The Road To Destiny 2.0

The legendary World of Warcraft killer. This fabled game has been talked about so much over the years that it is impressive people still care about it, yet, we do.

For the non gamers out there I will give some context. World of Warcraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, or MMORPG for short. This breaks down into two parts, Massively Multiplayer Online, which describes the open and collaborative nature of the game, and Role Playing Game, which describes the way the game plays. You can do a quick search to find more info about it, but I'm going to assume from here on we all know these terms.

What W.o.W did, is perfect this model of gaming. I say perfect, not to say that W.o.W. is perfect, but to say that they are by far and away the best. At one point W.o.W. claimed over 12 million active monthly subscribers, and at 15$ a pop one can quickly see why everyone in the gaming industry would love to have their own slice of the pie. As the saying implies though, this has proven to be an elusive beast. Many have tried, some have been profitable, non have fully succeeded.

Enter Bungie

Bungie is going to be a large thread in this blog, therefore it is good for people to know a base line about them. Bungie made Halo. For those of you who know me, know that I'm a huge Halo, and I am not going to try and hide it. I also, through the transitive property of bad ass games, love Bungie.

In April of 2010, Bungie announced a publishing agreement with Activision games, the same people who profit from W.o.W. At the time there was speculation of Bungie making some sort of MMO, and in September of 2014, it launched Destiny. Destiny is a console based MMO, and is the main subject of this blog.

What is Destiny?

Destiny is an MMO, an RPG, and an FPS (First person shooter), all in one. It has won many awards, but also received a lot critisism for not living up to expectations. What I would like to lay out in this blog, is an outsiders opinion of a business plan, which lead to a game, to be the W.o.W. sibling.

If you noticed the verbiage change, it was intentional. I pointed out that Activision owns the publishing rights to both Destiny and W.o.W., which means it has no interest in killing W.o.W., simply diversifying its assets.

The Business plan

  • Create a game which keeps players actively engaged, ideally daily, but at least weekly.
  • Find a way to make subscription like income from the engaged players.
  • Make it an FPS so as to not take customers from W.o.W. (Activision's goal, Bungie's strongsuite)
  • Release it on a console to reach non PC gamers. (Also, Activision's goal, Bungie's strongsuite)

The Problem Set

  • To date, there has been limited success in the MMOFPS market.
  • Console gamers will historically not pay a subscription fee.
  • MMOs of any kind are HUGE. Creating one is a likewise a huge investment, and is historically risky business for profit margins.

Sum Up The Setting

Bungie had years to plan Destiny. We are talking about some of the most creative minds in the entire industry. Who have been dreaming about their next thing for years before they were ever allowed to work on it. These are the same creative minds who spawned the Halo universe! To say that they had big ideas, would be an understatement.

This fits perfectly with the MMO space because the second you say MMO, we expect a metric Blam! ton of content. Bungie, had that content in mind. Then reality sets in. They had to get paid to keep the lights on, they had to keep players engaged long enough to paint the masterpiece, they had to execute.

So where do you start when you want to build the next wonder of video game history?

Start Small

In agile software development we call this the Minimum Viable Product. The idea is that the customer (gamers) wants the world, and we want to give it to them. We also understand that of all the amazing things we want our program (game) to do, there is a compromise that will allow the customer (gamers) to start using the program (game) earlier. In the process we can get feedback and enough money to keep fueling the development process.

The key to a minimum viable product is that is has to be enough to keep the initial customers interested, and in the spirit of the end goal, it has to be something we can build from so we don't have to start the development effort over from scratch (too costly).

What was Destiny's MVP?

I'm glad you asked!

Gameplay

The most important thing in an MVP is the core. Give the customer the thing that matter most. For any game, this is how the game plays. Do the physics make sense, do my jumps feel natural, is the recoil from a gun consistent? This is a seemingly small part of a game that if done superbly, is not noticeable. When done wrong, no one will play your game. When done well, people won't notice it outright, but it will not be conducive to every day gaming. It has to feel natural.

Destiny, nailed it. When I throw a grenade, it goes where I think it should go. Does it go where I want it to go? No, it goes where I told it to go based on the movements of my controller. It sounds like a crazy small thing, but it adds a level of finesse to the game that keeps you coming back to play more. Skill jumps, precise aiming, mastering weapons, knowing your armor, it all plays in to how engaged I am when playing the game. The more complex, the more brain stimulation, the more stimulation, the more I want to play!

