seen a planet that looks like that most iconic image of the game at the top of this post. Brendan covered these differences, and his disappointment related to them, in a previous post about No Man’s Sky.

We are keeping an eye on both the game’s store page for changes, and the ASA’s bulletins, and will let you know what happens next.

Disclosure: Alec wrote some words for No Man’s Sky which is why he doesn’t write about it for us.

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John Walker

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