No Man’s Sky and the Indie Excuses

No Man's Sky space battles

No Man’s Sky, the biggest game in the world right now, sure has its faults, something which I covered over here. After sharing the article, I noticed a response crop up a few times that I had previously heard a lot in the past, as if it was an excuse for some of its shortcomings.

“It’s an indie game.”

Here’s the thing, though: No Man’s Sky is not an indie game.

Granted, No Man’s Sky had been independently developed by Hello Games after they rejected help from Sony to fund the project (although there is a Sony QA team working on ironing out the post-release problems as we speak), but once the Japanese gaming giants became involved with the cranking of the cogs on the hype machine, it left its indie roots behind and became something much bigger.

Sony have been relentless to the point of exhaustion in promoting No Man’s Sky as of late, drip-feeding new trailers, releasing adverts online, and even getting the talents of Bill Bailey onboard to help promote it. Call me crazy, but I don’t remember seeing Jim Gaffigan trying to avoid getting drowned to sell more copies of Inside.

No Man’s Sky still being an indie game is an arguable point, but for a response to that, you only need to look at Hollywood.

Whenever a low-budget film is picked up by a big studio, rarely do you see it remain as a proud indie. As soon as the lights went on in the heads of producers that Paranormal Activity would be a big seller, it stopped being described as such, despite costing less than the mortgage on a small house to produce. Picking up something from the smaller circuits and repurposing it as The Next Big Thing is nothing new and is actually one of the smartest marketing tricks in the book – Sony knew what they were doing when they backed a crazy idea from a studio whose only previous credits were portable platformers. The indie mentality was dropped and the hard grind of AAA production began, which is why the game is full price and not the typical $10-$30 dollars for an indie title.

Regardless of whether you agree with me on No Man’s Sky, another question has to be asked: if it is indie, why should it instantly be guarded from reproach?

No Man's Sky

It’s something I see time and time again when it comes to reviewing smaller games; people preferring to not be too critical because of the game’s circumstances during production. Just because a game might have been made by three people in an attic, it doesn’t mean that it should be instantly shielded from the same criticism that AAA games see the worst of. Giving bad, or just plain average, games a pass just because you admire its humble origins doesn’t work for me.

No Man’s Sky has its issues, but for the most part, it’s a fantastical vision successfully brought to life. It absolutely hasn’t matched the overblown hype it’s been receiving for three years, coming with the same amount of mistruths and missing content you can attribute to your regular AAA game. The truth is, No Man’s Sky is a AAA release which is handily and cynically protected by the same “humble indie” tag that might have applied when it was first announced, but certainly not now. Big publishers know that indie games are far less likely to receive criticism than their big-budget counterparts, which is exactly why you’re seeing more smaller games being picked up by the big guns.

No Man’s Sky could be the first of many “AAA-ndie” games we see in the years to come: small developers making the “admirable indie” before the publisher sells it to the public, reaping the rewards without a worry about their own reputation. If you’re one of many who still defend the game’s issues because it’s “an indie game”, you might be part of the problem.

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