There are very few games that have followed the trajectory of No Man's Sky. The hype was huge, the launch a letdown, and then over the course of three years fans went from demanding special exceptions for refunds on Steam to paying for a full-size "thank you" billboard. It's one of the best comeback stories in videogame history.
Hello Games recently released The Last Campfire, a very different and much smaller sort of experience, but the studio isn't sticking to that style of game alone from here on. Founder Sean Murray told Polygon that the studio is currently working on another "huge, ambitious game like No Man's Sky." He didn't reveal anything about it, but he did share some thoughts on lessons learned from the launch of No Man's Sky, including that, in the end, he really regret the path it took.
"There is this poison chalice or deal with the devil that I think any indie game developer would find actually a very difficult choice, right? The choice that we had with No Man's Sky, where if I was to go back again, I would find it very difficult to know what the right path was," he said. "Where you will have incredible interest in your game, you will have a huge amount of excitement for it. But you will be in a rocket ship, launching towards the sun, and you will be building that rocket on the way up.
"And there is an excitement and a craziness to that. Where we've ended up with the game, where we have hundreds of millions of hours played and a really happy community and all of that kind of thing, you know, I’m okay with that deal that we did, right?"
That "deal" is presumably a reference, at least in part, to Hello Games' marketing partnership with Sony, which included the game in its 2014 presentation at E3. That drove expectations through the roof, and also caused some consternation when the game began to look like it might be made into a PlayStation 4 exclusive. (As it turns out, the PC version came out just a few days behind the PS4 release.)
That isn't to say that Murray is eager to do the same thing all over again, especially given the effect it had on Hello Games' staff. "That was a very, very hard process and I wouldn’t want to put anyone through that again," he said. The success of No Man's Sky (which, four years after its release, remains a regular presence in the Steam top 100 list) probably means that the studio has the stability and experience not to have to repeat the past. The studio took a completely opposite approach with the launch of The Last Campfire, dropping it by surprise on the Epic Games Store last week, and Murray said he's not sure how he wants to handle the next game. From the sounds of it, though, the lead up will be more subdued.
"I look back, having done a lot of different press opportunities and things like that. And I reckon about half of what we did—and a lot of where we had problems, I think, where we were naive—we didn't really need to do and we would have had the same level of success, you know?" he said. "A lot of opportunities were put in front of us, and we were told that they were the right things to do and I look back and I'm not sure that they were super, super important to the overall outcome kind of thing."
He's not the only one to think so: In 2016, Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida was also critical of Hello Games' approach, saying, "It wasn't a great PR strategy."