Since No Man's Sky Launched back in August, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has received 23 separate complaints against the game, claiming that its trailer, blurb, and screenshots in the Steam Store misled consumers. The ASA has conducted a thorough investigation into these claims, publishing a meaty report on how it worked with Hello Games and Valve to determine if consumers had, in fact, been misled, and it has concluded that Hello Games has done nothing wrong. The investigation is now closed.
Complaints filed with the ASA included claims that the game looked better in the trailer and screenshots, that animals didn't behave in the same way as depicted, that you couldn't come across the same scale of space battles that were shown, and that there were loading screens despite Hello Games saying there weren't.
The ASA then contacted Valve who denied responsibility for what was said in its shop:
Valve Corporation t/a Steam said they provided a store and distribution service for third-party computer games, on which they allowed developers to post videos and descriptions of their games on pages devoted to those games. Developers were responsible for the content of their games, marketing materials describing the games (including screenshots, narratives and videos), and establishing the game price. With the exception of games published by Valve themselves, neither Valve nor Steam wrote marketing copy for games hosted on the service. They explained that they had a refund policy, under which customers could seek refunds for games that had been played for less than two hours in the first 14 days after purchase. Valve said they had consulted with Hello Games, who would provide information in relation to the complaint.
Separately, the ASA worked directly with Hello Games to confirm and deny each of the claims in the 23 complaints. For each one, Hello Games explained to the ASA that either the feature was in the game or that it had changed but without making a material difference to the game, providing video evidence and explanation of how No Man's Sky worked.
"Hello Games said that, as each user’s experience would be very different, it would be difficult to recreate the exact scenes from the ad," the ASA report states. "However, they believed it was fairly straightforward to locate content of the type shown in the ad and to demonstrate that such content was commonly experienced by all users who played NMS for an average period of time.
They stated that all material features from the ad that had been challenged by complainants appeared in the NMS universe in abundance. While each player experienced different parts of the NMS universe, there was a low probability that anyone playing the game as intended would fail to encounter all these features in some form within an average play-through. They said the game itself was documentary evidence in support of the ad and, since NMS was specifically programmed to enable players to experience everything described in the ad, they were confident that any average player could do so. They noted that some elements were rarer than others; for instance, the larger the scale of a space battle, the more unusual it was, which they believed was to be expected because it made for a more rewarding experience.
With regard to the game features queried by complainants, Hello Games provided gameplay footage showing these features, which they explained showed extracts from NMS on a PC with average specifications; these specifications were given. The majority of the footage provided came from a play-through that had started from the beginning of the game and lasted for four hours. They also provided links to third party footage uploaded to a video-sharing platform by players of NMS, and a copy of the game."
The ASA has decided against upholding the complaints against Hello Games and Valve, providing a thorough explanation as to why in its report. This paragraph, in particular, though, gets across something of the granularity of the complaints submitted:
Complainants had questioned whether the structures and buildings shown in the screenshots and videos could be found in the game. Hello Games provided footage of buildings and structures that were a similar type to those pictured. Some complainants challenged whether water was depicted in the same manner as in the game. We reviewed the Hello Games footage and noted that it showed bodies of water broadly consistent with those shown in the ad. Both these elements were observed during gameplay. A number of complainants were concerned that large-scale space battles of the type shown in one of the videos was not part of gameplay. We acknowledged Hello Games’ assertion that the larger battles were more unusual, and noted the footage they provided of a materially similar type of battle. In relation to these features, we considered that the ad did not depict gameplay that differed materially from the footage provided by Hello Games, and that it was therefore unlikely to mislead. Some complainants had raised concerns that the behaviour of player and non-player ships and sentinels shown in the ad was unlike that experienced in the game. The footage provided by Hello Games showed ships and the player’s vessel behaving in a similar manner to that depicted in the ad. The footage provided did not show a ship flying underneath a rock formation, as in one of the videos, and we had been unable to replicate similar behaviour in the game. However, this was a brief shot within a wider sequence and we did not consider that, in the context of the ad as a whole, this was likely to mislead. Further, some complainants also challenged the depiction of animals in the ads. Hello Games provided footage in response, which we noted showed similar animal behaviour to that shown in the ad. Although animals in the trailer were shown moving large trees, which was not observed in the footage or during gameplay, we considered that this was a fleeting and incidental scene, unlikely in itself to influence materially a consumer’s decision to purchase the game, and that it was not misleading.
"We considered that the overall impression of the ad was consistent with gameplay and the footage provided, both in terms of that captured by Hello Games and by third parties, and that it did not exaggerate the expected player experience of the game," the ASA states. "We therefore concluded that the ad did not breach the Code."