It has not been an easy time for No Man’s Sky. After what can only be described as Molyneux-levels of unrealistic pre-release hype from developer Hello Games’ lead, Sean Murray, reality crashed down hard when it was released in August 2016. Inevitably it was review-bombed on Steam, and that legacy has haunted it ever since. Now, some five years and 19 billion free updates later, No Man’s Sky has finally found Steam’s love with a “Mostly Positive” rating.
Steam’s user reviews have a hefty prominence on any PC game’s store page. Rather than something as simple as a set of stars, Valve’s electronic shop shows in text the average tone of how it’s being received, from “Very Negative” to “Overwhelmingly Positive.” But more importantly, it changes the color of that text according to the reception. Get to “Mostly Positive” (meaning 70 percent or more of the reviews are in favor), and that text goes blue. “Mixed” is a dull yellow. And anything below that goes a sort of angry orange.
Try as you might, as a regular user of Steam, the semiotics of this system embeds itself in your system. It’s hard not to make an immediate judgement of a game before you’ve even read its description, just because of that orange text. (Oddly enough, I think it was because of me that Valve stopped displaying these colors for games with very few reviews, as before a single negative review would see a game marked with the deathly orange words.) Getting orange on your store page is bad, bad news.
So congratulations to Hello Games, whose space epic dwelled in the tangerine torment for a very long time after its colossally noisy and controversial release. Gone is orange, even the muted lemon, but now they find themselves entirely in the blue. (Thanks to New Blood’s Dave Oshry who spotted the momentous occasion.)
And with this, I grant them permission to start charging money for their new content. Five years—five years—they’ve been desperately seeking absolution with an astonishing 17 free updates that have radically changed the game. Just last week they added populated settlements, adding yet another entire genre to what was once merely a space exploration sim. They’ve done it. They’ve, against all the odds, created a game that exceeds the expectations created by some deeply ill-advised hype half a decade ago.