By Chris Byrne
Whilst the Internet for the most part has been a great tool for us all to stay connected - more specifically in this case with video games, the communities it draws and the news and discussion it inspires - there’s no doubt how toxic this can unfortunately sometimes be.
In any gaming community, you will have a small section of fans who can act unfavourably to other players of the game; take to similar competing games and it’s not unusual to find fans of one vilifying those of the rival, and so on. Not only that, but video game personalities all too often find themselves attacked due simply to an opinion they express upsetting someone and inspiring online rage. Most recently, we witnessed the hate being directed towards Hello Games, the creators behind No Man’s Sky, by a small subset of fans, for delaying the game for a relatively short amount of time - just 7 weeks.
No Man’s Sky, if you didn’t know by now, is a procedurally generated game, which is ambitiously aiming to give players an entire universe to explore. The small indie development team of roughly 14 people have a huge amount of expectation on their shoulders in trying to make this game meet the hype that has been generated by its fan-base - for a game that isn’t even out yet. Rightfully so, the developers have put the quality of the product ahead of meeting the original release date, in order to deliver what they have aimed to achieve with this title. Ultimately, what matters is when this game does come out, hopefully it turns out to be a great game. The consequences of rushing a game out before it’s ready have been proven time and time again. Look at the state in which the most recent Homefront game was released, with performance issues on all platforms making the game unplayable for a lot of people. Compare this to Uncharted 4; a game delayed a total of three times. That extra time was needed to get that game to the level it needed to be, and herein lies the point: Would you not prefer to wait and spend your money on a more polished product? In the case of No Man’s Sky, a mere two-month wait is hardly the end of the world.
This ties into a bigger problem and the crux of this article. After posting online that No Man’s Sky would be delayed, the developers had to bear the brunt of death threats from people overly desperate to play this game. Not only that, but the original stories covering the delay also generated the same rage and equivalent threats towards the people unlucky enough to be doing their job, reporting on what turned out to be the genuine news of the pushed back release - the website Kotaku. What’s perhaps unusual in this case is the fact that No Man’s Sky is meant to be a fairly relaxed space exploration game, juxtaposing even further this vitriolic anger sparked by these disgruntled fans.
It’s becoming a growing trend that small communities of gamers can get so angry at a minor occurrence such as a delay that it can drive troublingly vicious online behavior. For some of these people, No Man’s Sky and many other games have become a focal point of their lives, even before release. When it occupies so much of what they care about, being so emotionally invested can cause some to lash out in an unhealthy way if a game does get delayed or fails to meet the expectations set by that demographic. Credit where credit is due to Hello Games, they’ve handled this very well, making light of the situation on social media. However, this doesn’t change the fact that this is a worrying problem; and perhaps even more disconcertingly, one that many developers will comment as being nothing new to the industry.
One could cite various reasons as to why this happens. Many will have developed a sense of ownership of the franchise. Following this game from the start of its initial reveal and being a part of the communities involved with this or any IP (gaming or otherwise) can create that sense of personal investment. Of course, these comments are also being posted via the internet, and we’ve seen all too often just how unaccountable the medium can be, even in the context of threats of this nature, however ‘trivially’ they might have been issued. There could be a case made for publishers’ advertising activity having potentially ‘over-hyped’ a game. In the case of No Man’s Sky, the game has been presented very heavily by Sony at their press events since first being shown at E3 2014. There could also understandably be the some frustration for those who have, for example, booked time off work to play it on release. Regardless, it is highly questionable to try and justify the level of outrage that this delay has caused. To a degree I understand it, as I’m guilty of getting excited for a release or having a game be on my mind for months on end. After being so utterly engrossed by Bloodborne, my expectations and anticipation levels for Dark Souls 3 were high to say the least. That being said, I always tried to keep my expectations in check and brace for the possibility of that game not matching my own hype.
As stated, No Man’s Sky already has ridiculous expectation from its fan-base. An example of this in the past would be the game Spore, where the gameplay and longevity of the final game sadly felt underwhelming in the face of the pre-release build-up and the hugely original Creature Creator. It emphasizes why you shouldn’t let yourself be defined by a single product; make it the centre of your world and you run a huge risk of being disappointed.
Another example is the petition to remove a recent score on Metacritic for Uncharted 4, just because it lowered the average score. Does this really matter? If you like a product, why should you need to feel validated in your purchase by checking scores on a game? I myself love Uncharted 4. Is it flawless? Of course not and no game is. The end boss fight is awful; it runs at 30 fps; some of its competition does the platforming and shooting elements better; the cut-scenes for some people are a little too long; you get the picture. Is it still a great game? In my opinion, absolutely it is. That doesn’t render it or any game - tag-lined with ‘Masterpiece’ or not - free of criticism. Again, why should the view of one critic diminish your personal enjoyment of the game? What makes this worse is the fact that Troy Baker, voice actor for Sam in the game, retweeted the petition. As a musician I understand the frustration when someone criticizes your work; especially unfairly as this review seemed to do. Nevertheless, whilst he later apologized, it’s a shame that someone I admire so much for his incredible voice acting talent could feed this obsessive fandom by sharing this post. Frankly, someone who knows the industry as well as he does should have known better. The importance of free speech cannot be understated, and we must accept criticism and opinions openly in order to better gaming as a medium.
I say this to you as someone who has problems with depression, anxiety and obsessively over-thinking some issues in my personal life to the point of feeling physically and mentally sick. It’s not a healthy thing to be owned by those thoughts. Whilst games are a release from that, it’s always valuable to be realistic and understand the circumstances of how challenging video game development is. This way we can keep this medium as something to be positive about and think rationally over, rather than crashing into outrage if things don’t turn out the way we want them to. It’s perfectly logical to set your expectations for an unreleased game at a reasonable level, especially if this anticipation can push a select few as far as threats directed toward the developers of the very game they’re looking forward so much to playing. In this and so many other instances, it’s worth remembering that delays are difficult decisions typically made to try and ensure the game matches the developers’ vision, and the gaming community will likely be all the better for it. I myself am happy to wait for this game and any other game that needs a delay, and I’m both cautiously optimistic and sceptical for No Man’s Sky. In the meantime, there are some other great games to play.
Stay tuned to The Midnight Gamer for all the latest and greatest from the video gaming world. No Man's Sky will be releasing in North America on 9th August 2016, in Europe 10th August and in the UK 12th August, coming to PS4 and PC. Developed and published by Hello Games, it is being distributed by Sony Interactive Entertainment on PS4 and iam8bit on PC.