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Bungie’s split with Activision may be bad news for Destiny 2

The current Destiny situation is more complicated than it looks

Destiny 2: Curse of Osiris - Titan entering triangular passage
Destiny 2

Bungie recently announced that it’s splitting with its publisher, Activision, and has acquired the rights to the Destiny franchise. Players reacted joyfully on Reddit and Bungie employees reportedly cheered and popped champagne when the news was shared at a team meeting.

Activision’s corporate overlords are perceived by players to have meddled detrimentally in Bungie’s games. Specifically, players believe Activision was responsible for the implementation of a despised microtransaction system that triggered a huge backlash from fans during the first months of Destiny 2. The loot systems of Destiny 2 at launch also flattened out the game’s reward structure to give better stuff to casual players, while reducing the incentive to be a hardcore or high-commitment player. These changes made purchased loot the game’s most prized trophy by de-emphasizing or removing the swag that had dropped during high-end raids and competitive PvP in Destiny.

2018’s Forsaken expansion improved the rewards for committed players and the microtransactions have become somewhat less prominent, but many players who left the game during the rough first year of Destiny 2 have not returned, according to data collected by the community. Activision executive Coddy Johnson said that Destiny had not seen a “full core re-engage” during a disappointing earnings call in November 2018, in which Activision blamed Destiny 2’s underperformance for its own poor financial results. After Activision shaded Destiny 2 on its earnings call, the game’s director, Luke Smith, fired back on Twitter: “We are not disappointed with Forsaken. We set out to build a game that Destiny players would love, and at Bungie, we love it too.”

But while the split from Activision may herald a brighter future for Bungie and the Destiny franchise, it raises a lot of questions about the future of the Activision-published Destiny 2, a persistent online game in which fans have poured money and time.

This is what those players could expect from Destiny 2 in the short term, and it’s possible they’re headed for disappointment.

A potential content drought

An important thing to understand is that while Bungie ended its partnership with Activision, Destiny 2 is still a legacy product designed and launched as part of a deal that no longer exists. Bungie could be tempted to bring Destiny 2’s run to an early end once it has satisfied all of its existing promises, and then publish a new game — Destiny 3 or something else — that’s closer to its own vision, with none of the compromises that came out of its previous deal with Activision.

Destiny 2 may be self-published by Bungie from now on, but the base that Activision helped build is still there. It has to be tempting to want to clear the decks and start fresh.

The Destiny team said it plans to deliver on the previously-announced Destiny 2 roadmap in an announcement posted on its website. Bungie promised two more content drops in spring and summer 2019 for Annual Pass owners. The statement also says Bungie is “looking forward to releasing more seasonal experiences in the coming months,” and promises some “exciting announcements about what lies beyond.”

The announcement is vague, outside of the concrete pledge to finish the existing roadmap. The seasonal experiences may just be the next two seasons of the annual pass, so Bungie’s statement doesn’t clearly commit to support Destiny 2 beyond July. The original Destiny stopped getting live events like Iron Banner, Trials of Osiris, and holidays once Destiny 2 launched, so it is likely that Destiny 2 will stop getting major content drops — and possible that it will stop getting live eventsonce the final season of the annual pass concludes.

Cayde-6 with guardian - Destiny 2 Forsaken Bungie/Activision

Destiny 2 has been steadily improving since the disappointing Curse of Osiris expansion in 2017, but now I have lower expectations for the quality and scope of the upcoming Destiny 2 content releases based on the announcement of the split. Bungie wants to get out of the Activision business, which means it will likely shift staff away from Destiny 2 and onto Destiny 3, or whatever its unannounced project is. Activision, meanwhile, seems to want to get out of the Destiny business, so it will likely shift its resources — including subsidiary developers Vicarious Visions and High Moon Studios — to other projects it owns. Both companies have reasons to de-emphasize Destiny 2 development.

While the community has generally viewed Activision’s influence over the game as a negative, the assistance and extra manpower supplied by subsidiary studios had a large impact on the beloved Forsaken era. Activision brought in these studios to make Destiny content so that the game would still get regular updates while the core Bungie team could work on larger expansions, but Bungie has likely lost access to any studio or team it doesn’t own.

Destiny 2 players have enjoyed much more new content at a much faster pace than the original game, and that was likely due to the help from external studios. Players haven’t yet heard any plans for how Bungie hopes to keep that pace up by itself.

We will get two upcoming expansions that fulfill contractual obligations if both Activision and Bungie are shifting resources away from Destiny 2, and then there could be an end to live events, which would mean the de facto death of the game. Even if Bungie appoints a live team to run some minor events and keep the lights on until it releases a new game, with no new larger-scale content in development, Destiny 2 will be, at best, a game on life support.

It is possible that Bungie will reach an agreement with Activision to provide new expansions for Destiny 2 beyond the current roadmap, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Both companies seem to want to be rid of each other.

