In the pre-online era of home consoles, once a game shipped, it was done. Any bugs that were in the game were there forever. If the mechanics had issues, you had to hope there'd be a sequel that could fix them. If a game didn't hit at launch, the studio behind it just moved on. Games were a carved in a block of stone, for better or worse.
Now we've entered the games-as-a-service model. If a game doesn't stick the landing at launch, many developers and publishers are now committed to making things work. Square Enix has hammered away at Final Fantasy XV since its launch in November 2016 and the publisher still isn't done making downloadable content. Ubisoft took Rainbow Six Siege from a failed launch to one of the most popular first-person shooters on the market. Warframe launched to poor reviews, but over the five years since the game's launch, Digital Extremes has made it one of the most-played games on Steam.
It's in this era that Hello Games has announced No Man's Sky Next. The game's original launch was pushed hard by Sony Computer Entertainment and Hello Games as this massive universe to explore, but when it came time to launch the game, players found the reality didn't live up to the hype. The disappointment was strong and fans lashed out at Hello Games for it.
Hello Games wasn't willing to give up on the game though. No Man's Sky might have disappointed some players to the point that they left completely, but some hardcore fans still believed in the promise: a vast, almost endless galaxy to explore. As long as Hello Games was sticking with it, they were along for the ride.
The developer dropped the first major content patch, the Foundation Update, in November 2016, a few month out from launch. The update added base-building to the game as a major feature, farming for the arboreal players out there, freighter ships to get around the lack of storage, and camps for extended exploration of a planet. In March 2017, they followed with the Pathfinder Update, which introduced the planet-bound exocraft, support for the Steam Workshop, and a permadeath option, while expanding on existing features like base-building.
This culminated in No Man's Sky's third update, The Atlas Rises, which the fervent community took as a deliverance of the promises previously made. The update brought with it 30 hours of new story content, improved waypoints, new planetary biomes, and a new procedurally-generated mission system. Star systems gained dominant lifeforms, conflict levels, and various economies. It gave players more to see, more to do, and more meaningful rewards for exploring the galaxy.
Fans loved it.
When we spoke to them last year, there was genuine excitement for the current state of the game. Hello Games had never stopped working on No Man's Sky and those fans were finally rewarded for their time and effort.
"Just ran the 1.3 patch and to tell you the truth I was so overwhelmed after 30 [minutes] I had to turn off the console. Never seen a patch/overhaul for a game paid or free that has so dramatically improved a game. Amazed," one user told USgamer at the time.
Jump back a decade and you begin to see games getting significant patches and downloadable expansion on home consoles. But even then, most of those additions were bug fixes and previously planned expansions. Some of those games still have bugs and other issues that will never be fully fixed. Today though, developers are more apt just keep working at it until they get it right and find an audience.
The flipside of this phenomenon is developers and publisher are more likely to launch an unfinished product, buoyed by the knowledge that they can keep working on the game. But the fans of Final Fantasy XV, Rainbow Six Siege, Warframe, and No Man's Sky have found more enjoyment in games that developers have kept improving. And why wouldn't they? There's nothing better than seeing something you love continue to grow.
So I look forward to seeing if No Man's Sky Next can make a believer out of me. Maybe this update is exactly what the game needs.