Weapon Popularity, Balance, and Data Science in Destiny 2

Rob Blatt
Rob Blatt
May 1 · 8 min read

The Basics of Destiny 2

Destiny 2 is an online-only multiplayer first-person shooter video game. The available weapons in the game is in the hundreds and the categories for those weapons are in the dozens. Destiny 2 is an evolving game, and as such the developers occasionally “balance” the stats associated with each weapon.

As the player, you have three weapon slots to equip weapons at any moment. With so many weapons and weapon types to choose from, a player’s loadout is as unique as the player itself.

Destiny has multiple modes, but each boils down to one of three experiences. Player vs Player (PvP), Player vs Enemy (PvE), and Player vs Enemy vs Player (PvEvP), each experience has different strategies, with the popular verbiage for those strategies being “meta.”

The player base for Destiny 2 is about 14.3 million players with millions of players spending time in the game daily. When the first edition of Destiny launched, an average play session was three hours during the week and four hours on the weekends.

If you’re familiar with Destiny 2, I will be oversimplifying certain aspects of the game (master working weapons, random rolls, and the mod system as a starter.)

Why is Balance Necessary in Video Games?

Video games are a designed experience. Their design includes fun and challenge. In the original Super Mario Bros, Mario wasn’t given the power to run through objects. While it might be fun, it wouldn’t be challenging and eventually that lack of challenge would lead to a lack of fun. (More on video game challenge vs fun)

With all activities in Destiny 2, if the weapons are overpowered the game’s balance is lost and while easy and fun for a short period of time, players will lose interest due to a lack of activities to do. If the weapons are underpowered, the balance is lost and the challenge can lead to frustration and eventual abandonment.

PvP presents a specific challenge when it comes to balance. If a gun is overpowered in PvP, you’re not only ruining the game for yourself, you’re also ruining the game for the people you are playing against. This is where the “git gud” or “get good” problem exists. Experienced players often mock newers players that all they have to do to not feel frustration with a game is “get good.” A balanced PvP mode doesn’t balance for the skill of individual players, it presents an even playing field of opportunity.

If a weapon is so overpowered, the meta changes. If there’s a head and shoulders best weapon or weapon type for a game mode, the player loses its identity and loadouts start to look uniform and the game’s fun loses balance.

The Compulsion Loop and Rewards

Compulsion Loop: A habitual, designed chain of activities that will be repeated to gain a neurochemical reward: a feeling of pleasure and/or a relief from pain. (Adam Crowe, 2012)

The more a player plays, the more rewards are presented. Challenges that take more time present better rewards. The rewarded weapons and armor need to be perceived as powerful enough to the player to be worth pursuing, but not too powerful as to throw off the balance of the rest of the game.

Yes, only 1,500 defeated opponents out of 2,500 towardsreward.

Bungie, the developers of Destiny 2, regularly evolve the weapons in the game based on player statistics and feedback. Years after the game’s release, some of the challenges presented take hours, if not days, weeks or months.

Finding the balance with high level rewards has always been a challenge. Bungie, and all game developers, regularly nerf and buff weapons as they see fit.

Buff is the term generically used to describe a positive status effect that affects mainly player or enemy statistics (usually cast as a spell). (Wikipedia)

A nerf is a change to a game that reduces the desirability or effectiveness of a particular game element. (Wikipedia)

The Luna’s Howl Problem

Luna’s Howl is a “Pinnacle” hand cannon earned by playing PvP activities. There are seven steps you have to complete in the questline that earns you the weapon.

The last step in the quest is to reach the highest ranking available within the more difficult PvP mode of the game, known as “Competititve.” Each match can last up to 10–12 minutes.

Credit: DestinyTracker.com

Bungie provides an API to pull statistics from the game about individual players and individual weapons. Thanks to sites like destinytracker.com, we can take a look at how popular this weapon is.

Luna’s Howl is the #1 weapon in PvP by a landslide. Seems like an outlier for a weapon that takes hundreds , if not thousands, of hours to earn to be the most popular weapon.

Calculating TTK using Weapon Stats

Each weapon in Destiny two has 15 main variables. Some are shown to the player, some are only known using the Destiny 2 API, and one which is undefined by the API completely. Bold stats are shown to the player in the game’s UI.

