Advertisement
Games

With 'Shadowkeep,' Bungie Is Catering to Destiny's Most Hardcore Fans

Sometimes small and sustainable is what you want.

by Ricardo Contreras
Oct 4 2019, 7:07pm

Image courtesy of Bungie

As we enter Destiny's seventh year, Bungie finds itself at a crossroads. Long-running franchises are often driven, to some degree or another, by their perceived audience. Are you designing a game to draw in new players? Do you cater to the people that have stuck with you from the beginning? Is there an in-between? We discuss the decisions Bungie made with Shadowkeep and much more on this episode of Waypoint Radio. Make sure to listen to the end of the podcast for a few announcements from the staff. You can listen to the full episode and read an excerpt below.

Austin: Rob, you were going to say something before. As someone else who does, like me, have a place in his heart for Destiny, how's all this make you feel?

Rob: I feel like the way Destiny and Destiny 2 have sort of come into existence and been updated kinda reminds me of them trying to build the Destiny equivalent of the Second Avenue subway line. "OK, so, we have a lot of compromised infrastructure that was put in at this time, and had this shape for these reasons.

Cado: A lot of past traumas.

Rob: We have new needs, we want to do new things with it. All that stuff still exists, we can't just blow it all away. And all our new development is going to be on this substrate of old development. That means there's going to be compromises built into it. Destiny is, to an extent, a narrative franchise as much as it is kind of a live game, where people go and they repeat content and play it for the loot and the shooting. I can't bring myself to combine those two things right now.

Austin: Nope, me either, you're good.

Cado: Shlooter?

Austin: No, just keep going Rob.

Rob: No, I don't know what you're talking about. But yeah, it just feels like they have this problem where Destiny has a fair bit of story at this point. There's a fair bit of old experiences that are part of that saga, and Destiny's always sort of invested in it's own lore certainly, and yet at the same time the way this game is taking shape is always about directing people to strip mining the newest and latest stuff again and again and not finding a good way to re-up that old content.

I think in part, not because they're embarrassed of their old content, though somebody should be embarrassed about Curse of Osiris, I think what it is is they're keenly aware that, by the time new content rolls out, the fan base is already exhausted of that old content. They're like "Mm, we got to make sure that stuff disappears."

Battlefield has a similar thing where new maps come out, and all the old maps basically get sunset in a lot of the matchmaking. You stop seeing old favorite maps because oh, we're on to the new stuff. Because it is all tuned for people who are logging in on a daily basis and have seen the stuff a million times and don't want to see it again. They just wanted the new stuff. But I think what Destiny ends up in the cycle of is that all the old stuff gets kind of tossed in the bin for like regular daily-play type goals, [and] it becomes invisible to people who want to catch up on the story. [These are people] who, for whatever reason, are broken in the way that Austin and I are broken and really want to know about "Huh, that's a weird name for a thing. Wonder what that's about."

Austin: Right, totally. Cado, you and I had this talk before this where you were like "Austin, you don't need to play these [old expansions]," and I was like you need to understand there are albums that have songs on them that I do not like, I still listen to the whole album. Because the I want to hear the whole album. And part of that is [wanting to have] a critical perspective, which is, when I talk about Destiny 2, if they if they make Destiny 3 and not just Destiny 2 3.0, I will wants to have said to myself "Ah, taken in its whole, what do I think of Destiny 2." 'Cause that's just the way my brain is wired.

And I recognize that that is not in line with a lot of other people who are like "Yeah, I wanna play Shadowkeep with my friends, I hear Forsaken was good, maybe I'll check that out at some point, but for now just get me ready to fuckin' play with my friends." I'm happy with adoptions there. And frankly, if I had to choose between serving the audience that has been with me like day in day out, and airing instead to favor all the Austin Walkers of the world who are going to pop in for three weeks on a new expansion drops, play through that campaign, and bounce— I understand why I would err in favor of the [veteran players] over the [casual players], especially after getting your independence from Activision. But I think they've erred too hard in that in that direction, they've leaned so hard that it is an error.

Rob: Are there enough [veteran players]?

Austin: Yeah, right? I think so. I mean that's the big question.

Patrick: Well, if you look at the subtext of the tension between Activision and Bungie, this was in a lot of ways the crux of what those two sides were arguing. Activision and their push for more microtransactions and things like that, came from a place of "we should expand the audience, we want to bring more people in." And Bungie, as Destiny 2 played itself out, you could you could tell there was an increasing frustration of [them thinking] "actually, we need to be placating and catering towards these really hardcore players that are on the treadmill everyday. If they're upset none of the other stuff works."

