5th September 2019
Before its launch No Man’s Sky was one of the most hyped games for years. With the promise of an almost endless universe of procedurally generated stars, planets and space stations to explore, all to the soundtrack of one of my favourite bands (65DoS 🙌), I was sold.
Hello Games’ founder, Sean Murray, was sent on a whirlwind PR tour, making appearances on TV shows such as The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in the States, revving up the hype with shots of their impressive tech.
The hunger for the game was real. People were counting down the days until they could explore the universe from the comfort of their front rooms. But then… it launched.
It didn’t take long for people to realise that things weren’t quite right when they got their hands on the game. Early day 1 patches were required to fix game breaking bugs. Even so, many other bugs remained. Most alarming was the lack of content. Yes they delivered on the promises of an expansive, universe exploring sandbox game, but it felt very…empty.
Promises of online multiplayer did not materialise, with a Twitter storm brewing due to the lack of clarity from Hello Games as to what was actually in the game.
Players became frustrated, things looked bleak for a game that showed so much ambition and promise. They had created some amazing tech to power such a procedurally generated universe, but somewhere something (or a combination of things) had gone wrong.
The Stumbling Blocks
Seemingly becoming victims of their own success, Hello Games were simply facing challenges that a large number of SaaS companies face.
PR too Soon
They scheduled the hype train too soon. After initial videos of No Man’s Sky were released, and further released at E3 in 2014, people were flocking to the ‘future potential’ bandwagon. However these were very early demos, and videos at that, nothing playable, so it was unclear how far into development the small team were.
As a development team, what is a fair compromise when it comes to showing the vision vs where in development you’re currently at? In this case, the strategy was focused solely on the vision, providing only video that mimicked it. People assumed the game was further along in development than it was in reality, only adding pressure to deliver.
There is undoubtedly a balance to be struck between ‘what we are we going to build’ and ‘what we have built so far’. Managing expectations.
It did, however, uncover the need to capitalise on the hype as quickly as possible before it fizzled out, leading to…
At the beginning of the project Hello Games were a team of 4. This small team created something that caught the imagination of many, but to develop something of this scale with such a small team would be impossible (or would take an eternity). So they built out the team…to 12 people…
12 people. Some game developers have teams of hundreds. It was always going to be a challenge to say the least in order to create a living, breathing, interactive universe to explore.
Nearly every startup and SaaS company goes through this challenge; creating an MVP (Minimal Viable Product) that is monetizable. Being practical about what you can build within the constraints of the resources you have available to you. In No Man’s Sky’s case, it would be focusing their resources on the core game mechanics and shelving additional features so they could launch with an MVP.
The Redemption Arc
All of the above may sound like a list of things for development teams to avoid replicating, what followed is something SaaS companies should strive for.
While many thought the game was dead on arrival Hello Games had other ideas. They wanted to build the game they originally envisioned. Despite player numbers falling faster than BitCoin in a bear market they stuck to their guns, hunkered down and got developing.
Since its original launch in August 2016 Hello Games have released update after update, adding and improving upon the base game experience, meeting and then exceeding their users expectations. They knew they had a good product, it just needed work – and time.
Committing to the Vision
The first major update, the Foundation Update, included new mechanics to add purpose to mineral farming such as base building (I still suffer from PTSD from the inventory full warnings), bigger ships to buy and explore on top of performance improvements. As the title suggests, it laid the foundations of what was to come.
From there they released several more major updates (all of which are free to download), each adding more functionality and story components to quell the criticism that it was all a bit aimless (which, to be honest, I thought was the point. Space is pretty big…). Add in new battle modes, vehicles, biomes and eventually the long awaited multiplayer mode.
From Under to Over Delivering
Their latest update, Beyond, came out 3 years after initial launch, adding their most ambitious feature yet – VR compatibility.
You can now explore planets and fly around space like you’re actually there. It’s something quite special and a huge testament to Hello Games and their dedication to their baby.
It may have taken time, but they delivered and exceeded on their promises. Their determination to create what they envisioned should be commended and be an inspiration to SaaS companies everywhere; if you stick to your convictions you can deliver on even the most ambitious goals, despite the hiccups and detractors.