Destiny is one of the more popular games available, both for the current and past generations of consoles. I would wager that every person who currently plays video games has either played, read about, or been made aware of acclaimed developer Bungie’s flagship title. Now in its second year, the game and community that has formed up around it have both flourished.
Yet there’s been growing discontent over the past couple of months from fans, and it’s getting louder every day. Why is that, and what can be done about it? To find out, first we need to look back at when Destiny was originally announced.
A Look Back
When Bungie first unveiled Destiny, it felt like the perfect wish-list of a game, checking off as many boxes with as as many player demographics as possible:
- A first-person shooter (FPS) from the company that created Halo, one of the most influential shooter series of the past 15 years? Check.
- Stats-based gameplay, continuous drops of new armor/weapons/loot, team-based missions for the massively multiplayer online (MMO) crowd? Yes, check.
- A story that would carry you to new worlds, meet (mainly shoot) new species/races, lore up to your eyeballs, and a perpetual companion voiced by Tyrion Lannister himself, Peter Dinklage?! Check and check.
- An announced roadmap with downloadable content expansions (DLC) planned for the rest of 2014 and well into 2015? Oh, you better check that box also.
At launch, there were admittedly a lot of growing pains, but in hindsight, this should have been somewhat expected since the company had previously developed console games with finite cycles of playability. Destiny was something completely different: a living, breathing, console-only MMO that needed constant maintenance, patches, balancing, fixes, and more. In short, the game will never be “complete”; it will always be worked on behind the scenes for what I imagine both Bungie and parent company Activision hope is a long time.
But despite that rocky start, the game succeeded on so many levels. We fell in love at first sight with this amazing universe and everything it promised us. What made it continue to succeed, however, was the community of all the amazing fellow Guardians. I’ve read in many articles, and experienced many times firsthand, how truly positive, supportive, and innovative the Destiny community can be.
Here’s a perfect example: A lot of the endgame content requires you to group up. The endgame has specially designed levels (i.e. raids) for six-player groups that needs massive amounts of coordination and firepower; in addition, there’s ranked, elimination-style player-vs-player (PVP) matches to see who’s the best of the best. The game itself doesn’t allow you to match up randomly with a group for all this content. So for a good while, there were a lot of people (myself included) that wanted to play the raids and PVP but didn’t necessarily have a lot of people on our friends lists that played Destiny.
So what happened was good old fashioned ingenuity: Looking-for-group (LFG) threads started on forums and Reddit, and from there they turned into LFG websites, where you could not only group up for content but schedule times to play. (Self-disclosure: 95% of my friends list is people I’ve met through my The 100.io group, with all of them being great examples of this fantastic community. Alpha Company 508, represent!)
It all sounds great, right? The Destiny community rose to meet a need, and Bungie fully endorsed it. So what’s turned fans sour recently? For that, we need to look to the murky future of Destiny.
A Look Forward
In Destiny’s first year, there were three major DLC drops: “The Dark Below” in December 2014, “House of Wolves” in May 2015, and what was the largest content drop to date, “The Taken King,” in September 2015. All of these provided new levels, armor/weapons, abilities, environments, enemies — everything under the sun and more. Yes, sometimes there were lulls when we exhausted the existing content, but we always knew more was coming. We enjoyed the present, and we looked forward to the future.
In October 2015, Bungie announced a new microtransaction market within the game, selling cosmetic (and in all honesty, highly anticipated) dances and emotes for our characters. At the same time, they simultaneously announced that content was going to be created and delivered a bit differently in Year Two: more smaller live, in-game “events” as opposed to large packs of DLC. This was an unexpected shift from what the community was used to, but there was a general “wait and see” approach because we knew that Bungie was always listening to us and our feedback.
Then… something changed. Questions about changes on the back-end were going unanswered or not being answered by Bungie to the level they had been previously, rumors arose about microtransactions for (normally) in-game items, and virtually no communication was provided about what content was happening for 2016 and beyond.
Now, that’s not to say nothing’s been happening. Since the content cycle change was announced three months ago, two in-game events have happened — the “Festival of the Lost” (Halloween-themed quests, loot, and microtransactions) and the “Sparrow Racing League,” an activity the community was clamoring for since launch — along with a new “Crimson Days” event coming for Valentine’s Day. All of these are great, and they help showcase Bungie’s concept of a living game world.
Yet the community is still growing increasingly confused and frustrated because, as harsh as it sounds, it’s simply not enough. With any MMO, as often as you deliver content, that content is devoured. You also have to ensure balance between the rewards from that content and the difficulty of what you do to earn them. Unfortunately what typically happens (as any MMO player can tell you) is that previous content then becomes irrelevant. You need the best rewards, and they only come from X, Y, and Z; because of that, there’s no need to touch A, B, or C anymore.
So the dilemma on the developer end is either (1) keep producing content on a set schedule, or (2) tweak the existing content to make it rewarding and worth your time to play. Option 1 is basically what was happening during Year One, and now for Year Two it seems to be the same but with the massive difference that we (the players) are no longer privy to the schedule.
But in reality, how easy is Option 1? This past October, Kotaku ran an article that pulled the veil away and let us in on Destiny’s development cycle. It confirmed many of the rumors the community had heard about: how major level, game, and story assets were removed, cut, and repurposed; how the story direction changed at the 11th hour due to outside pressure; how 80+ hour workweeks were needed to hit the promised delivery dates; how Activision worried about marketing a hybrid game; and more.
For people unfamiliar with the game’s development, it was an eye-opening read. It also provided a lot of context as to why Bungie would be cagey when discussing future developments, since so much can change from announcement to delivery.
But here’s the thing about the Destiny community: We’re people who love and support this game. We know the developers, social teams, and PR people all read the forums and the main Reddit hub, watch the videos from the streamers, and interact with us as much as they possibly can. I also know that when a top-level executive steps down in a quick and quiet manner, like Bungie CEO Harold Ryan did at the end of January, there’s more happening behind the scenes than anyone outside the company can guess. So who knows how the next few days and months will shake out — and specifically what other content could be coming our way.
And that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Rumors point to an event called “The Dawning” coming soon, ideas are floating around about further endgame content on existing planets (Mars and Mercury, specifically), and possible new PVP maps are being kicked around. Unfortunately, right now it’s all just talk and innuendo. It’s fun, but it’s extremely tough to make a prediction about what’s coming when essentially the possibilities are endless.
Yet I’m still feeling very optimistic about Destiny’s future, because the simplest solution to all of this is the one that we’re all clamoring for: Just talk to us, Bungie. We know development doesn’t pivot on a dime, but communication very easily can.
If nothing else, over the past 15+ months, Bungie has shown that while they’ve made missteps in the past, they also learn and adapt in order to keep the game world turning and the community engaged. I have a feeling in the coming days we’ll get a whole lot more information about what’s coming down the road, and I can only hope that the information they provide is what we want — and more importantly need — to hear.
Thanks for reading, and eyes up, Guardian.