I've pointed to No Man's Sky in the past as the ultimate example in the gaming world of "The opera ain't over til the fat lady sings", but until this past weekend, I'd never actually played it. My boss (who incidently is one of those mythical grown adults who plays both console and PC games and makes distinguishing between the two as somehow separate and distinct groups somewhat silly) has been campaigning for me to try it for at least half a year, and has kept me abreast of Beyond, it's free update released last Wednesday. It is currently on sale at half price for another couple of days and so after giving it til friday for my boss to verify the new update was as promised, I finally took the plunge over the weekend.
I didn't write this to hype a different game on Atlas's boards, but in the sincere belief that all concerned can take something instructive away from No Man's Sky. If you've been living under a rock for the past 3 years, then NMS's launch might be the only one to rate as a bigger charlie foxtrot than Atlas's. When you have legal and regulatory agencies of multiple governments publicly declaring their intent to investigate your game based on allegations of outright fraud, it's safe to say something has gone horribly wrong. Yet Hello games, in the face of massive bad publicity and widespread public rebuke, declared their intention to simply put their head down and go about making NMS into the best possible game they could. If ever a developer had every reason to just walk away, this was it, but they didn't.
Fast forward 3 years. The game I played over the weekend was engaging, it felt fully developed and fun. If I had been unaware of NMS's disastrous launch I would never have known from playing it. I believe NMS is an instructive example for 2 parties in 2 ways. The first will not be what you expect.
For Jeremy and Snail Games, and all other decision makers in the gaming industry, look closely at No Man's Sky and think hard about whether you really want to release your game long before it's anywhere close to a finished product and charge people money for it, whether you call it Early Access or not. Because the damage to your game's reputation if you do so and it goes poorly cannot be undone. No Man's Sky took 3 years to dig itself out of that hole, and what it has arguably lost in the process is the chance to ever be a big hit. It's clawed itself into being a solid game because Hello games put blood sweat and tears into making it that way without ever asking for a penny more from the people who bought their product. But if they had waited until now to release, who knows what it might have been. Certainly more than the 10k average activity steam charts even over the past weekend with a major new content release AND the game at half price. "Long is the road and hard is the way that out of hell leads up to heaven." Indeed. It would seem wiser never to put yourself in hell in the first place, wouldn't it?
Secondly, for everyone who bought Atlas and now despairs of the game's prospects as hopeless and beyond repair: go and have a look. I'm not saying what will be, merely what is possible. If GrapeCard™ were merely shysters looking to make a fast buck, I sincerely believe that they would never have chosen an MMO to do it with, and more importantly, they would probably already have walked away. Atlas is making almost no revenue at this point. Do you see many new players trying the game out? The fact they continue to press forward should be evidence of a significant commitment to produce a viable game. It is entirely possible that the game could still fail, that it's myraid issues may never be satisfactorily resolved enough to attract a meaningful and viable playerbase, but that is only a possibility, not a certainty.
I want to also say a word about the continuing criticism of Atlas's concept as not just pirate themed, but pirate/fantasy. If you don't like the concept, by all means say so, that's useful and legitimate feedback. But at the same time, try to give them credit for trying something new and different. The gaming industry has too little innovation and experimentation at the top these days, as the bigger companies just regurgitate mostly bad sequels to already proven franchises. If Jeremy et al had truly wanted to just create Ark II, they could have done it without taking the chances they have with Atlas. Beyond this, for those that just want to stand on the sidelines, throw stones and jeer instead of offering useful and constructive feedback, I offer the words of Teddy Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”