In Bungie's mind, it seems to like if the people at the the tip of the spear aren't happy, it doesn't matter what the other people think because theoretically it should flow out from there and everyone benefits in the tip of the spear being happy. Rob's point is maybe "Well, if you're spending so much time on those people, are you missing out on [everyone] else?" I think that's possible, but I think Bungie, even if they fly right past me, I do think they're making the right choice at this moment in time. If they're going to have a future for Destiny, one in which has Bungie's stamp on it, well then get your house in order with [veteran players] and then worry about everything else later, 'cause there's still time.

'Cause clearly there's enough there that you, me, and Rob keep going "Well let's get back in it." How many times have we done this?

Austin: "This is it, let's start a new group chat."

Patrick: And they'll do it again!

Rob: This is like if Tom Thibodeau ran a AAA Franchise.

[laughter]

Patrick: Wow, deep cut Rob. There's a very small audience for that, even I barely hold on to that reference.

Rob: But I do think there's something to that. To an extent did the the tip of spear is the sure thing, that committed audience is the sure thing. But on the other hand when I hear Cado use the phrase "You had to be there" as a kind of guiding ethos to what Bungie's doing with Destiny right now, that is discouraging to hear. The thing is, I probably won't be, not on the regular, right. You don't hang out with your friends who always have nothing but inside jokes because eventually–

Austin: There's a distinction here, which is they are adding new stuff, and what they've moved from is the model of dropping an expansion once every eight months, to dropping new stuff every week, every month, that creates new in jokes, that creates new references. I'm with you, I'm the one who loses in this scenario, because I'm not going to ever be as committed as Cado is. I'm never going to be there for all those new in-jokes. I'm gonna be the friend who who moved away from home, but still comes home to see their family. So when they're home every month to see their family for the weekend, they try to catch up with their old friends. But hey a month has happened and there's a new joke, and everyone else laughs, and you laugh, and they look at you like "Why are you laughing? You don't get this, you weren't fucking here for Hannah's birthday party," and I was like "I wasn't but I could tell it was funny, and everyone laughing so I laughed with you."

Like I get it, but I also think about my favorite of all time gaming experiences. I think about something like The Matrix Online, which is like the essential "you had to be there" game. I think about things like tabletop role-playing games where this is literally an experience for me and my five friends. That's it. Maybe we're friends with people who played the same edition of D&D or L5R or whatever. And we can talk about those things like, "Oh yeah, did you ever play 3rd Edition?" But, the specific experience at the table? It's a limited group.

And I think about economic models. So like, cards on the table, I think about this in terms of stuff I make. Friends at the Table is about to start new season. It's a sci-fi season, it's a mech season, it's in the same setting as the sci-fi and mech stuff we've done before, but I have the same dilemma. I could make it for the people who have listened to past seasons. I can make it even more [specifically] for the people who I know pay us on Patreon. Or, I can try to make it the on-ramp thing. And there's a part of me that says, "You know, what if I made it just for the people fucking diehards, think about how good it could be. Think about all the callbacks I could do. Think about all the references that only they would get, I can build off this like multi-year, multiple campaign thing where there's this deep resonance for those people." But there is no way to get new people on board.

For me, obviously I have to find a happy medium between those two. I want it to be an on-ramp. But I want, at the same time as I make that decision, to defend the possibility that you can make something sustainable in the world for a small group of people that is just for them. It does not need to be the "every person shooter." Right? It is okay if you say "instead of getting 100% of the potential audience, we're gonna get 5% of that potential audience, but they're gonna love us and support us so much and we're able to continue making something for them."


Discussed: Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, Neocab, Card of Darkness, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, WARSAW

You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Stitcher. If you're using something else, this RSS link should let you add the podcast to whatever platform you'd like. If you'd like to directly download the podcast, click here. Please take a moment and review the podcast, especially on Apple Podcasts. It really helps.

Interaction with you is a big part of this podcast, so make sure to send any questions you have for us to gaming@vice.com with the header "Questions." (Without the quotes!) We can't guarantee we'll answer all of your questions, but rest assured, we'll be taking a look at them.

Have thoughts? Swing by the Waypoint forums to share them!