During the darkest days of No Man's Sky's launch, when the negativity became so overwhelming that Hello Games had to call in Scotland Yard, the studio had an internal tumblr. This tumblr was used by the team to highlight all the ways that their game was making an impact in the lives of its players.
"Nothing is more motivating during a hard time than knowing that other people are going through the same thing," Murray said during his talk today at GDC 2019, in which he talked about the developer's journey from inception to release.
Murray's speech marked one of the few instances in which he has really opened up about the experience of releasing No Man's Sky. Originally envisioned as a procedurally-generated universe for players to explore and play in, No Man's Sky was famously crucified by gamers for not living up to its lofty promises.
Murray reflected back on the experience with self-deprectating humor, saying at one point, "If this talk goes horribly wrong, it's just a clever analogy for releasing games I've devised."
During his speech, Murray talked about the team's coping mechanisms, as well as what motivated them to keep going. As criticism and toxic invective piled up, Murray said he "drank from the firehose," with every single email sent to Hello Games going straight to his phone. Murray said he did it to protect the team. "They knew they didn't have to go look at Twitter because it was being taken care of."
What Murray learned from drinking from the proverbial firehose was that the overwhelming majority of the discourse had little to do with the game itself. Rather, he said, the most toxic commentary revolved around general talking points like preorders and marketing. Murray said these conversations weren't particularly helpful.
More useful, he said, was the data gleaned from the second most negative cohort: those who played a hundred hours or more in the first couple weeks. "Thirty-seven percent of people were frustrated by the inventory system. That I could fix," Murray said. "Not just that, but I agree with you! Now we're back to making games."
Hello Games continued to communicate with its community, operating out of sight of the general gaming public and the press. Murray went so far as freely admitting that he shut out the press, claiming that it wasn't the best way to communicate with players. "The press kind of operates kind of downstream from the community. We found glowing articles disappeared rapidly from the frontpage, but a rumor rose up to the top incredibly quickly," adding that he had "never got into games to talk to the press." He would eventually break his silence in a series of interviews with multiple press outlets.
Hello Games has since released multiple updates, culminating in last year's well-received NEXT update. Earlier this month, Hello Games announced an online update, taking yet one more step down the road toward realizing the vision set out back in 2014.
In the wake of No Man's Skys turnaround, Murray talked more generally about the creative process, which he sees as a steady decline in satisfaction from inception to release. He compared releasing a game to empty nest syndrome. "For the majority of developers, release is a real low point. It's kind of an anti-climax," he said.
But with No Man's Sky continuing to motor along and do well with its audience, he now sees it less as empty nest syndrome and more like tending a garden. He called on gamers and developers alike to support and foster innovation, even amid rocky launches.
"Innovation is in such short supply in this industry, and we need to encourage it, we need to foster it. We need to get people to shoot the moon. And if they fail, we need to be there to support them," Murray said.
You can find our No Man's Sky coverage here. Stay tuned as we continue to cover GDC 2019 throughout the week.