When Bungie revealed the Activision-Blizzard split in early 2019, the hopes for the company were pretty high after.
Discussions had been thrown around before the eventual split, claiming that Activision was hindering the good progress on Destiny 2, the multi-platform looter-shooter, while others claimed that Bungie were the ones aiming an exotic pistol and shooting it at their own foot.
But in a recent interview, Bungie’s communications director David Dague stated that Activision weren’t hanging over the developers shoulders throughout Destiny 2’s development, saying, “We launched this franchise with Activision, naturally and over the course of time we both decided we had different goals for what we wanted it to be, so we both went our separate ways.”
From the amicable split, rises a publisher free to steer the ship that is Destiny 2 in the way that they’ve wanted, and as Bungie loosens the financial muscles and strive to do all of the things that Activision was helping them out with, it’s up to the developer-turned-publisher to take the reins and control their own destiny.
For Bungie, the first step was to make Destiny 2 free-to-play.
The Free-To-Play Market
Enter 2019, a free-to-play market dominated by battle-royale starved developers and almost decade-old MOBAs, with a pinch of indie hits that have made more than just a splash when they were first introduced.
In essence, Destiny 2’s success (and failures) will no doubt bring about its comparisons with another likely game: Warframe. And in the eyes of Digital Extremes, Warframe’s developers, news of Destiny 2 turning free spells a problem.
While inherently, Destiny 2’s design, production, feel, and aesthetics are similar to Warframe’s ninja-like co-op action game, the differences are stark in nature.
Warframe’s third-person gameplay and emphasis on choosing different ‘warframes’ to accomplish missions set them apart as more of an action game than a generic looter-shooter. Comparisons of Destiny 2 to the franchise of Borderlands would make much more sense, but there’s also a different line drawn there.
In the space of what can be “collectible” gaming, Destiny 2’s re-introduction as a free-to-play game sure turns heads for a lot of gamers who aren’t quite looking Bungie’s way.
For the most part, Destiny’s core community is ever-present, willing to usher new players into the world of Eververse skins and addictive action gameplay, while Bungie’s marketing never seemed ripe to introduce newer players into the game itself, even the core game itself doing new players no service.
But with Destiny 2 now being free, there has to be another way to let players go on a journey with a mountain of loot to climb, and ensure that they’ll make it to the top before they fall.
It could be why progress-based free-to-play games, or progress-based games in general, have a difficult time enticing new players, and ensuring they’ll be treated well throughout the long, arduous, and sometimes lonely road.
Perhaps Destiny 2’s main competitors won’t be Warframe, but the giants of gaming and life itself: Fortnite?
Fortnite’s success paved the way for free-to-play games to succeed through the introduction of satisfying gameplay and ridiculous amount of cosmetics, not to mention the game’s month-after-month patches that has seen the game be more of a household name than the currency ‘bitcoin’.
The story of Fortnite is something everyone is familiar with, and financial reasoning is all laid out on the table, but what does it mean for Destiny 2? How does Destiny 2 compete?
In reasons that are equally obvious, it can’t. While Destiny 2 can’t take any lessons from the success of other open free-to-play games on the market, they can certainly learn from the failures and successes of others.
Particularly, those who were also re-introduced into the gaming world without a price tag.
Eyes up, Guardians.
Competitors: The Fallen and the Risen
And in between Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Team Fortress 2, there was, simply put, a mess. Though, each of the games had gone free-to-play for a number of reasons, Valve’s first-person shooter Team Fortress 2 is much more in-line with Bungie’s than that of Evolve or Battleborn.
Let’s take a look at the games individually, with the closest one not published by Valve that is on schedule: Battleborn.
Make no mistake: Battleborn wasn’t a bad game, but neither was it great. Sitting in the above-average zone, Battleborn suffered the same fate as Lawbreakers (remember that game?), and eventually succumbed to the more popular successor, Overwatch.
In trying times, and in trying to keep up with Overwatch, Battleborn went ahead with a “trial” version, which signified free-to-play more than anything else, and opened up the game to a wider audience. But those that left didn’t come back, and those that stayed found that there was nothing else to hold onto.
The highest player-count on Steam for Battleborn was around 12,000, when it launched, but for a triple-A release, it was disappointing.
These days, Battleborn is lucky to even to have numbers cross three digits. If we’re going by internet speak, Battleborn is officially pronounced “dead”.
Moving onto Evolve, we see a clearer picture, but no less filled with dirt and mud, and nobody to clean it up.
Evolve had a concept that took the gaming world by storm, and developers Turtle Rock Studios were lauded at E3 2014 (which won awards alongside No Man’s Sky. Coincidence?). The game was also critically rated well. But as the mask of the monster peels away, that is when the true behemoth comes out to play: emptiness.
Evolve’s problems were stacked. While Battleborn at least had a single-player campaign, cool characters and a bunch of good content, Evolve’s limits were pushed in the early days of its release, and it turns out, that was as much as the game could handle.
In September 2018, publisher 2K decided to shut down the Evolve servers, calling time for a fighter that was battered before he had even entered into the ring.
With two sad stories out of the way, it is perhaps time for Valve’s submissions to enter into the foray.
Over a decade ago, in 2007, Team Fortress 2 launched to commercial and critical success. Valve’s first-person shooter had hit gold with gamers, and flourished with addictive gameplay, light tone, and ample bags of fun.
Four years later, Team Fortress 2 turned free in October, and made sure that every player, new and existing, would have all the game modes available to them upon removing its price tag. As of today, Team Fortress 2 still maintains its position inside the top 10 games being played on Steam.
