So it seems everyone has decided that Destiny is flailing around a bit. Bungie's sci-fi multiplayer shooter revitalized the fanbase with The Taken King expansion, raising the level cap, revamping game systems, and providing an influx of new content to explore. Now that we've crossed over the 2015 holiday season though, fans are now starting to slip into a deep depression regarding the title.
Within a span of three days, we've seen a number of articles lamenting the current state of the game. The first came from Kotaku, diving into some of the issues Bungie is currently facing in its content plan, but that article was followed by commentary from a few other outlets. Even the game's Reddit community seems to be tearing itself apart as some fans admit their boredom and dissatisfaction with the game, while others attempt to assure themselves that there's a plan.
It's a problem I've seen before.
It's an MMO, You Know It in Your Heart to Be True
I'm the resident MMO guy here at USgamer, so I'm the one tasked with playing many of the MMO titles that come across our review desk. I've always been a big fan of MMOs: World of Warcraft has long been my go-to title, but I've spent time with Final Fantasy XIV, Guild Wars 2, City of Heroes, Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Champions Online, Wildstar, TERA, Allods Online, Defiance, and The Secret World, to name a few.
While I don't really enjoy Destiny enough to add it to my normal rotation, I like that the game has acted as gateway for the average player to experience what playing an MMO is like. Crafting your avatar and finding your chosen role in a game, powering through the game's overall story, finding friends or enemies in PVE and PVP, and the torturous, unending grind that is 'endgame'. I enjoy it, the endless checklist of things to do and items to collect. The feeling of completing a dungeon in record time with a great team or finally finishing off the raid boss you've been struggling with for hours. For a long time, people would ask me, "Why do you play MMOs? That looks like a lot of work." With Destiny, many of those people now know why.
Bungie is trying to split the difference with Destiny though. It plays like an MMO. Classes, leveling, endgame raids, running dungeons and raids over and over again for faction experience or a special currency. The current MMO model is you build a base game, drop consistent dungeon and raid content, and then you release major expansions every two to three years. But Bungie wants Destiny to be an MMO and a standalone console game at the same time. This means the content plan is the base game, dungeon and raid content, an expansion, dungeon and raid content, and then a sequel to the base game, starting the process over again.
That's an ambitious plan for a development studio that's used to publishing and operating an online title. Bungie is figuring this stuff out as it goes. It's has a live team, that tries to offer new topical content to keep players happy, another team that's theoretically working on raid/dungeon content for Destiny, and the team working on what will be Destiny 2. That's a lot of work for one studio.
You Can't Beat The Players
The truth is every single MMO runs into one major problem: players will always consume content faster than developers can create it. Always. You will always run into content lulls, even with the best of intentions. Most MMO operators have experience with this issue. So what you end up having is players that jump in during content drops and expansions, but put down the game in-between.
"Especially nowadays, players aren't necessarily viewing World of Warcraft as a year-round lifestyle so much as a game that they love, where they're going to check in, see what we've got, play the content in a patch, go off, play some other great game that just came out, and then come back when we have something new to offer them," World of Warcraft lead game designer Ion Hazzikostas told GamesBeat. "And to some extent, that's OK. We don't want to prevent people from enjoying the game that way. Part of the cyclical nature is that, yes, when we have a large upsurge, it's not surprising that there's a bit of a dip after that."
"I know the challenges of creating content faster than players can consume it are very real. If I was going to make an MMO (I'm not) I think I'd shoot for something episodic with the expectation players come and go," tweeted former WoW designer Greg Street (via MMOChampion)in response to Hazzikostas' interview. "Players come for content and leave when they run out. 'But I should never run out of content,' feels unrealistic to me. Neverending content leads to making things so difficult you can't progress or asking you to run the same content 100 times."
No game, no matter how great, is free from this issue. Final Fantasy XIV runs its updates roughly every three months, but producer Naoki Yoshida acknowledges that his team can't do much more for players and they fully expect some players to leave between content drops.
"I think it's fine for us that they try another game if they have already completed the content," Yoshida told 2P. "If we do implement something that's really difficult and time consuming, even if players leave and when they come back, they'll find things are so much different and it's not easier for them to come back. So I think the balance is quite important."
"We do see a lot of people coming when a major patch is introduced and they enjoy it. And then when, say League of Legends has a new season, people will go to that game and once the season is completed they will come back to FFXIV. So that sounds pretty fine and I think that's going to be more enjoyable for players so they don't feel they have to stick in one game. Actually it will encourage players to play for a long time if you see it in the long term."
Many developers have to split that difference: content that's hard enough that veteran players don't blow through it, but easy enough that your huge stable of casual players can still tackle and complete it. (Alternatively, they nerf the hard raid content in the next patch.) Hitting that sweet spot still requires that developers pad out the game, usually through the aforementioned faction experience or special currency. Players will run dungeons (Destiny's Strikes) over and over again for the chance at better gear; partially for the performance aspect, but mostly for the social one. Get that title, get that achievement, get your new shiny piece of gear to complete your set until the next content drop.
It's never been sustainable and Destiny is no different. What Destiny fans are feeling is the same problem that has plagued other MMOs. I can go on the official forums for every major MMO and find many who are unhappy with current content plans. It's really a no-win situation.
Tease and Tantalize
Could Bungie do things better? Yes.
You need to at least hint that there's something for players to look forward to. World of Warcraft's last major content patch was 6.2, released in July 2015. They don't have another patch waiting in the wings, so you're talking more than a year between content drops. So they announced the next expansion, World of Warcraft: Legion in August 2015, despite the fact that it's probably not releasing until September this year. There's a minor update, patch 6.2.3, that will update older dungeons with new "Timewalking" versions for players at level cap, but that's it. They're hoping that Legion will gave players hope and faith in the future of the game.
"It's not entirely new raid tiers. It's not entirely new raids," WoW executive producer J Allen Brack told Polygon. "But the challenge we have is if we work on, like, a patch 6.2.5 or 6.3 or something like that, that just pushes the expansion back even further. That's the push-pull we have."
For Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward, patch 3.2 is incoming (in February?), with a new raid, new dungeons, new PVP content, and 4k support. The last patch was 3.1 in November, following 3.0 (Heavensward) in June. That puts four or five months in-between major additions, but Square Enix's FFXIV team is very good at keeping players apprised of what's coming up. Guild Wars 2's first expansion, Heart of Thorns, released at the end of October, with the game's first raid launching in mid-November. ArenaNet recently promised seasonal updates every three months, with further information on those updates a few weeks before their release.
Destiny's The Taken King released in mid-September of 2015. That means that at best, Bungie should've probably mentioned or released content in December. Technically, they did, with the launch of the promised Sparrow Racing League. The problem is SRL isn't related to anything avid players of Destiny already do in the game. As far as players are concerned, it doesn't count and was probably a waste of resources.
I'd say that Bungie probably needs a new dungeon or raid in the next month or two. They have a playerbase that's not quite used to the MMO ebb and flow. Long-time MMO players get it, but for others, this lack of content is something new. Until Bungie fixes it, I'd say your best bet is just to put Destiny down for a bit. Like many MMO operators understand, you can't keep players tied to a game forever. As a player, it's good to spend some time away from your favorite online game. Keep up with the news and go play something else. When new content drops, trust me, Destiny will still be there, intact.
Welcome to the world of MMO content, Destiny fans.