  1. Rounds per minute
  2. Impact
  3. Range
  4. Stability
  5. Reload Speed
  6. Handling
  7. Magazine Size
  8. Zoom
  9. Inventory Size
  10. Aim Assistance
  11. Recoil Direction
  12. Charge rate (Fusion Rifles only)
  13. Blast radium (Rocket Launchers only)
  14. Velocity (Rocket Launchers only)
  15. Bloom (the hidden stat, affected by range, but varies)

Bungie could calculate the TTK for players using a series of equations. Let’s do some speculating.

Let’s start with the theoretical maximum damage per second.

Unload/Reload Time (URT) = ((Rounds per Minute * Magazine Size) + Reload Time)
The shortest amount of time in second it can take to empty a mgazine and reload your weapon.

Actual Rounds per Minute (ARPM)= (URT / 60) * (Unloading speed/Reloading speed)
This gives the actual amount of rounds possible to unload in a minute by taking the URT divided by 60 and then multiplying by the ratio of time spent unloading to time spent reloading.

Damage per Second (DPS) = (ARPM/60) * Impact
DPS is the holy grail of stats when discussed among players. The game’s encounters don’t generally last minutes, especially in PvP modes, so per second is the more important.

Critical Damage
Critical damage provides “bonus” damage for targeting specific areas of the body, and critical damage changes from enemy to enemy but the bonus remains constant from player to player.

Not every player will hit every shot, as shown here. With the information about every single round fired in the game, you can start to look at a much larger dataset of players and start playing with numbers if you want to nerf or buff specific weapons.

What to Do With Luna’s Howl?

Luna’s Howl was supposed to be an elite gun for elite players. It was difficult to earn and as a reward for earning it you received one of the most powerful weapons in the game. If Luna’s Howl accounts for over 10% of all kills in PvP one of two things has happened.

  1. The weapons are so overly powerful that a tiny fraction of players are earning a disproportionate volume of kills
  2. Luna’s Howl has been earned by enough players to shift the meta of PvP and has ruined the intended TTK.

Intended TTK vs Actual TTK

TTK is something that the developers set out to achieve with the mix of weapons in the game. By knowing a player’s DPS possibility and using historical data, Bungie can determine the error between their ideal TTK and the actual TTK for any subset of players, scenarios and weapons.

In looking at Luna’s Howl, it’s clear that the TTK is too low and the weapon needs a nerf. They announced on April 25, 2019 that the weapon was getting a nerf in June to the cheers of the players who haven’t earned Luna’s Howl and have been terrorized by it in PvP, and jeers to the people who grinded hundreds of hours to earn a pinnacle weapon.

Dev Team: We wanted to give you a preview of some plans we have to balance Luna’s Howl and Not Forgotten in Season of Opulence. After significant amounts of feedback, internal discussion, and playtesting, we’ve decided to adjust how these Hand Cannons work. For some players, these weapons can represent a significant investment of time and the personal improvement needed to acquire them. When tuning, we attempt to take into account the time commitment players make to acquire weapons and balance that against how those weapons affect the different game modes.

Magnificent Howl (the unique perk on these weapons) is too effective. It works in a neutral setting and rewards players for getting precision shots — something they would have done naturally. As a result, the time to kill of the game shifts to meet this new benchmark, and players feel that the majority of primary weapons in Destiny 2 cannot compete with these pinnacle weapons.

Our current plan is to make Luna’s Howl and Not Forgotten the only 150 RPM precision Hand Cannons. They will maintain some aspects of their current behavior while taking on the firing speed and damage of the 150 RPM Hand Cannons. Magnificent Howl will also be adjusted so that it increases only body-shot damage, resulting in a two headshot/one body-shot kill. Magnificent Howl will still give an advantage due to requiring less precision hits for optimal time to kill.

Impact and Reload Time remains the same but RPM is decreased. There is also some discussion of weapon-specific perks, which adds many more variables to each weapon’s performance. I’ve avoided discussing those, but each perk has an effect on weapon stats.

In time, Bungie will be able to determine the effects of the change on the weapons’ usage and be able to adjust further if necessary. Moreover, looking at the stats assigned to Luna’s Howl from the beginning will allow Bungie to make more informed decisions in the future about how to either limit the power of the weapon or limit the amount of players who can earn it.

Rob Blatt

Written by

Rob Blatt

Data science, pro wrestling, ninja turtles, video games, and more things that prove I am 100% an adult.

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