Destiny, Or, How To Make People Hate Your Video Game

If you’re not a gamer, skip this post. Everyone else, brace yourselves: I’m about to go full nerd for a while. Thigns are going to get pretty “Inside Baseball” here.

I started playing Destiny back in December, right around the time that I got my Xbox One (I waited for that price drop, yo). I liked the gameplay a lot, although once I finished the main storyline, I felt like there was a pretty intense roadblock keeping me from doing anything else with it. The end game content just required too much work to jump onto the loot treadmill of “get better gear, so you can do the thing to get better gear.” Don’t get me wrong, I like shiny purps as much as the next gamer, but I’m also a lazy gamer. I’ll do the thing to get the thing only as long as it’s actually amusing. The moment that the epics require gameplay behavior that feels like actual work? Fuck that, I’m out.

But then an expansion pack came out and I was all, “ooo, new stuck to do!” In many games, the launch of an expansion pack is the best time to jump in, especially for massively multiplayer or persistent shared world environments. The expansion pack evens out the community again since everyone has new things to complete before returning to the end game and the content always has to be created in such a way that people who didn’t get all the end game epic gear can still complete it. So, even though I was a little surprised at a $20 price point, I purchased the first Destiny expansion The Dark Below. At the time, I decided that it wasn’t that bad, since most MMO expansions (looking at you, WoW) cost $40 but usually deliver enough content to make it worthwhile.

But after burning through all of the content in a single afternoon, I began to worry. After I poked around online, I noticed something even more worrisome; mainly, that I was basically a second class citizen for playing the game on Xbox rather than PlayStation:

Yep, Sony’s snagged themselves yet another Destiny exclusive: one of The Dark Below‘s strike missions—you know, the ones where you and two other players go through quasi-dungeons and take on powerful bosses—is only for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. Bungie says the exclusive is until “at least” fall of 2015, which means that for the next year at a minimum, Xbox players will miss out on a large chunk of The Dark Below.

That’s on top of the already-PlayStation-exclusive Dust Palace strike, so if you’re keeping track, by the second week of December, PlayStation owners will have eight strikes while Xbox players only have six. Of course, it’s been clear for months now that Bungie has firmly sided with Sony in the battle for your living room, but that hasn’t stopped Xbox fans from feeling ripped off. How can you blame them? They’re paying the same amount of money as PlayStation players, yet getting less stuff.

Wait, there’s another strike that I’d never even seen? Because I bought an Xbox rather than a PlayStation? Well . . . that doesn’t make me feel very good. I suppose that if The Dark Below was full of things to do, it wouldn’t have stung so much, but once again, I ran into the treadmill problem. I didn’t need to see all of the things in the game; I like that challenges exist in the forms of raids and other end game content for players that really want to put that effort in. But this is an old problem: hardcores vs. casuals. I’ve been on both sides of that divide, so I understand. But I’m not asking for content to be available for everyone. I just want something to do other than repeating the missions and tiny number of strikes I’ve already done.

Eventually, without any content that felt meaningful at my level and no way to increase my level without grinding (i.e. turning the game into work), I gave up and moved on to something else.

But then another expansion pack came out! And this one had some good (if not great) reviews and had content for everyone and there would even be a chance for me to get some of the really cool stuff. So I bought the next expansion, House of Wolves, once again at $20, and gave it a shot. Still felt really expensive, especially considering how little content was available in the previous expansion, but I was willing to forgive and forget. And you know what, they were right! I was able to snag an exotic pulse rifle that was really fun to use and I finally managed to equip my Warlock with some fancy looking gear and although I’m still not doing end game raiding, I’m feeling pretty good about myself. I’m so glad. Things feel good. I feel good about my time investment and I’m having fun.

And now . . . there’s this:

Why Destiny Players Feel Screwed Over

Destiny Director Defends $40 Price Tag For New Expansion

Disastrous Interview Could Have Ramifications for Destiny

From the Forbes article:

Tom Phillips, the interviewer, sets out with two missions in mind. To understand why players who want the bonus content of theTaken King Collector’s Edition, new emotes and cosmetic items, have to rebuy content they already have, namely the base game and original DLC, in a pack which retails for $80 in the states. The second question is what exactly The Taken King contains where it’s worth a full $40, a very hefty price for DLC, and even for a full expansion in some players’ eyes.

What follows is Luke Smith doing everything possible to fumble the answers to both of these questions. I highly suggest you read the entire interview because from start to finish, it’s kind of astonishing how tone deaf every aspect of it is.

Without copying and pasting the entire thing, the long and short of it is that Smith can’t announce any new plans for players to get this extra content without rebuying things they already own, and he acts like he doesn’t understand why this is a big deal.

“It’s about value,” he says. “The player’s assessment of the value of the content.”

If you didn’t, I strongly encourage you to read the interview. It’s really the only way to get why this is so irritating.

Here’s the thing: I don’t give a shit about bonus content. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I have enough things to keep me from doing things I actually should be doing, so I don’t need to be a completionist anymore to feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth. I don’t have to master every character; I can just play as Reptile for three hundred matches in Mortal Kombat X and call it a day. I can play Heroes of the Storm with the three characters I unlocked for free and have fun. I don’t need all of the things. This Destiny bonus content isn’t for me and I’ll never buy it, in any form.

But I hate the idea of a model that wants its most dedicated fans to pay for content they’ve already purchased. It’s insulting. It’s humiliating. It’s wrong. It’s every bit the Scientology model of “get the sucker to pay more money, so that he’ll keep paying even more money.”

Bonus content like this, especially stuff that’s entirely cosmetic in nature, shouldn’t be used as a reason to tell someone “you will throw money at the screen.” If anything, this is the kind of thing that a player unlocks for being loyal. “Hey, thanks for playing our game for a year. Here’s a neat thing!”

