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Destiny 2's XP Throttling Isn't The Problem, It's a Lack of Transparency and Framing

Trying to control experience gain isn't the biggest issue with Bungie's MMO.

Opinion by Mike Williams, .

Over the weekend and earlier this week, Bungie came under fire when it was found that Destiny 2 was throttling experience gain. The faster you kill enemies and complete objectives, the more the game hacks off the experience you're supposed to be getting. At the highest level, players are only getting 4 percent of the XP that they've earned. Bungie fixed this by deactivating the system a day later and updating the experience totals needed to level. They've promised to speed up leveling since then.

This is all important because endgame leveling feeds into a progression that gives the player a Bright Engram every time they level. Bright Engrams drop customizations options, including emotes, shaders, sparrows, ships, and exotic ornaments to change the look of your weapons. You can purchase Bright Engrams with real money and many players charged Bungie with experience throttling to encourage microtransaction sales.

The place to go for your Bright Engram needs.

Bungie screwed up big time here. Destiny 2 is already falling into a bit of a pit as the veteran fandom begins to find more areas of the game they dislike. The developer is addressing many of these endgame issues now, instead of promoting the upcoming expansion, Curse of Osiris, as it planned. So, this additional situation isn't sitting right with folks.

To be clear, the issue here isn't necessarily the experience throttling, it's Bungie's lack of communication and transparency about the system. Experience throttling is a big part of other massively multiplayer online games-hopefully, we're not still having the discussion about whether or not Destiny is an MMO.

I play a lot of MMOs and experience throttling is a firm part of most in some fashion. World of Warcraft has a system that's used in most MMO titles: rested experience. In this system, resting at a city allows you to accrue a bonus to your experience gain. The longer you stay in the city or offline, the more rested experience you gain.

When you head back out in the world to quest, run dungeons, or raid, any experience you gain gets an additional bonus. If you were to gain 60 XP for killing a mob, with the rested bonus you'd get 120 XP. The rested bonus is relative to the current level, so it's actually more valuable for players at higher levels.

Resting in World of Warcraft: Legion among my people.

The system is meant to encourage players to log off and take breaks. It also pushes players to congregate in towns and cities. You can keep powering through and leveling if you want, but the bonus makes things go faster. Most MMOs since World of Warcraft use a similar rested experience system: Final Fantasy XIV, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Aion, Rift, and more.

Destiny 2's system operates on a similar idea, but in reverse and with heavy amounts of obfuscation. Experience gain still has two versions: normal and boosted. Bungie's problem is "normal" is the lower, throttled version, where you think you're gaining a certain amount of experience, but you're in fact gaining much less. "Boosted" is the slower method, where you take your time and gain experience at the pace Bungie intends, and thus net the full amount of your effort.

Transparency about this system would've helped Bungie immensely, but I think the method would still have a heavy psychological cost on the player, because it feels like they're losing something. You're technically losing experience when you fall out of the rested state in World of Warcraft, but rested experience is framed as a bonus, not the normal operation of leveling. Players want to get the bonus, so they go rest. As far is any game is concerned, neither mode is "good" or "bad", but in terms of framing experience throttles to the player, "rested experience" is a much better method.

Think of it this way. Destiny 2 could have presented it from the beginning as a system where if you were "charged", "rested", or however you want to put it, you gain an enhanced amount of experience. This charge goes away the more you kill, recharging a bit as you rest. The lower your charge, the less experience you get. They could even make it so that grouping lowers the rate of charge loss. Then progression becomes a matter of managing your charge; it doesn't have to be an actual bar the player can see, but players should know about the system so veterans can work out optimum uses of the system. Bungie can't do that now though, because mentally, players will already see the higher state as "normal" and will thus perceive the other state as a loss. You want players to feel empowered, not like they're losing something.

To be clear, throttling in MMOs is done on more than a pure experience basis. Raid lockouts, first-time rewards for daily dungeon runs, and daily quest limits are all throttling player progression, just in a different way. If players were able to, some would run raids and dungeons back-to-back to maximize loot gain. Many are just used to a structure where you can only run a raid once a week, or you have only complete a limited amount of daily quests each day.

All of these methods are about player management, because the truth is players will consume content faster than the developer can create it. These various throttles keep players playing, while developers work behind the scenes to make more raids, dungeons, quests, and gear. I'm sympathetic to Bungie's dilemma here, I just have a problem with the way it was handled. (As does the userbase of Destiny 2.) Players don't need more reasons to distrust you. Always be open and honest with your game's systems, because given enough time and people, you will eventually be found out.

