This is about capitalism as much as fandom
As Bungie has released new information about its upcoming sequel, Destiny 2, over the past few weeks, I’ve been unable to get excited about the new campaign, new patrol areas and new visuals.
Dedicated players already have a complicated relationship with Destiny; nobody loves it unreservedly. Even players like me, who have played it for hundreds or thousands of hours over the span of three years, tend to have serious grievances with the game. In fact, the most dedicated players are likely to be the angriest about the way their commitment and investment has been treated by Bungie, and with good reason. As has often been the case with previous Destiny updates, the new sequel comes with a slap in the face to committed Destiny fans.
In March, Bungie announced that when players transition to the new game, none of their stuff — none of their gear, none of their currencies and none of their cosmetics — will be going with them to the sequel.
This might seem routine to some observers. Call of Duty players, for example, spend real money on supply drops containing weapon skins and avatar customizations knowing that they’ll be leaving that stuff behind when they transition to a next annual Call of Duty iteration.
But Destiny isn’t Call of Duty; it more closely resembles PC franchises that are handled like services, with the expectation being that fans play for years and grow along with the updates and story.
And those games treat paying users a lot better than Bungie is treating the players who spent money on cosmetic items in Destiny.
What we talk about when we talk about Eververse
To understand the scope of what Bungie is stripping from its higher-spending players, you need to know what the studio has been encouraging players to buy for the past couple of years.
Destiny, like many other games that offer microtransactions, has an intermediate currency called Silver, which is used to purchase cosmetic items and event-related loot boxes from special vendors associated with something called the Eververse Trading Company.
You pay $1 per hundred Silver, but Bungie gives you a bonus if you buy it in bundles, so you get 2,300 Silver for $20 and 5,800 for $50.
One of the biggest sinks for this currency is emotes. Emotes range from around $2 for simple gestures like a congratulatory or celebratory gesture to $5 for more elaborate stuff like jazz hands or air guitar.
Dancing is also a big thing in Destiny, and Bungie has sold a number of customizable dances for Guardians for $5 each, including the Hotline Bling dance, Gangnam Style, and the Napoleon Dynamite dance, as well as the Halloween-exclusive Thriller Dance, which costs $7.
Bungie has been releasing seasonal batches of emotes several times per year since 2015, as well as emotes tied to special events.
The most recent batch of Eververse emotes were released with the Dawning event during Christmas and New Year’s, just a few weeks before the announcement that Eververse purchases would not carry over to the new game.
Additionally, Eververse releases randomized loot boxes tied to events and in-game holidays, containing cosmetically unique armor sets and ghost shells as well as exclusive Sparrow mounts, spaceships and cosmetic skins for exotic weapons.
At Halloween, there are special random loot boxes which contain cosmetic Halloween masks depicting different Destiny characters, and the 2015 and 2016 boxes each additionally contained a unique rare-drop mask that was only available during that event. In 2015, it was a flaming skull, and in 2016, it was a Wolf’s Head that had a cool interaction with the $5 howl emote. Since these were random, low-percentage drops from $3 boxes, many players had to spend over $50 to get them.
All in, if you want to fill up your emote kiosks, collected all the holiday and SRL mounts and chased down the rare-drop Halloween masks? You could have spent $400 on Destiny microtransactions, likely under the mistaken belief that your collection of cosmetics would follow you throughout the decade of Destiny adventures Bungie had planned for your persistent characters.
And, by the way, if you bought a $50 bundle of currency and didn’t spend it all, that won’t be carrying over to the new game either!
This isn’t how other online games treat paying customers
Riot Games announced a major upcoming system change for League of Legends, in which they will completely replace the existing Rune system.
Runes in League are customizable minor stat buffs you can apply to your character prior to entering a match. In the current system, you have to purchase the Runes with IP, the currency you earn for playing the game, and they can be pretty expensive. Even though players don’t directly spend money on Runes, a lot of new players buy IP-increasing boosts to earn more IP to buy runes. You have to choose between spending IP on runes or on new champions, which means the current system encourages you to either buy champs with cash or live without a robust lineup until you can first get your runes in order.
You also need to buy rune pages, which allow you to save more rune loadouts. You can buy these with cash, and they cost about $3 to $4 each, although Riot sells them for half price a couple of times each year.
All in, a lot of players probably sunk $50 or so into the current Rune system in the form of IP boosts or direct rune page purposes.
The new system will be completely free, but Riot has assured players who invested in the current system that they will be compensated when their Runes go away, even though most long term League players bought this stuff years ago.
