The No Man's Sky Multiplayer "Controversy" Rumbles On

By Keza MacDonald on at

Since No Man's Sky's launch, the dominant topic of conversation has been whether or not it has any form of simultaneous multiplayer - and subsequently, whether anyone at Hello Games had conclusively said that it would have multiplayer or not.

It all started when two players found themselves in the same place at the same time in the No Man's Sky universe, against considerable odds. They couldn't see each other. Hello Games' Sean Murray addressed this on Twitter, but was not clear about what was going on: can players see each other in the NMS universe, or can't they? Is this a server problem, or does the feature just not exist?

Reddit threads and Twitter conversations comb back through interview quotes stretching back years, attempting to prove that Sean Murray was or wasn't "lying" about the game's multiplayer features. Most recently, fresh fuel was thrown on the trash-fire by the emergence of photographs of the European special edition packaging, which has a sticker covering up an "online" icon (and a different PEGI rating).

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Images via imgur

There is likely to be an easy explanation for this: fancy special-edition packaging has to be finalised and manufactured months in advance, and Sony and Hello Games may well have been expecting a different PEGI rating. The PEGI system is complex and imperfect - here's a great breakdown of how it works - and sometimes, the original rating awarded by PEGI can be appealed by publishers. In short, things can change, and it can take months, and whoever was in charge of manufacturing No Man's Sky's limited edition packaging may have had to just make a call. Hence the sticker.

Here's what probably didn't happen (in my opinion, and in my experience of game development over long years of reporting on it): a major, complex and fundamental feature like online multiplayer was cut mere months before the game came out. It's not impossible. But it's unlikely.

We don't know for sure, and we won't unless someone at Sony or Hello Games clarifies it. It would be a very good idea for someone to do this soon. Not because either party has an obligation to justify itself, but because the "controversy" around this issue is starting to get out of control.

It seems uncharitable to me to focus on this "missing" feature, which may or may not ever have been planned or implemented, over what No Man's Sky actually is, which is a vast and impressive and, yes, evidently single-player space-exploration game made entirely by a team of under 20 people. Things change during development. This is not the first time that a developer or spokesperson has been inconsistent in pre-release interviews (Murray has said multiple times that players can run across each other, but has also stated just as clearly that this it does not have conventional multiplayer).

I can, however, understand why some players might feel misled, because there is an expectation of transparency and constant communication from game developers now that leads them to say things, over the course of development, that may turn out not to reflect the reality of the finished game. Comb years' worth of on-the-record statements of almost any developer subjected to the same scrutiny as Hello Games, and you will also find inconsistencies.

Fans have shown themselves to be very invested in No Man's Sky, which is something that the developer can't control. What can be controlled, however, is the messaging, and some clarity on what's going on with No Man's Sky's multiplayer - and whether it exists, at this point - is essential to stop this topic from continuing to dominate the conversation.