No Man’s Sky is not the game a lot of people wanted it to be. Over the weekend, people sought refunds en masse, and many reported that retailers like Amazon, Steam, and PSN offered unconditional or nearly unconditional refunds. That’s not entirely true.
No Man’s Sky refunds became the discussion topic du jour on sites like Twitter, NeoGAF, and Reddit, and users began recounting their success stories. Some reported that they’d managed to squeeze cash from Amazon, Steam, and PSN despite set-in-stone refund policies, which led to widespread reports like this one.
The gist? They claimed that those stores—especially Steam—had waived policies like a 14-day maximum amount of time since purchase and, in PSN’s case, a blanket ban on refunding downloaded games. This despite the fact that users were passing around tips—for instance, citing technical issues and asking to speak to live chat representatives instead of sending emails—to get around typical refund policies.
In response to these reports, Steam added an orange (Valve’s official color for Serious Words) framed disclaimer to No Man’s Sky’s page: “The standard Steam refund policy applies to No Man’s Sky. There are no special exemptions available. Click here for more detail on the Steam refund policy.”
I’ve reached out to both Sony and Amazon, but they’ve yet to reply to my inquiries.
While all of this was going on, the discussion surrounding refunds heated up, with some pointing out that if you’ve spent 30, 40, or 50 hours with a game, you’re well past the point of a refund. Heck, that implies you might even like it!
Shahid Kamal Ahmad, a former Sony director who helped secure PlayStation’s No Man’s Sky exclusive, went so far as to say, “If you’re getting a refund after playing a game for 50 hours you’re a thief.” He added, “We’re not talking about a consumer product in the factory sense. We’re talking about a work of art. You can’t just treat it like a widget.”
However, others countered that No Man’s Sky was supposedly gonna last players until the end of time—or at least for hundreds and hundreds of hours. Yeah, that’s a ludicrous expectation, but the game’s marketing didn’t do much to douse it. The game didn’t live up to all of the hype, and it shipped with technical issues to boot. In some players’ minds, that’s enough to qualify it for an exception to refund rules.
Given that No Man’s Sky has sold quite well and seems decently liked by people who weren’t swallowed by the marketing machine, irate players might be a vocal minority. That makes it hard to gauge how widespread refunds and refund requests actually are. SteamSpy, for instance, noted that while the game’s number of owners stopped growing, that might just be margin of error talking. People also danced on the game’s grave when its active player count dropped precipitously after launch, but that too was premature. As PC Gamer points out, beloved games like The Witcher 3, Doom, and Metal Gear Solid V saw player counts drop similarly in the month following their release dates.
That’s not to say the game’s gonna last folks a million-billion years in the way they’d hoped. Rather, it shows that it does have an appeal, and quite a few people are digging it. It’s just not the precise appeal some people wanted it to have. That’s a big sticking point.
This whole incident is worth considering from a broader perspective, though. We now find ourselves caught in a crossfire between expectations and reality, with marketing and consumer culture sitting on the sidelines, egging them on. Questions follow. Is it ever reasonable to ask for a refund after spending 50 goddamn hours with a game, given that many of the biggest, best games offer significantly less? When the stakes are literally All Of Time, does it even make sense to measure the value of a game in hours? Could it ever measure up to expectations? Are marketing and grandiose promises fully to blame here, or did some people also conjure up The Ultimate Video Game in their imaginations?
Perhaps even more of a problem is that, once again, people bought promises rather than a video game. Game development is intrinsically complicated and, to an extent, unpredictable. Pre-release hype cycles run contrary to this, and they often lead to letdowns. As long as conversations continue to focus on hype rather than actual games, this will keep happening. Obsessing over trailers, PR, and breathless nonsense that may or may not have anything to do with the game we’re actually gonna play—it’s a shitty way for us to discuss video games. The only people who benefit from it are game publishers. Players of their games, meanwhile, suffer.
No Man’s Sky clearly isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. But it’s also an interesting, ambitious game on its own merits, and I worry that the race to be The Most Outraged, Best Consumer in the wake of marketing bullshit (and some unfounded expectations) is eclipsing that. In the modern age of hype cycles and endless information trickles, no game gets to exist purely on its own terms, but No Man’s Sky might be getting the rawest deal yet. When it was first unveiled, greeted by a sea of starry eyes and dropped jaws, it landed in the exact right place at the right time. The game was a baseball, lobbed straight at The Zeitgeist’s noggin. Flash forward a couple years, and we see what happens when that ball whizzes by and lands in the stands. Hint: it ain’t pretty.