Gamers Don’t Realise How Games Are Made

You may have seen that a little known game called No Man’s Sky was launched recently. You may have also seen that it wasn’t quite everything people had hoped for. This is to be expected, there were some lofty targets being set and a good 24 months of hype to contend with. It was always going to be tough.

However – one piece of criticism really caught my eye and the eyes of a couple of hundred Twitter and Reddit users. It was this;

The ridiculous notion that online multiplayer could be implemented by a single person in a week was, of course, very quickly shot down. The problem is that this sentiment is pretty deeply ingrained into a large number of the game playing public.

“Developers are lazy. They should just add this, that and the other”. It boggles my mind to think that people are still standing by this ‘developers are lazy’ schtick. It’s been going on for years now and it’s really about time it stopped.

A slight disclosure here – I am a programmer and I have made some small arcade apps in my time. So maybe it’s easy for me to say you should give them slack or maybe this is only an issue because it hits so close to home for me, but I still think a little less ignorance wouldn’t go amiss either way.

I would have hoped with the democratisation of game engines that more people would have dabbled in game-making themselves and discovered the pitfalls first-hand. I honestly implore you to try and make a game. Not even a new game, go and make Pong. See what goes wrong, what corners you have to cut and what design decisions you overlook. Can’t be that hard, right? It’s only Pong. Honestly, take a look at this gamer complaining about mirrors not working and then a follow-up post explaining just how difficult it is to get functional mirrors into a game. This is just mirrors, let alone online multiplayer spanning an entire universe.

Another thing that a lot of gamers don’t seem to appreciate is that game development isn’t a case of simply going from point A to point B and making mirrors work. It’s a complicated mess, a house of cards that can collapse at any time and all the while you have publishers demanding features, requiring demos to be shown and holding the purse strings. Publishers, often the people paying the developer’s bills and promoting the game being made, have been lambasted for years. Sure, it’s getting better, but in the world of NDAs we’ll never know the full story behind many a terrible game release. Instead we’ll just blame the developers and call them lazy? Let’s not.

This all being said, I’m not giving Hello Games a free pass on this one. There were certainly ‘messaging’ issues that should and could have been overcome. If there’s no multiplayer, then just say so. Instead we were treated to cryptic answers in interviews. To be fair, these answers may have been given because, quite frankly, at that point in development Hello Games might not have known exactly what was and wasn’t going to be in the game. If things can go wrong when making something like Pong, I can only imagine the U-turns made when making something of the magnitude of No Man’s Sky.

As always, there’s caveats to even this defence. There have been instances of straight-up lies making it into trailers and other pre-release materials. We’re all familiar with ‘bull shots’ and the nefarious Aliens: Colonial Marines’ over ambitious ‘target render’ trailer.

I think we’re past this now though. Gamers are more savvy when it comes to being lied to and publishers are more wary of making promises that can’t be kept. What we’re not past is the fact that making games is a truly messy affair that never truly goes to plan.

So by all means be upset that the game isn’t what you thought it’d be. Be upset that straight answers weren’t given sooner. Let’s not get angry at the fact Hello Games are ‘liars’ or that they’re ‘lazy’ – because Hello Games, and 99.9% of all other devs in the known universe, are neither.

My advice, try it yourself. Even with the smallest project you’ll see that things go wrong and the end result will be different.



  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. Short and to the point. It brought me back to a time about 15 years ago when I wanted to make a game. I’m not a programmer, but my concept was simple. Plus it was a copy of a game I had played but was no longer available, so I knew exactly what functionality it would have.

    However, as I started learning how to do simple programming (Java) and started researching how to program games, I realized just how hard it is. The best advice I saw was from a professional game developer who described his learning journey. He had done just like you suggested, simple things like Pong. Then took another step to a different kind of basic game like a scrolling shooter. Then another step, etc. By the time he felt himself competent to work on a big project like No Man’s Sky he must have had 10’s of thousands of hours of experience at games programming. And his experience was built up block by block from simple to complex. There are no shortcuts. There is nothing that is easy to code.

    I gave up on my desire to create a game because I’m not a programmer and ultimately my interest is playing not creating. And fortunately someone who is a programmer loved that same game, bought the rights and recoded it for modern hardware.

    I am glad that I took the time to learn what little I did, though. It has given me a little insight into what it takes to be a programmer.

  2. Ok so, whomever said that nonsense about it taking 1 person in 1 week, blah blah blah, they are ignorant and have unrealistic expectations. He/she will probably spend his/her entire life in a state of immense disappointment.

    The real issue with No Man’s Sky isn’t “lazy development.” The issues are both poor design decisions and false advertising. Saying your game has something that it doesn’t, is and should be a fatal business move. As far as I’m concerned you don’t get a second chance when it comes to false advertising. Your company deserves to be buried in law suits to make an example out of you to the rest of them.

    And now we have another issue. The author of this article roping all gamers in with that unreasonable person in your click-bait title. It’s disappointing to me that in 2016 people still aren’t intelligent enough to avoid making generalized statements like there isn’t going to be a huge backlash for it.

    With regards to No Man’s Sky development in parallel with the comments made about how difficult it is to make Pong…if you aren’t ready, you don’t release the game. Period. It doesn’t matter how difficult game design is. It’s irrelevant to make this complaint. Using your own example, there are people in game design who can make functional mirrors in gaming. If you can’t then step aside. We don’t want to hear how difficult it is. I don’t care how hard it is to catch a pig and slaughter it, but I still want my bacon. Keep up or get out of the way.

  3. LMAO at this article.
    You took just one simple piece of criticism, and now for you no gamer understand developing 😀 That says lot about you. Despite the fact, NMS fails in eyes of thousand people, not just because of laziness, but lies, fake ads and other issues.

    This is one big bull article.

  4. Good article, Matthew. It is interesting to see the views from a programmer, someone who is in a different position than the average gamer, and someone who understands how a game is really made. I am not a programmer, and certainly don’t grasp the dynamics behind how a game is created and developed. I do, however, know how to play them! 🙂

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