When imagining video games, what’s the first image that comes to mind? Vibrant colors and computer generated graphics? A menagerie of violence and mayhem coupled with the extreme use of audio and visual cues? Or perhaps video games can be viewed by what they’re viewed as by generations before the Millennial, a distraction from the real world. No matter how anyone will slice it, video games have become as integral to the America family as Super Bowl Sunday. What many don’t know about the video game aside from pretty graphics and intuitive gameplay is there are just as many people involved in the development, advertising and distribution of those products as there are people in the financial and manufacturing industry.

With that in mind, those involved in the gaming industry face the very same worries as any other industry in the world. Standard Operating Procedures, Metrics, and Due Dates are very much spoken of and just as much dreaded and if the scope of their product exceeds their budget, ability or time frame, it leads to what they call “Crunch” wherein the development team would when standard 40-hour weeks’ morph into 60, 80, 100 on a regular basis” (Schreier, 2016). Perhaps it’s the idea that the scope of the product becomes too lofty to perform in a normal development cycle or perhaps the team becomes trivialized into performing their tasks to meet an ever-shortening launch date that neither the publisher or the development team may be ready to perform.

The Perfect Storm

Let’s consider that the stars have aligned, the budget is exuberant and the manpower is balanced just right with the workload and deadline (which never happens in the Video Game Industry). The lead designers and project managers are buzzing with the excitement of implementing as many new features and ideas into their project that will have the world careening into near-catastrophe at the sheer sight of the game.

In this case, I’ll take Hello Games – a small video game company based out of Guildford, England- as an example of absurdly high ambition versus what was disastrously released in the end. Hello Games comprises of former employees of companies like Electronic Arts, Criterion Games, and Kuju Entertainment. Having established themselves in the short time of their creation at the 2010 Develop Awards for Best New Studio and Best Micro Studio (Howson, 2010), they looked well on their way of establishing a mind-blowing new Intellectual Property for the world to lay witness to.

With their company director Sean Murray at the helm of their (now) infamous open-world space exploration release called "No Man’s Sky," the stakes were high, the scope was grand and their delivery was nothing short of a sheer disaster.

Lies Lies Lies

One of the biggest problems that faced Hello Games wasn’t the lack of funding or talent as Sony Entertainment was flipping the bill on development costs and the majority of their talent was already established in the game industry. It was the fact that the idea of creating an enormous universe (Literally, universe) filled with wildlife, agriculture, and settlements to explore accompanied with developing your own settlements, establishing trade routes, space combat in a game that seamlessly transitions between single to multiplayer capabilities by way of what has been described as using a programming technique called procedural generation (Scimecca, 2016) which was an algorithm that allowed for randomly generated planets within its universe to have their own unique wildlife, agriculture and environments.

Sounds amazing, right? Sure, if the release was, in fact, true to what was Sean Murray had promised in a multitude of high-profile interviews with game journalists IGN, GameSpot, PC Gamer and even upwards to an interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Behind Every Blade of Grass

But with every outrageous claim he made to the media about multiplayer/single player immersion to epic space battles came just as much doubt, worry, and disappointment when the title dropped August 9, 2016. That’s when things started to unravel rather quickly for Hello Games in what can only be described by the online fan base as “ruinous” (Kuchera, 2016). Something is to be said of a caliber of digital product if the moment it's released, a day one patch is implemented to smooth out a few of the many glitches that were present in the game from dropped frame rates, collision physics errors to all out-application crashes that left some consumers unable to use their $60 purchase as anything more than pixelated paper weight.

The promises of unique worlds and multiplayer shared experiences became apparently unfounded as their procedural generation algorithm merely copy and pasted a multitude of the exact same planets with only varying color palates being the difference.

The promises were found to be lies and what the consumer was left with was an unfinished buggy mess of digital scrap that was ultimately unplayable by most those suckered into purchasing. Refunds went through the roof and Reddit posts were aflame with complaints and bitter criticism of having felt deceived by the developers. In return (and to this day), not a word has come from either Hello Games or Sean Murray since release aside from patch updates made to repair the damaged game.

It seemed the company bit off more than it can chew and ultimately, their delivery has led to what may be perceived as their downfall.

I know it's over

So, where does a developer draw the line between their vision and reality? At best that’s left solely in the hands of the development team themselves. Even with the best of intentions and planning, an implementation may not necessarily work and unfortunately, it’s just one of the many stories of a company head telling tall tales of excess to build hype and excitement in the creation they’re involved in. And like any other industry, they can rely on the charm for only so long and eventually the consumer wants results.