To put things in perspective. The way that weapons balance out, meaning none of them are inherently better than others, makes a big difference in the gameplay. Destiny has had it's issues with this. Listen to my podcast and hear the weeks of complaining about Thorn, shotguns, or cheap snipers. There are imbalances.

What was Bungie's response? https://www.bungie.net/7_Destiny-Weapon-Tuning-20/en/News/News?aid=13147

This narrative talks about all the changes Bungie has been looking at for the new weapons system. Every weapon, changing by percentages. This is the type of O.C.D. that puts @adamritzel to shame. This was a team of people, going weapon by weapon, ability by ability, percentage point by percentage point. Going through the game mechanics with a fine tooth comb. To perfect them. Gameplay, is the core of Destiny.

Gameplay Needs A Context

Gameplay is great, but if I don't have a context in which to consume it, then I will never understand how good it is. I believe that this was Destiny 1.0. The original game that shipped lacked a storyline, had a poor showing of multiplayer maps, and was void of end game content except for one raid. All in all it was a huge letdown on paper.

My words here may be a little harsh, but I think they relay the general sentiment that the gaming community had with Destiny. Similar to how a gaming engine will put together a game to demo the capabilities of the engine (we are looking at you Crysis), Destiny wrapped content around there engine and gameplay.

My small anecdote here is that I think the content we saw in Destiny 1.0 really does tie into a much larger story, and that in a few years we will see it as a necessary foundation to the larger universe.

The Dark Below

Destiny's first expansion was met with excitement by few, and furry by most. Only a few short months after releasing the original game, Bungie put out an "Expansion" with a few more missions, an additional raid, and a few multiplayer maps. The expansion, cost $20. For those who are keeping track, we have now spent $80 on a game, which the gaming community at large does not feel has the content of a normal AAA game.

Enter the subscription model. Do you remember how earlier in this document I mentioned that console gamers wouldn't pay a subscription? Scroll up if you missed it, because Bungie just got you to pay a subscription in two month intervals. Some may confuse this tone of voice for anger, but it is more a voice of respect. They needed to make subscription money, so they made it happen.

The beauty of this model is that most people look at the content that was released and say "Well they did put a decent amount of effort into it." It wasn't a ton of content, but what was there was done well. I'm not disagreeing with this. Bungie was able to add a decent amount of things in a relatively short amount of time. Some people saw this simply as Bungie withholding content from the original game, so it could get more money, hence the point above. That certainly played a part, but outside of artistic skills I would venture to say that the first expansion needed far fewer resources than a typical expansion. This is because the underlying core game engine was already written and written well. I think that bungie did a good job of noticing that they could get some good bang for their buck by releasing content that required very few engine changes. It's smart, get the most money, with the smallest amount of effort.

The House of Wolves

Feedback is an amazing tool in software development. The House of Wolves is the first time we got to see Bungie take our feedback, prioritize it, and give us what we want most. The way I imagine things at Bungie is that there are three teams. One that manages the minimum viable product. It takes the current game, ensures that additions to the game do not change the core experience, and absorbs the new content. The second team is working full steam ahead on the original game plan. The original game plan covers ten years of content so they stay busy. The third team, implements the most popular feature requests. This team got to shine in the House of Wolves.

The two main complaints that I heard with Destiny at this point was that it lacked dynamic NPC (Non person controller) content, and the lack in competitive multiplayer. Bungie answered in two huge ways with Prison of Elders and Trials of Osirus. These two modes added a brand new way to engage variose foes from the storyline in a new way, and a top tier competitive multiplayer mode. This seemed like it was a lot of content for an expansion, and it was, but to go back to the point around a foundation based on gameplay and a solid engine. The team was expanding, not starting from scratch. This allowed them to deliver content that was both new, and desired based on feedback, to expand the game in ways that the gamers desired.

Lets Wrap This Up

Destiny's third expansion, The Taken King, is releasing in September of 2015. This major expansion is being coined Destiny 2.0. I keep reading articles in which people discuss that this is finally the game, after three expansions, that should have been the original launch title. I write this blog to disagree.

I agree that there was a lack of content when you compare it to other games that have been released this year. I'll even go as far as saying after one year, $140 total dollars spent might be a stretch. I do, however, think that Bungie has executed the plan flawlessly.

My case and point of Destiny is this. Bungie has massive dreams for this game, and through an iterative process they have laid the foundation. Many people complained, many people quit playing, but they stayed the course they knew they had to in order to some day bring their dreams to a reality.