For the past two weeks, various communities across the internet have expressed distaste and, in some cases, anger at information recently released regarding Hello Games’ upcoming adventure survival title, No Man’s Sky. The game is set to release on the 24th of June this year at the retail price of £39.99 ($59.99). Why the outrage? There are many that feel this price is far too high for the game, and the likely reason why is one that saddens me; No Man’s Sky is an indie game.

No Man's Sky spaceThere’s been a very noticeable mindset persisting for quite some time that indie games hold inherently less value than that of their Triple-A counterparts. Franchises like Call of Duty and FIFA are home to titles that usually fall around the £40 price point, with some even stretching beyond this in recent years. But when we look to indie games, the buy-in is typically far lower than this. Why? The inherent nature of indie games tends to suggest that their development studios are smaller, in many cases merely consisting of one or two individuals. Of course, the less people working on a project, the longer that project is going to take, and with such a competitive market and the need to sustain oneself, the games from these independent studios can be smaller and/or shorter experiences so that they don’t take multiple long years to complete. The prices of these games are (usually) directly proportionate with this reduced size, the expense rarely reaching past £20.

Basic human psychology tells us that the brain identifies patterns and trends, using these to make predetermined decisions and assumptions so that functioning in our surroundings is easier. It’s safe to suspect that this also applies to the cost of indie games in some regard. Due to the aforementioned circumstances of many independent developers, the prices do remain around these low figures as a whole, and so our minds become comfortable with the pattern, which leads us to make assumptions about what the prices of indie games will be in future. Anything different to this norm runs the risk of causing discomfort because it breaks the pattern. This still happens even when an indie game has not suffered the same restrictions as that of its counterparts.

the witness island snapshotWe saw this with Jonathan Blow’s The Witness, which charged £29.99 ($39.99) at launch and continues to do so today. Blow had spent the past seven years working on The Witness, and it’s of such high fidelity and so rich in content that it could be indistinguishable from a game produced by a large-scale studio. But the very fact that it was a game produced by a collection of independents meant that for many it broke the mould, and led to complaints about its price. It’s exactly what we’re seeing now with No Man’s Sky. But whilst it’s all well and fair to observe the reasons behind this mentality and appreciate the logic of it’s conception, that’s not to say that it’s a mentality shared by everybody. But it’s one that a worrying amount of people have, and it needs to be reformed.

Rather than link independent games to low prices, we should be comparing a game’s monetary value to the content that it can provide. The Witness is an indie game, but it’s so intricate, so well-made, and so extensive that it’s very much worthy of it’s £30 price tag. Alternatively, observe The Order: 1886. It has a Triple-A price tag and is considered a Triple-A game, but the content is minimal and the play time lacking, not something that one would hope for in exchange for £40. We could say the same as what we said about The Witness  when looking at No Man’s Sky, from what has been shown to us. If the projected scope of the game is to be believed, then it will be content-packed enough to warrant it’s cost. But… therein lies the problem. I’ve talked about the reasons why we shouldn’t be concerned and questioning of No Man’s Sky, but that’s not to say there are still large considerations to be made and discussions to be had. Namely, what do we actually know about the game, and does it warrant the necessity of a £105 ($149.99) collector’s edition, among other things?

No Man's Sky Explorer's Edition

Thus far, information about No Man’s Sky has been rather sparse. Eurogamer’s Dan Silver managed to get a discussion with the project lead, Sean Murray, who said a lot, but it wasn’t anything with explicit substance; no screenshots or specifics, just bold claims and promises, so we should take it with a pinch of salt. The concern here is that Hello Games have not provided us with enough information to rightfully incentivize its prospective buyers with pre-orders and aforementioned collector’s editions, and instead has elected to mask this lack of knowledge with incessant hype generation, something that Jim Sterling touched upon in his episode of the Jimquisition regarding the matter. ‘Gameplay’ trailers and professions of extensive gameplay time and chocka-block content aren’t, as far as we know, grounded in fact, but it’s enough to have won over a fair few to the extent of making an early investment.

This is a problem because the aforementioned hype machine dispenses potentially imprecise information presented as truth (We’ve seen examples of misleading hype in games such as Aliens: Colonial Marines, and arguably Fallout 4) and therefore should not be used to make such informed decisions. Alas, people are making those informed decisions because of it, and whether that’s the fault of the individual or Hello Games’ possibly misleading marketing, none can be sure – perhaps measurements of both. This is what we should be concerned about, rather than the prospective cost of the experience. It’s not the price of the game itself that should be the topic of discussion, but rather the truth behind the claims and the need for more information to justify that price that we should be talking about.

What are your thoughts? Share them here, talk to your friends, generate discussions and debates on social media. Because this is something that needs to be tackled, and the way to do so is to talk about it as much as possible.

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Astrid is the equivalent of Lenin if Indie Haven were the Bolshevik Party. But it's not, she's just the Editor-in-Chief. When she's not mashing Communism into video games and writing about how it makes sense on her personal website, they're manning the ship here, as well as writing news, reviews, and features all about the indie games industry.

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  • Tom

    It seemed to me like there’s plenty of information about NMS, but with lots of room for mystery so that we can be truly awed when we stumble on something unexpected. I haven’t really followed the gaming industry for a few years, so maybe the level of pre-release information is normally expected to be much higher. Is that the case? Do games normally get fully described before release: every level, every weapon, every mechanic? That would seem to me to reduce the opportunity for surprise and magic.

    One of the key things that convince me that NMS will have the complexity to interest me for a long time was the understanding that the procedural generation has a lot of underlying logic and interaction between elements. If landforms, climate, botany and zoology were all arbitrarily juxtaposed, then that would get monotonous rather quickly, no matter how many planets there are. But from Sean’s interviews and what you can see from careful inspection of the gameplay, it seems that these all interact in ways that create lifelike emergent behaviours and logical linkages that will be intriguing to observe and investigate.

    For instance, we know that the colours and climates of planets will depend on the types of stars, the distance from them, and the chemical composition of the planets. Landform and biomass will interact, for instance when Sean mentioned that some species of tree only grow on certain slopes. The appearance and behaviour of the lifeforms will be dependent on the chemical makeup of the planet, and different species will have varying behaviours that reflect their habitat and interact with each other in sometimes surprising ways (for instance, the carnivorous plants that surprised the developers by preying on birds).

    Based on that, and the already highly diverse selection of planets shown in the videos, I’ve got more than enough information to know that I’m highly likely to want to play this for a long, long time. Just playing in explorer/naturalist mode, watching the way that species interact or setting myself challenges like reaching a distant mountain on foot, would keep me engaged for weeks. But Sean has also said that planets and lifeforms get more extreme and more threatening towards the centre of the galaxy, giving me more incentive to involve myself in mining/trading/crafting and space travel than I otherwise would.

    So for players like me (admittedly not a typical “gamer” type, who’s more interested in ambient/meditative environments and exploration than competition and combat), there’s more than enough already information to get me excited. But I also get the feeling that Sean’s been deliberately holding back vast segments of gameplay and variation, including whole classes of animal, landform and astronomical phenomena, so that the first time we come across these we will feel a real sense of awe. That’s why No Man’s Sky is the first game to tempt me back into gaming after over a decade of not being bothered.