Bungie got found out and now it has to deal with the consequences.

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Comments 7

  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #1 KaiserWarrior 11 days ago
    Once again, the issue isn't even that there was a "lack of transparency" regarding the throttling: it's that Bungie was lying to players about how much experience they were earning. The UI displayed the full, un-throttled value in an attempt to actively hide the throttling.

    This was not a bug. It was a feature. The intent was inarguably to frustrate players that were grinding for Bright Engrams -- frustrate them to the point of opening their wallets instead.

    I also don't agree with comparing Destiny 2 throttling to progression-gating mechanics in other MMOs. In those games, once you hit the level cap, that's it. You do not, usually, continue to grind XP past the cap in order to obtain some kind of additional reward -- and when you do, you cannot also purchase this reward with real money. Ditto raid lockouts and the like: you can't do a raid in WoW and then fork over money to Blizzard to get additional drops for the week.

    This cannot be emphasized enough, and it cannot be allowed to slip along the side into comparisons with other games: Bungie deliberately lied to players about their XP gains in an effort to drive GambleBox sales.

    Do not forget. Do not let them get away with it. Hold them accountable.
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  • Avatar for Jonnyboy407 #2 Jonnyboy407 11 days ago
    I dunno... I don't play MMOs so I'm an outsider to this sort of stuff, but to me it looks like they wanted to people to spend more $$
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #3 MHWilliams 11 days ago
    @KaiserWarrior Kaiser, buddy. That's what a lack of transparency is.

    And you agree it's the same, except the extra stuff that I pointed out in the article. The underlying system is the same, regardless of the additional "features" on top.Edited 2 weeks ago by MHWilliams
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #4 KaiserWarrior 11 days ago
    @MHWilliams I consider "not telling players something" and "telling players things that are not true" to be different things. YMMV, I suppose. In my view, having XP scaling but saying nothing about it, and having XP scaling while actively disguising it, are different things. Subtle, but important distinction. Especially in the context of XP earning you things that you can also buy with money.

    I think that intent is a very important consideration. Progression gating in other MMOs slows down the rate at which you can acquire the maximum available power, but it doesn't directly (attempt to) drive microtransaction sales. There's an argument to be made about microtransactions vs. subscription fees as a revenue model, I'll grant; if the gating slows you down, it forces you to be subscribed for longer in order to "finish" the current content, and drives additional revenue that way. But in my opinion, a relatively-finite thing like a sub fee is a different class of customer relationship than GambleBox microtransactions, where you pay money for potentially nothing of value to you and then are expected to keep paying until the dice roll in your favor.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #5 Roto13 11 days ago
    @MHWilliams A lack of transparency is when they have a million new features coming over the next couple of weeks but they inexplicably didn't bother to tell anybody until people were ready to burn their copies of the game.

    The XP thing isn't a lack of transparency. It's a lie. They specifically intentionally told us something that wasn't true. That's worse.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #6 MHWilliams 11 days ago
    @Roto13 I'm going to disagree to a point..

    https://osu.pb.unizin.org/stratcommwriting/chapter/lack-of-transparency/

    >>Lack of transparency can have devastating effects that sometimes leave a permanent stain on a company or brand’s image. Brands cannot thrive without the public’s trust.

    A recent case that demonstrates the negative outcomes of failing to be transparent is the emissions scandal at Volkswagen. In 2015, news outlets reported that the German car company used a “defeat device” in many of its cars as far back as 2009 to cheat on several emissions tests conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency. These devices were able to detect when tests were being conducted and help reduce toxic emissions during the procedures. In reality, the vehicle emissions were well above the levels permitted by the EPA.<<

    To be transparent is to be clear, open, and honest. The opposite of that is obfuscation, which includes lying.
    @KaiserWarrior Sure, but that wasn't the point of the article. The point is the underlying mechanic is largely the same and actively hiding it and the same it's framed is a part of their problem. Rested XP is used in MMOs that have gone free-to-play, and in those cases, you could say the system pushes players to use XP boosts to level. That's not the intent in those cases, it's the system interacting with the business model. WoW is different because of the business model involved.

    Yes, Bungie likely intended to get players to buy Bright Engrams. I wrote that in the article. But we have articles about that. This is not that article, it's about the mechanic itself.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #7 VotesForCows 9 days ago
    What a strange situation. I didn't think of the similarity to rested XP - which you're right, I totally think of as a normal, legit thing in other games I play. How this is communicated and whether its portrayed as a loss or a gain has a huge impact - if they'd look at any research on this it would have been pretty obvious. Very strange omission for such a talented team.
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