Advertising Standards launches investigation into No Man's Sky
Do videos and screenshots misrepresent the game?
The Advertising Standards Authority has confirmed to Eurogamer that it has launched an investigation into No Man's Sky.
The watchdog launched its investigation after receiving "several complaints" about No Man's Sky advertising, a representative told me.
The ASA has the power to have advertisements it believes are in breach of its code of conduct withdrawn, and prevent them from appearing again. If an advertiser refuses to comply with an ASA ruling, it can impose sanctions, such as asking internet search websites to remove a marketer's paid-for search ads.
The investigation is on-going, and so the ASA declined to comment further, but one of the complainants revealed details of its response in a post on Reddit.
The investigation revolves around No Man's Sky's Steam store page, which includes assets some believe misrepresent the controversial space game.
The ASA has contacted both Hello Games and Valve and asked them to respond to a raft of questions relating to No Man's Sky advertisements.
Complaints centre around screenshots and videos that feature more advanced animal behaviour, large-scale combat and ship-flying behaviour than ended up in the launch version of the game. Complainants also say screenshots misrepresent the graphical quality of the game.
There are also complaints around the Steam store page's reference to a lack of loading screens and factions that contest territory.
While the complaints target Steam, the ASA said any ruling would apply to other advertising for No Man's Sky, such as official YouTube videos and the game's listing on the PlayStation Store.
No Man's Sky and its chief developer Sean Murray have come under fire since the August launch of the hotly-anticipated game, with some players feeling it did not turn out as promised.
"AzzerUK", the Reddit user who issued a formal complaint to the ASA, told me he doesn't feel enraged at No Man's Sky, Hello Games or Steam, but felt the need to contact the watchdog "after seeing just how vastly different the trailers for No Man's Sky were from the actual released game".
AzzerUK did not request a refund for the game, "but I did feel personally misled", he said. "The marketing of the game was very different to the end game. The end game is a shallow screenshot generator, and in some ways it reminded me of Spore.
"I figured that if we want Steam store pages for games to start falling in-line and stop misleading consumers, then it would take consumers to point these problems out to the ASA, rather than all sit around on Reddit complaining to each other but assuming that it'll all get sorted by itself eventually."
AzzerUK said he hopes that his complaint could spark Valve and other companies in control of video game storefronts "to start forcing publishers that use its platforms to show realistic, actual, genuine, non-pre-rendered or scripted gameplay trailers and footage, and screenshots actually taken in-game from real game code that is going to be what the consumer purchases".
AzzerUK's actions were met with a mixed response on Reddit, with some expressing anger, others concern that the ASA investigation could hold up Hello Games from improving No Man's Sky with updates. Some wondered why someone would go to the trouble of complaining about video game screenshots and videos in the first place.
"I feel most people on the Reddit thread wanted to see Hello Games 'punished' directly though, rather than share my more generalised view that the game's marketing needs to be brought down to earth a bit more," AzzerUK added.
Players discovered No Man's Sky's distinct lack of multiplayer, despite Murray's comments in interviews that the game would feature a mechanic in which two-players could see each other - however unlikely it is that they would meet.
In August I reported on disgruntled No Man's Sky players who tried - and failed - to get a refund from Sony.
Sony's stringent refund policy is in stark contrast to that of Valve, which sells the PC version of No Man's Sky on Steam. Steam gives players a no questions asked refund if the request is made within 14 days of purchase, and the title has been played for less than two hours.
Interestingly, there's a note on No Man's Sky's Steam store page that stresses that the standard Steam refund policy applies to the game. "There are no special exemptions available," it reads.
At Tokyo Game Show this month, Shuhei Yoshida, the president of Sony's Worldwide Studios, told Eurogamer he understood why some fans were critical of No Man's Sky - and blamed Hello Games' pre-release PR strategy for building up unrealistic expectations.
Sony told Eurogamer that Hello Games was the developer of the game and the publisher of the PlayStation 4 digital and PC versions. But Sony was the publisher and distributor of the Blu-ray disc version of the game.
In declining refunds, Sony has told No Man's Sky players that the game changed over the course of development, to expect patches to address glitches, and said the game will continue to evolve and benefit from new features over the coming months.
Eurogamer has contacted Hello Games, Valve and Sony for comment.