The men and women in this series will change how you think about business, music, porn, comedy, gaming and more. They’ve risked it all—even their lives—to do what they love, showing us what can be accomplished if we break the rules. Meet the Renegades of 2016.
Everyone dreams of being an astronaut; Sean Murray made a game that lets you play one. This summer, the 36-year-old’s company, Hello Games, released one of the most ambitious video games in recent history: No Man’s Sky. The gorgeous sci-fi adventure allows players to explore more than 18 quintillion planets—yes, quintillion—thanks to clever environment-generation technology. Travel to massive worlds suffused with rich colors and teeming with alien creatures—then dodge galactic cops in your spacecraft.
The Ireland-born, Australian outback–raised Murray created his first game when he was just five. “My parents always joke that this is all I ever wanted to do,” he says.
Murray founded Hello Games in 2008 with three friends after quitting his job at Criterion, a big studio that got bought by EA, an even bigger studio. Sick of slaving away on blockbusters such as the Burnout series, he wanted to flex his creative muscles. Today that’s not a unique origin story for an independent game developer, but back then, in the days before the Apple App Store, it was.
“We were some of the first people to do that,” he says. “In our minds, it wasn’t some path to success. It was more like, I can’t work here anymore, and I need to go do something different.”
No Man’s Sky, the third release from Hello Games, launched in August after three years of feverish buildup among gamers obsessed with the promise of endless exploration. It’s a high-water mark for video games—and like a true artist, that’s all Murray really cares about.
Playboy spoke with Murray just before the U.S. launch of No Man’s Sky; here’s what he had to say about setting out to make an impact, dealing with fan backlash and exactly what makes Hello Games successful. Read our longer conversation here.
You set out to make something that you felt would have a greater impact than your earlier games.
Yes. This is hard to describe: You’re having this kind of midlife crisis, and you’re not actually thinking, “Oh my God, this is going to blow people away.” What you’re thinking is like, “I don’t know whether I’m a good programmer. I don’t know whether I would actually be capable of doing something like really different.” You know, it’s like challenging yourself. I wasn’t thinking, “This will be some crazy like commercial success” or “This will be some big hit with people.” I was thinking, “I want to do something really cool that I’m excited about,” you know? And that was what drove it.
We actually, when three of us, the three others joined me and we like sat in that room, the pitch to everyone was like: We have just spent a few years making Joe Danger and we made some money from that, and we have to take that money and get it out of us—like do something crazy and burn through this and not worry about ever having commercial success or whatever. Let’s just do something that we really enjoy for the next year and see what we get to.
That was a big motivator: What is going to the best work of your life? What are you going to look back on and say, ‘That fucking nailed it’?
I don’t know how often you go on the subreddit—hopefully not that often because those people are crazy. I think anything that builds to this level, it’s inevitable that there is going to be some backlash, and No Man’s Sky is no exception. How do you guys deal with that aspect of it?
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s a tough one. There’s a thing in video games, I think more than any medium, where this is excitement, and excitement’s really good, but for some reason, for some people, that turns into hype, which is a kind of an unrealistic, intangible level of excitement kind of thing where it’s unattainable. I am always nervous and terrified about people getting hyped about our game. I definitely have always tried to just show great gameplay, stand on stage at E3 and just play the game and be reasonably open and honest about what the game is or what we’re doing, you know, and be open as a studio. And when the game comes out, yeah, there will inevitably be a backlash of some sort, because some people have been waiting for like three years! And it’s actually really hard to wait for anything for three years and feel like justified. You want it to be perfect, you know?
And you’ll have seen that around lots of good games. Destiny had loads of hype around it, and then it was actually when it came out it mildly disappointed people, which I really didn’t understand. But two years later, I’m still playing Destiny and all my friends are still playing Destiny. It does happen, you know, and it’s kind of an unfortunate side effect of the fact that people who like video games fucking love video games, you know?
If you were going to try to be less humble, what would you say that you guys have done to get you here?
We just put aside being afraid of failing, I think. At every point, when we had to make a decision, we would talk about that decision and somebody would point out something being risky or having not been done before or being problematic, and it’s become almost a joke within the group: As soon as somebody points that out, that is the thing we’re going to go and do. As soon as somebody says, “We can’t possibly get it ready for that date,” it’s like, “Oh no. Well, you’ve said it now. The challenge has been laid down and now we have to do that.” [laughs]
And I know that sounds cheesy, but that is–we had already achieved like I would say mild success [with Joe Danger], and it just felt kind of empty and kind of like a failure. And we were like, I would rather kind of be an actual proper failure or properly do something different than how this feels right now. I don’t want this to be our normality.
Meet the rest of the Renegades here.