Similarly, World of Warcraft has been running for nearly 13 years, and contains hundreds of mounts, companion pets, toys and other cosmetic collectibles. If you bought a collector’s edition of the original 2004 release, it came with a pet panda cub, a zergling and a mini-Diablo. You can still use these today.
Counter–Strike, Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2 have similarly allowed players to preserve their collections of cosmetics over a period of years, and it seems similarly unlikely that Overwatch is going to transition to an Overwatch 2 in a year or two and erase players’ collections of loot.
Bungie wants to sell us Destiny like it was a service, while playing by the rules of a standard $60 premium release. It’s that tension that is rubbing players the wrong way.
Changes and updates don’t justify erasing players’ collections
When World of Warcraft first launched in 2004, it ran at low resolutions and its characters were blocky and skinned with muddy textures. The game launched as a contemporary of the PlayStation 2, and looked like it.
Blizzard has since changed every relevant game system, redesigned every character class multiple times, added support for numerous new visual and gameplay features and completely remodeled and retextured all the game’s characters and environments. There still has never been a WoW 2 and, while old gear is eclipsed for functional purposes with each increase of the level cap, players have the option to transform their current gear to match the appearance of any of the thousands of older items they may have collected.
And WoW has never taken away cosmetics. All the collector’s edition perks, all the event-specific items, all the in-game redemption prizes from Blizzard’s long out-of-print pre-Hearthstone WoW trading card game, all the Christmas presents and tabards and mounts, and certainly all the items purchased from Blizzard’s cash store still work. Many of the new UI features Blizzard has added in the last few expansions are designed to help players organize and catalog all their doodads.
League of Legends has similarly seen extensive visual and systems changes without ever having a sequel or breaking the continuity of players’ collections of paid cosmetics. In addition to major updates which completely replace the game client or ui or completely rebuild the game environment, League has frequent updates that provide visual and gameplay updates to individual champions, replacing aging visual assets and outdated mechanics.
When a League champion gets an update, players who owned the old version get the upgrade for free, and when a champ gets a new model, Riot’s art team rebuilds all the character’s cosmetic skins to meet the new standards. People who own the old skins get the new ones for free.
This stuff is possible, and other companies have made it work on a much larger scale, for many more years.
This isn’t a charity
When players raise complaints about Bungie’s Eververse policies on the Destiny forums, the overall tone from the community seems to be: “You bought these emotes and sparrows and masks in Destiny 1. Destiny 2 is a new game. There’s no reason to expect microtransactions from an old game to carry over to a new game. Bungie doesn’t owe you anything.”
That is entirely true, but it’s also really stupid.
Blizzard, Riot and Valve’s policies of carefully preserving players’ collections of cosmetic items aren’t the result of kindness or benevolence. These are large corporate entities that are focused on maximizing profits.
What they understand, and what Bungie doesn’t seem to, is that it is necessary to maintain the trust of the community if a studio wants to have a game in which players feel comfortable spending hundreds of dollars on cosmetic items to customize their characters. Bungie should be taking care to keep the spenders happy, so they will keep spending.
If a player spent $500 on League of Legends skins, and then Riot announced that the game was going to become League 2 and all cosmetics would be left behind in the old version … is it likely that player would continue to buy cosmetics after transitioning over to the new game?
Most studios that maintain long-running online games seem to believe that separating players from their collections of cosmetic items is bad for business. Bungie is about to test that hypothesis, because Halloween, which comes only a few weeks after the Destiny 2 launch, is the biggest event on the Destiny calendar. Many members of the community have previously been willing to spend heavily at the Eververse shop to get the annual set of spooky emotes and the fancy rare-drop Halloween mask.
Will Destiny players open their wallets again, right after Bungie has negated their last two years of in-game spending? I’m betting there will be a lot less trick-or-treating this year at the Eververse shop.
It’s not too late to fix this
If dance emotes and custom sparrows were important enough to players to induce them to spend $5 each, Bungie should have recognized at a much earlier point that these things needed to carry over to the new game.
If it’s too late to implement some mechanism for porting this stuff into the new game — or if technical limitations make doing so impossible — Bungie needs to figure out a way to make people who spent on cosmetics in Destiny whole, possibly by giving them currency in the new game equivalent to what they spent in the old game. Even if that amounts to hundreds of dollars.
A studio can’t maintain a healthy online game if the community cannot trust the developers to respect their investment of time and especially their investment of money. I want Destiny 2 to be fun, and I want to continue to invest in the game. Bungie is making it hard to do so.
Daniel Friedman is the Edgar award-nominated author of Don’t Ever Get Old, Don’t Ever Look Back and Riot Most Uncouth. He lives in New York City.
Source: Polygon – Xbox One