Five years after launch, No Man’s Sky has swung to ‘mostly positive’ on Steam

Steam's reviews tell the story of a game that managed to save itself and recapture players' imaginations

A mech walks through a base on an alien planet at dusk in No Man's Sky.

Open-world space game No Man’s Sky has pulled off an incredible feat rarely seen in gaming: it has shifted its status from one meme to another, going from a symbol of hubris and over-optimistic marketing hype to becoming the go-to example of a game that has managed to re-earn players’ good will. ‘Pulling a No Man’s Sky’ is a real thing now, something we all hope happens when a game has a rocky start. This week, that phenomenon was unofficially marked by No Man’s Sky’s all-time Steam reviews ticking over to ‘mostly positive.’

That’s quite an achievement for a game that started out with ‘overwhelmingly negative’ Steam reviews. Indeed, it’s still possible to remember the anger and frustration players expressed for weeks following No Man’s Sky’s initial release five years ago. Players complained about missing features and poor performance, and the furor over the hotly anticipated space sandbox game reached such a nadir that a moderator on the No Man’s Sky subreddit said he was “concerned for my safety.”

Gradually, however, developer Hello Games turned the No Man’s Sky ship around. Major updates like NEXT (which added full multiplayer) in 2018 and this past week’s Frontiers have brought players back to No Man’s Sky and even brought in new ones.

Hello Games founder Sean Murray says it took the team two full years to move from ‘overwhelmingly negative’ to ‘mixed’ in Steam reviews, and the past three years to move to ‘mostly positive.’ Each time a milestone like that happened, he says, it got exponentially more difficult to move the needle: you’d need more positive reviews to change the overall positive percentage.

“In some ways it’s easy to dismiss Steam reviews, it’s a bit of a meme to share the silly ones, but as a developer they are undeniably meaningful,” Murray explains. “For five years now if someone bought No Man’s Sky they had to do it in spite of a red or yellow warning symbol beside our name (and affecting the likelihood algorithm in charge of displaying the name in the first place).”

Murray takes the opportunity to note that No Man’s Sky is kicking off a new season, called the Cartographers Expedition, as well as a new Twitch drops campaign, which will provide in-game rewards for players who watch No Man’s Sky gameplay streams starting this week.