There are updates to the article that say “we’ll be releasing information about what veteran players will be getting and don’t worry, it’s very cool,” but I really think the damage has already been done. You literally have your creative director out there saying that the model you prefer is “pay for content twice.”

Here’s why I’m feeling sad about my time and money spent thus far, summed up perfectly by a very eloquent Reddit post:

ReclaimerSpirit 1058 points 1 day ago*

I normally just lurk this sub but I needed to get this out there.

Reading this interview didn’t just make me not want to buy the expansion, it made me feel really shitty. I feel like I’m being laughed at, like I was a sucker for buying Destiny – a game I’ve really enjoyed and hyped to all of my friends before launch (EDIT: should note that this is the only game I have EVER pre-ordered). The way Smith talks about the player makes me feel small and disposable, like he owns me and I’m going to buy the new DLC no matter what because I’m just a sucker. I’m not the player. I am the sucker, and I will just throw money at the screen because I’m told to.

Bungie, this is part of your game experience. Seeing one of your staff say things that make me feel like I’ve been duped into playing your game makes me not want to play. You’ve done a really good job in the past of listening to your fans and, more importantly, having fun with them. We used to be on the same side – that’s how things like Red vs. Blue and Forge mode came about. What happened?

To quote an old Penny Arcade strip: “the filthy pigs will rush to our trough!”

This whole thing makes me regret the time I’ve spent with the game, in a way that I never did with World of WarCraft or other MMOs. See, there’s this weird thing that happens in the life cycle of a typical MMO or persistent world game; after the player moves out of the enamored phase, it’s common that he or she begins questioning the time spent on the game. Eventually, when the player is no longer having fun, the feeling is that all of the time the player spent on the game was a huge waste, because it’s no longer continually providing enjoyment. Thus, the player burns out, convinced that it was all a waste.

I’ve seen that happen constantly and I’ve tried to always be mindful of it. The fact that I don’t play WoW now does not mean I didn’t have fun when I was playing it. I didn’t waste my time playing it. The idea that if I hadn’t been playing WoW, I would be doing something wonderful and productive is just false. That was my leisure time that I spent; if I hadn’t been doing that, I’d have been playing something else. Or watching Netflix. Whatever.

But this goes beyond the typical life cycle angst. This debacle really does make me feel like I was wrong to have spent my time this way. That’s a terrible thing to do in an industry where making people feel good is your sole directive. It’s a terrible thing and it’s also an impressive thing, to achieve such destruction outside of the gamespace itself.

Destiny really could use some good news right now, since the story is blowing up all over the place. Fortunately, we have this bit of information to smooth things over: New Destiny Quest Is Exclusive To Red Bull:

Activision Publishing, Inc. and Bungie, together with energy drink category leader Red Bull today announced a partnership that will bring an epic new quest to players of the popular sci-fi action adventure game franchise Destiny via custom-designed Red Bull® Energy Drink cans, inviting consumers across the United States and Canada to Become Legend, making this the first time a video-game, or any third party brand, has ever appeared on the iconic Red Bull can.

Access to the quest will be available on specially-marked cans of Red Bull and leverage themes of speed, tenacity and strategy inspired by the energy drink, throughwww.RedBullQuest.com. Each Red Bull can will also include bonus XP to help players prepare for this epic quest. Players can start using the bonus XP throughout the summer, with the in-game quest kicking off following the launch of The Taken King, the latest addition to the Destiny universe scheduled for release on September 15, 2015.

Wow. Just . . . fucking. Wow. I actually triple-checked the date on that article when I saw it, just to make sure it wasn’t something that had been posted on April 1st.

So . . . how about that damage control, huh? Play Destiny! Buy content twice because we think you’re suckers! Buy Red Bull! THROW YOUR MONEY AT THE SCREEN!”

I miss the old model: “here is a game. Pay money and play it. Buy a tie-in product like a novel or comic book if you really love it.”

Community isn’t just a marketing buzzword for games like this; they’re part of the ecosystem, part of the experience. It’s not just a way to keep playing; it’s why most of them are playing in the first place.

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2 thoughts on “Destiny, Or, How To Make People Hate Your Video Game”

  1. Games are in this really weird place right now where they are getting bigger, more complicated, and more expensive to make, but are also commoditizing in such a way that the price can’t increase to compensate for it. As textures and models become more detailed, you have to pay more and better artists to render your game. As systems become more complicated, you need more programmers and testers to get everything working. Gamers are also expecting a lot more in terms of continued support such that games must always add additional features/maps/weapons to the game long after release. This is really jacking up the development costs of AAA titles. To put it in perspective, adjusting for inflation, Unreal Tournament ’99 cost about $2.7M to develop while Destiny was a whopping $140M.

    You may miss the old days where you bought a game and that was that, but the developers miss the days when they could release a game, put out one or two patches just to fix bugs, and players would be happy.

    Gaming is a business, and the publishers of these games have to find some way to make a return on their investment. For a $60 game, the publisher gets about $36. That means that Destiny had to sell 4 Million copies just to break even (they sold 5 million on day 1, so achievement unlocked), but that still leaves them with thin margins since there are ongoing operating costs associated with online games (especially MMOs).

    With all of this in mind, more and more often people are getting put in charge of games projects not because they are great with games, but because they know how to make money. They are borderline sociopaths who see their players as walking wallets, and can only think in terms of the bottom line. Of course, this is true in a lot of industries, and ultimately these sorts of people can only be so successful because at some point people are smarter than executives think and will end up voting with their feet.

    Unfortunately for Destiny’s players, if you are going to vote with your feet, you have to leave behind a pretty big investment.

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