Destiny 2: What went wrong?
They had all the pieces
To say that Bungie, Inc. have made some misguided and ultimately bewildering design decisions with Destiny 2 is an understatement. As I’ve discussed on Reddit, player retention is absolutely abysmal for a AAA title barely 4 months into its lifespan, which is absolutely fine if your game is designed for casual players, in a genre that defines casual experiences, like, for instance, Mario Odyssey. Nintendo knows who their audience is. From the ground up, they cater to that audience and deliver, time and time again, a string of titles that fit perfectly into the scope of their desires. They know that once they’ve found something that works, they can differ from that experience by adding to it as long as they don’t take away anything that changes the core of that experience on a fundamental level. This is a lesson that Bungie could learn from Nintendo.
After three years of Destiny 1, Bungie had improved, tweaked and streamlined the franchise debut title into a game that the community resoundingly supported and loved. Sure, there were some odds and ends tweaks that could have been made– PvP meta changes, weapon balancing, Crucible special/heavy ammo, etc– but as a whole, the game delivered a solid experience for anyone who played it. The casual players could jump in for a few hours a week and feel like they’d made progress on their characters. The hardcore “hobbyist” players could grind for god roll weapons and min/maxed armor stats. The inbetweeners could spend their time farming in Archon’s Forge, Court of Oryx, Prison of Elders, Heroic Strikes, Crucible and a large swath of replayable story missions, Nightfalls, Weeklys, Dailies, and Bounties.
It was a balanced experience, because it was an inclusive experience. Everyone had something they could do, something to strive for, and something to make them feel as though they had achieved character progression by the end of a play session. They had all the pieces laid out in front of them to deliver a great follow-up. Their mistake, however, was in even thinking they needed a follow-up.
Instead of Destiny 2, they should have made Destiny 2.0
I understand completely the contractual obligations that must be in place for Bungie. I understand that Activision has laid forth a release roadmap that requires new titles. What I cannot understand though, is why Bungie thought that meant they had to negate everything they had spent the past 3+ years working toward. Realistically, they needed to move off of legacy consoles if they wanted to continue progressing the game. They needed to introduce support for PC to supplement the player base that would inevitably shrink when legacy consoles were no longer supported. There were logical reasons why a new title would be extremely beneficial to the future of the franchise.
What should have happened was the introduction of a newer engine. Bungie could have made good on their ten year plan and released a newer updated engine with PC support, that continued off of the Destiny 1 storyline and characters. They could have still stripped us of our light to start everyone off on an equal footing. They could have still emptied our vaults when the Tower got destroyed. They could have done any number of things, and had it perfectly explained through lore, while continuing to build off of the world they had spent years developing. We would have immediately been planted into a world with massive amounts of content, massive amounts of weapons, and a massive amount of things to do. We would have gladly paid our $60-100 and Bungie would have still received the influx of players that they were hoping to get with their new PC crowd. We would have gladly purchased Destiny 2.0, without hesitation.
What did happen, though, was effectively a soft-reboot of the franchise. Every aspect of the game was dumbed down, slowed down, stripped down, and gutted. At its core, the fundamental gunplay and movement was changed. The power fantasy was changed. The game was redeveloped in an attempt to be more inclusive of the casual players that Bungie seems so hellbent on seeking the approval– and ultimately, the money– of, at the cost of eliminating the qualities of the game that appealed to the hardcore hobbyist players and the inbetweeners that stuck with Destiny 1 through its tumultuous three year growth period. Instead of designing a game that appealed to the hardcore, while still offering the casuals a worthwhile experience, they chose to exclusively focus on the latter over the former. This was not only a horrible decision from a game design perspective, but a horrible decision from a business perspective. Bungie used three years of hard-fought good will and faith to sell Destiny 2. They marketed their game in a way that they knew was deceptive, and that they knew would convince the hardcore fans to sell their game for them, based on hype alone. They sacrificed guaranteed long-term income from their dedicated base, for a short-term influx from a casual audience that would undoubtedly abandon them at the first signs of boredom.
With how good Destiny 1 was by the end, Destiny 2 is going to be amazing! It has to be! There is no way Bungie could screw this up!
We all had faith that Destiny 2 would be a slam-dunk follow-up success, because after three years of improvements on its predecessor, it was unfathomable for us to think that Bungie could possibly miss the mark. This fact alone may be why the outcry from the Destiny fanbase is so loud, so boisterous and so unrelenting. We are angry, not because we were disappointed, but because in addition to the disappointment, we also feel like we have been continually deceived by Bungie.
Explaining after you’re caught is not “transparency”
The proverbial salt-in-the-wound, it would seem, is that Bungie seems to be incapable of learning from their prior mistakes. The process continues to repeat, over and over. Bungie invests an untold amount of time and money to develop a “feature” into the game, that no player asked for, and no player seemingly wants. The game does not advertise the feature to players in any meaningful way, often times going out of its way to hide the existence of the feature from players. The players find out about the deceptive and undesirable feature and blast Bungie for it. Bungie comes out with a half-assed explanation that the feature is not working as intended, or that they could have been more transparent about it. They suggest that in the future, they’ll work harder on being less intentionally deceptive and will offer more transparency. Rinse and repeat.
