Following the launch of No Man’s Sky, complaints were filed by several customers to the UK’s ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) over misleading advertising of the game. The ASA has now cleared Hello Games and Valve of any wrongdoing.
It’s a lengthy report but it’s worth taking a look through the assessment below to show why the ASA did not uphold the 23 complaints that were filed against No Man’s Sky. If anything, it shows that consumers have to be careful when making a buying decision based on trailed features and footage.
The ad contained several screenshots and two different video trailers for the game, as well as a text description. We understood that, as NMS was procedurally generated, player experiences would vary according to what material was generated in their play-through. The summary description of the game made clear that it was procedurally generated, that the game universe was essentially infinite, and that the core premise was exploration. As such, we considered consumers would understand the images and videos to be representative of the type of content they would encounter during gameplay, but would not generally expect to see those specific creatures, landscapes, battles and structures. We therefore considered whether the game and footage provided by Hello Games contained gameplay material of a sufficiently similar type to that depicted in the ad.
We understood that the user interface design and the aiming system had undergone cosmetic changes since the footage for the videos was recorded. However, we did not consider that these elements would affect a consumer’s decision to purchase the game, as they were superficial and incidental components in relation to the core gameplay mechanics and features. We therefore did not consider the ad was likely to mislead in that regard.
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.
With regard to concerns that the ad exaggerated the quality of in-game graphics, we understood the graphical output of the game would be affected by the specifications of each player’s computer, and considered that consumers would generally be aware of this limitation. We also understood the ad footage had been captured on a PC of broadly typical specification for the platform on which the ad appeared, and that the videos were presented with a lower frame rate than would ordinarily be used when playing the game. From the game and the footage provided by Hello Games (including material from third parties), we understood that the game was capable of producing graphics of much higher quality than that shown in the videos and of comparable quality with the screenshots, and considered that the images used therefore did not exaggerate the game’s performance in this regard. Two screenshots showed water and a type of illumination in higher fidelity than we had seen in the footage or during gameplay, but we did not consider that the difference was so significant as to mislead in this context. Some complainants were also concerned that ‘warping’ between systems was not as fast as shown in the ad. As with graphic performance, we understood that speed of warping would depend on the complexity of the destination system and the characteristics of a player’s computer, and considered that consumers would generally be aware of such dependencies. The footage provided by Hello Games showed a warp that was a couple of seconds longer than the one in the ad, and we understood that this example involved a more complex planetary system. During gameplay we experienced warp sequences to similar complex systems lasting in the region of 16 seconds. Although we understood that some players may have experienced longer warp times, in the context of an ad showing general gameplay we did not consider that such differences in speed were so significant as to be material. We considered that the ad did not provide a materially misleading impression of these gameplay aspects.
Text in the ad stated “Fly smoothly from deep space to planetary surfaces, with no loading screens, and no limits”, we considered that the reference to ‘no loading screens’ would be understood as a reference to a lack of interruptive or non-immersive interstitial screens during travel from deep space to planetary surfaces. Some complainants questioned whether the ‘warp’ sequence shown when travelling between systems was a loading screen. We understood that during the ‘warp’ sequence the new system would be generated and that, in this sense, it might be thought of as a ‘loading screen’. However, it did not represent an interruption to the gameplay experience, as it was contiguous and consistent with the preceding and following gameplay sequences. We also understood that warping was only used when travelling between systems, rather than travelling directly from space to a planet’s surface whilst in a solar system, and was not used particularly often in comparison with other game mechanics. We also noted that warping was featured in one of the videos in the ad, and that consumers would therefore be aware that this sequence took place during interstellar travel. Taking these elements into account, we did not consider that the ad was likely to mislead consumers materially about this aspect of the game.
In relation to the claim “trade convoys travel between stars”, the footage provided by Hello Games showed trade ships ‘warping’ into systems after travelling between solar systems. We therefore understood that this feature existed in the game. With regard to the claim “factions vie over territory”, we considered that consumers would understand from this that more than one faction would be present in the game, holding specific territory, and that there would be aspects of the game relating to tensions over territories and faction activities. We understood that players could interact with three different factions, who occupied specific areas, and could take part in battles between opposing factions (which would increase their reputation with the faction they defended). Noting the explanation and footage provided by Hello Games, we did not consider that this description differed materially from the relevant gameplay features.
We understood that the screenshots and videos in the ad had been created using game footage, and acknowledged that in doing this the advertisers would aim to show the product in the best light. Taking into account the above points, 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. We therefore concluded that the ad did not breach the Code.
The full response on the case can be read on the ASA site detailing the investigation into false advertising of No Man’s Sky.