Speaking of game being played everyday, our next Valve paid-turned-free game was a new arrival, having been re-introduced late last year, adding a new Danger Zone mode that is a relatively stripped down version of the usual battle-royale style. That game is: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, or CSGO for short.
CSGO had seen its ups and downs, both in the casual scene and in the competitive scene, and while Valve has had a torrid time with its community over the years with regards to balancing, new weapons and remaking of maps, the community of the game has largely stayed the same. With a zero-cost price tag, CSGO saw new players, with an uptick of players in the same month that it went free. These days, CSGO fights over PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds and Dota 2 for the top spot, and rarely lags behind other games in its genre, and on Steam.
But while the success of Valve’s games are easy to be seen: build a community, thrive with the community, and introduce others to join its community, Valve’s games are also a success due to the brand and the company that we’re dealing with.
Valve’s name in the industry might be only steadily growing back in 2007, but these days, it’s still a titan within the PC gaming-sphere, no thanks to the success of Dota 2 and their competitive presence.
We don’t talk about that game released late last year…
In the industry, Bungie’s bad rep had been tied closely to that of Activision-Bungie, especially during the original Destiny’s bad expansion release after bad expansion release, and having to devote time to major expansions to save a game with little to no endgame content. And for a game that is “hyped” and typified as a game that would go the distance of the next ten years, Destiny certainly didn’t win over any favours, and didn’t win any time.
Three years later, Destiny 2 was released. And fast-forward to today, Destiny 2 is now free-to-play.
Zero Costs, Zero Backing
There is no doubt that Bungie’s Destiny 2 community is always strong, even if the game suffered the same post-release content stutter and a maligned storyline. It wasn’t until the Forsaken expansion that saw Destiny 2 regain a health crystal, and saw players return to a game that could, in many ways, last up to the next ten years.
The question wouldn’t be when, why or what, but rather: how?
When Bungie was with Activision, there was a publisher backing. Now that the publisher is gone, Bungie would have to do most of that work alone, and having to resort to microtransactions may prove to be… a detrimental experience. Though, it’s not like Destiny 2 didn’t have microtransactions before with the Eververse Store, where players can purchase emotes, ship cosmetics, shaders to customize gear colours, and much more.
Destiny 2 is not the only problem under Activision’s well-strung belt of problems. Developers of Black Ops 4 were “frustrated” with Activision’s push for microtransactions, and when Bungie responded well to Destiny 2’s Forsaken expansion, Activision wasn’t all that onboard.
It’s easy to place the blame and the chip on Activision’s shoulders. After all, they are the guys at the top, and their role as a publisher is to ensure that they recoup the costs, and make a profit. That’s the bottom line. But as far as game companies go, Activision’s laundry list of greedy problems don’t stop at Destiny 2.
All this talk surrounding microtransactions has put Bungie in a unique place for tackling Destiny 2 moving forward. On one hand, Shadowkeep and Forsaken expansions alone might not be enough to keep the company going in the long-run, but the community has seen the effort and perhaps… that’s the great thing in all of this. And that’s including Destiny 2 going free-to-play, which has put a different weight around Bungie’s neck: its community.
In 2015, there were talks with free-to-play multiplayer games being the future, but in 2018, Sony’s PlayStation 4 exclusives showed everyone that the world is not yet done with single-player stories.
In 2013, Warframe had a launch that didn’t quite succeed with flying colours, but like brick upon brick, placed on top of a ruined castle, Digital Extremes had crafted a sci-fi action game that gave you the license to be a ninja, or whatever you wanted. And player count continues to grow since that fateful release.
In 2011, Team Fortress 2 went free despite having a healthy playerbase, plentiful content, and not to forget, no lack of fun. But Valve placed emphasis on ensuring the longevity of the game through its free-to-play model, and as of today, Team Fortress 2 is still one of the best games on Steam.
On other platforms, Bungie’s Destiny 2 might be the king of ‘something’, or at the very least was ‘something’. But in an attempt to evolve with the times (no pun intended), Destiny 2 going free-to-play in recent times might be one of the best things that gaming community has ever seen.
And if recent times have a say in all this, no one will be able to predict what the future holds.
The New, New Light
Perhaps the reasons in order for Destiny 2 to succeed is something that Bungie already knew. Perhaps they’ve been cooking it for so long, or perhaps they’ve been making sure that they were going to make it count when the time came.
On October 1st, they certainly did.
Bungie’s reputation exceeds far beyond their Destiny days, even into their development with my personal favourite of the Halo franchise, Halo 2. But Bungie has something that perhaps a lot of other companies in their position didn’t have.
Bungie has time.
Years of being mucked around by Activision, years of planning dismal post-release content after dismal post-release content, and years of playing defender to a game that they created and loved, it was finally time for the new self-turned publisher to show us that Destiny 2 is indeed worth the future.
And in many ways, Bungie did show us, even back in the beginning of Destiny.
From top-class actors and voice actors (Nathan Fillion, Nolan North), to its immersive orchestral soundtrack, from fixing errors after errors in content and gameplay updates, to crafting a cohesive community that has a bottom line that resonates with theirs: ensuring that the game they love won’t go down dying.
Even if from here on Bungie struggles to get things right, even if the community aren’t satisfied with patch after patch, there’s one thing that’ll keep everyone, including Bungie, going.
They know that no matter what, no experience is ever going to be the same as Destiny’s.
And they will be right.
Destiny 2 is now free-to-play on Steam and consoles. Are you having fun with the game? What’s your thoughts? Feel free to let me know.