Explaining after you’re caught is not “transparency” Bungie. Begging forgiveness for your intentional deceptions isn’t earning you any good will or trust. In fact, it’s earning you the exact opposite. You’re hemorrhaging players. You’re losing what few dedicated fans you have left. For the first time in the history of this franchise, I am honestly considering not playing the next DLC I have already paid for with my season pass. What little flicker of hope I have is being swallowed by the black hole of disappointment that is being perpetually drip-fed to your player base.
How many man-hours does it take for you to develop one of these unadvertised “features” that negatively impact your players? How many of those resources would be better spent delivering on the quality of life improvements that this game sorely needs? Why does it take 8 months to add in a way to mass-delete shaders, but only a few weeks to make sure that players get time-locked on receiving rewards from Lost Sector chests? For that matter, if you already have a limit on the number of Faction Rally engrams that can be earned, why even spend time trying to limit players on the number of Tokens they can earn from lost sectors? Do you all collectively lack the ability to take a step back, look at the bigger picture and ask yourselves if these limits really matter? Is your management really that disorganized?
At this point, your players simply deserve more than you’re giving them. We deserve a direct, clear, and sincere apology. We deserve accountability. We deserve a reciprocation of the good faith and support that we extended to you for years while you got your shit together with Destiny 1.
Christopher Barrett needs to demand that Bungie provide him the resources to fix Destiny 2 on an accelerated time table. He needs to make it perfectly clear to the powers that be, that the number one priority now is to fix Destiny 2, or the reality of the situation is that the absolute best Bungie will be able to hope for with Destiny 3 is that it will break even. Luke Smith and Mark Noseworthy, or whomever may be tasked with the leadership of the Destiny 3 development team, need to make it perfectly clear to the community that they understand Destiny 3 will need to include all of these quality of life features from launch, and that they understand, and will do everything in their power, to not deliver an underwhelming and underdeveloped game. Everyone at Bungie needs to realize, accept, and acknowledge that the direction they chose for Destiny 2 was flawed. Mistakes were made and that’s okay, as long as they are learned from. Hubris, however, will no longer be tolerated by the community at large.
Bungie needs to not only communicate to their players, but to interact with their players. Simply listening does no good if we, as players, don’t know if you’re understanding what we’re saying. There needs to be an exchange. The exchange needs to happen frequently, and openly. Communication should not be limited to a once-a-week blog post that breeds more questions than answers. You have the tools at your disposal to determine exactly what the players want out of this game, so you should be using them. Development has an idea for some new armor/weapon mechanic? Great… make a post on Reddit to ask for input. The DLC designers decided that expanding on pre-existing raids would be better than designing new raids? Check with your Bungie.Net forum to see if that’s a good idea or not. You have literally millions of people, willing to work for free to provide you with an unending pool of suggestions and feedback. Who knows, you might even find that if you stop pissing them off before talking to them, they could even be quite pleasant to communicate with.
The first step is the most difficult, for certain, but it only gets easier from there.
We want to have faith in You again
As a whole, the communities surrounding the Destiny franchise seem to be begging for some reason to come back and love the game that Bungie has delivered. They desperately want a reason to log in again, to play again, and to enjoy the game again. At the same time though, Bungie has dug themselves such a deep hole of ill-will and bad-faith that the communities need more than just the bare minimum of promises that updates are coming months down the road. We need action. We need explanation. We want to understand what causes an 8 – 12 month delay in adding the ability to mass delete shaders. We want to understand the thought process that goes into deciding that random rolls should be removed, only to dedicate man hours and development budget dollars to creating a theoretically in-depth mod system that will more-or-less emulate what random rolls did. We want to understand how Bungie heard “we want the Grimoire to be in-game” and took that to mean, “we don’t want any depth to the lore in the game”. We want to understand what is driving you, Bungie. If Destiny 2 is only in this state because of an unplanned reboot 16 months before release, tell us why it was rebooted. Tell us what we need to know, so that we can believe you’re doing your best.
If these decisions were made to take the franchise in a new direction, and this game isn’t meant for players like myself anymore, let us know that. If this game is an introduction to what we’re going to see in future Destiny titles, and it’s only going to get worse from here on out, let us know. Let us know so that we can stop holding out hope that things will get better. Let us know so that we can cut ties and walk away before we’ve subjected ourselves to months of waiting for updates and patches that aren’t going to deliver.
We want to have faith in You again, Bungie. We want to believe that you can make Destiny 2 what we all hoped it could be when it was announced– a sequel that expands and improves upon its predecessor.
The ball is in your court.