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When No Man's Sky launched back in 2016, the backlash from players was vicious. The game's subreddit was shut down by its creator because they couldn't stand the toxicity of players. Death threats were sent to developer Hello Games' staff, and bomb threats were made against their offices. The studio had to talk with Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police regularly. The justification for players' aggression was that the game didn't live up to the promise of its marketing.
It's too soon to know if Death Stranding can deliver on the expectations fans have for it, but that will be difficult because of the way it has been marketed by Sony and Kojima Productions. Sony's making the same mistakes it did when it and Hello Games were releasing No Man's Sky's.
The trailers Sony and Hello Games released for No Man's Sky in the years between the game's announcement at the VGX Awards in 2013 and its release in August 2016 showed the marvels of what players would be able to find in the game, but did little to show the limits of that play. The videos showed amazing worlds, mad creatures, battles in open space and flights through asteroid belts. Beyond scale and variety, the trailers didn't show anything of the actual, moment-to-moment play. It wasn't even entirely clear what genre No Man's Sky would be until journalists attended the single hands-on event in the final months ahead of launch.
Interviews, too, didn't help to crystallise what No Man's Sky actually was to players. "We definitely messed up a whole bunch of communication," Hello Games' co-founder Sean Murray told The Guardian in 2018. "I've never liked talking to the press. I didn't enjoy it when I had to do it, and when I did it, I was naive and overly excited about my game."
Murray talked about features that the team were working on at the time but which had to be cut ahead of launch. Limited multiplayer was one of those features and it was something players would hound the team about for months after release.
Hello Games made mistakes in how it depicted and detailed No Man's Sky to its fans, but Sony was there every step of the way. Yet, after No Man's Sky's launch, Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony's Worldwide Studios for Sony Interactive Entertainment, told Eurogamer he understood "some of the criticisms especially Sean Murray is getting, because he sounded like he was promising more features in the game from day one. It wasn't a great PR strategy, because he didn't have a PR person helping him, and in the end he is an indie developer."
Now, bearing that all in mind, see if you can coherently explain what Death Stranding is in a couple of sentences.
Between the trailers that have been released of Death Stranding and the interviews Kojima has given about the game, what exactly will you do in it? When asked what genre it is, Kojima tweeted that it's an entirely new genre called a "strand game":
As I'm getting similar questions so I shall re-post. DS is not a stealth game. Could move subjectively but not a FPS shooting game either. By incorporating with the concept of connection(strand), it's totally brand new genre called action game/strand game(social strand system). pic.twitter.com/1KaQUVH9zL
- HIDEO_KOJIMA (@HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN) June 5, 2019
And his explanation doesn't really offer anything concrete.
While there have been a few long trailers for Death Stranding, showing chunks of gameplay and cinematics, it's still not clear how all the pieces fit together. For instance, is it an open-world game or a linear experience?
Now, I'm still very excited for Death Stranding. But it's frustrating that Sony doesn't appear to have learned the right lesson from No Man's Sky - that when you're making a game that promises technology like you've never played with before, but don't define its limits, then waiting fans will speculate in the space left undefined.
While message boards have been a part of the internet since the beginning, the scale and prominence of sites like Reddit has changed the conversation. Now, within hours of a game's announcement, there will be a dedicated forum to talk about it. People who liked the look of a reveal trailer will begin talking to like-minded others, speculating on what systems a game will include, how long a game it will be, and what hints were dropped in the trailer that will be picked up in the marketing closer to release. Essentially, as soon as a game is announced it takes on a life of its own in the minds of fans and potential players.
Even when there is no news, those message boards can be active with rumour and speculation. It's a testament to how exciting games can be that we can fill so much of our time talking about ones we know so little about.
In the case of No Man's Sky, in the three years between its announcement and its release, fans formed an expectation of something so vast, complex, and rich with features that when Hello Games released the game it couldn't compete with the imagined version.
Is this happening with Death Stranding, too?
Hello Games has managed to reverse the story told about Hello Games has managed to reverse the story told about No Man's Sky. In the three years since its launch, the team has continued working on their epic space game, expanding it with free updates. They've added in full multiplayer, base-building, community missions, and comprehensive VR support. It's a completely different game and one much closer to the game hoped for by the most fervent fans ahead of No Man's Sky's launch.
The tone of the conversation has changed so dramatically that the No Man's Sky community recently raised money to rent a billboard space near the studio's office to thank the team. They raised so much that the extra money was used to buy consoles and games for a local children's hospital.
But while that's a good ending - if indeed this is the ending for No Man's Sky, with plenty of future support promised - it shouldn't be forgotten how miscommunication and the way players now talk about games can lead to such a rabid backlash. Death Stranding is one of the last major exclusives for the PlayStation 4 and if it has a backlash similar to No Man's Sky's then it could mar a near-perfect run of exclusives for the console, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of fans just as Sony starts talking about the PlayStation 5.
Featured Image Credit: Sony
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