Say goodbye to Activision and also to all of your stuff

The original Destiny allowed players to collect an assortment of mounts, cosmetics, and other collectibles that were trophies for accomplishing various in-game feats, as well as emotes and other special cosmetics sold through the game’s Eververse microtransaction store. These rewards were offered in addition to the weapons and armor that improved players’ stats and combat performance.

Players of yearly games like Call of Duty expect this kind of cosmetic reset between games, but fans treat Destiny more like an MMO, where the expectation is that cosmetics will be preserved between games and major updates. Players who bought the collector’s edition of World of Warcraft in 2004 and received the mini-Diablo companion pet can still summon the Lord of Tiny Terror today, 15 years later. Other long-running online games like League of Legends, Counter-Strike, Dota 2, and Overwatch have made major changes and updates to their games without ever deleting players’ collections of premium cosmetics.

So, some of us weren’t happy when none of our cosmetics transferred over to Destiny 2. The exclusive flaming skull mask from the 2015 Halloween event? Gone. The special SRL gear you got from completing the Sparrow Racing record book? Gone. The “Hotline Bling” dance emote? Gone!

But get ready to lose your collection again, because it is unlikely that your premium Destiny 2 cosmetics will transfer over to Bungie’s post-Activision game. I hope you weren’t too attached to your Mic Drop emote or your exotic Eververse sparrows and shells. I hope you didn’t shell out $10 at Halloween for the Pennywise dance.

Destiny lasted three years. It looks like Destiny 2 might end after two. It’s a bad idea to spend another cent on microtransactions in Destiny 2.

The Devil You Know, and The Devil You Don’t

Chinese Internet company NetEase invested $100 million in Bungie in June 2018. At the time, this was explained as funding that would allow Bungie to make games outside the Destiny franchise and to publish its own games. Bungie told Destiny players that the new deal “won’t impact the hobby you’ve come to know.”

However, NetEase and its money might have a role in shaping the future of the franchise now that Activision is out of the picture and Bungie will be publishing the Destiny series itself.

NetEase publishes mobile games for the Chinese market with exploitative monetization schemes, and is also partnered with Blizzard to develop the controversial Diablo Immortal mobile game. The announcement of that game’s existence led to a very public feud between Blizzard and its fans.

The sky isn’t falling, of course. There is absolutely no public information about how the NetEase partnership affects the future of Destiny, beyond the fact that NetEase is a stakeholder in Bungie. There is no evidence that NetEase will influence the design of Bungie’s upcoming games, or that it intends to implement the monetization schemes it uses in the Chinese market in games marketed to audiences in North America. We should all hope that NetEase intends to be a hands-off partner, and that it is investing in the future profitability of Bungie games made according to Bungie’s vision.

But fans who believe that Bungie’s partnership with Activision led to predatory and exploitative monetization practices will likely be just as concerned that Bungie’s ability to leave Activision and publish its own games was brought about, at least partially, through a partnership with a company that is notorious for implementing pay-to-win monetization schemes in mobile games. Activision may not be able to influence the monetization of future Bungie releases, but an investor with a $100 million stake in the company certainly can.

Hope for the future

In the short term, the split between Bungie and Activision sounds like bad news for Destiny 2 as it exists today. The game has been steadily improving since its flawed launch, but fans were still skeptical about what had come before. The split from Activision may be good news, but it’s not a sure thing.

I expect to see the lifespan of Destiny 2 shortened as everyone involved begins work on the next game, and I don’t think players should expect that their emotes, mounts, and other cosmetics will come with them to Destiny 3. The question is how fans will react to leaving their collections behind for a second time.

Destiny 2: Forsaken - two Guardians, with one aiming a bow
Forsaken seems to have made fans happy, but how long will Destiny 2 stick around?
Bungie, High Moon Studios/Activision

Players have reason to hope that an eventual Destiny 3 might be a stronger game, however, thanks to Bungie being free of what has been a troubled partnership. Getting rid of Activision hopefully means getting rid of the decision-makers who replaced achievement-based rewards with monetization-driven loot systems, and who weighted rewards too heavily toward casual players and alienated the core audience. This aspect of the change brings a lot of hope.

But getting rid of Activision’s corporate overlords also means getting rid of its subsidiary studios, High Moon and Vicarious Visions, who have helped Bungie to release a constant flow of new content. And Bungie’s independence from Activision has been facilitated by an investment from NetEase, and we don’t know how or if this new partnership will influence the direction of the Destiny franchise. One known set of problems may have been traded for a different, yet equally challenging, as-yet unknown set of problems.

While Bungie developers are popping bubbly over their new freedom from Activision, fans should probably keep theirs corked until we have more information about what to expect next. I hope for great things, but it’s too early to assume they’ll be coming.

Update: We’ve reworded a paragraph to make it clear that Activision and Bungie have split ways, and Activision retains no interest in or control of Destiny 2 moving forward.

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