It happened. Bungie and Activision have parted ways prior to the end of what was a seismic ten year publishing deal for Destiny. While Bungie’s staff allegedly popped champagne and cheered the announcement, and Activision thanked the fans for their participation, what of Destiny itself? In the analogy of a divorce, Destiny remains a child that struggles to fit in, full of untapped potential. With custody being handed solely to Bungie, what does this mean for the future of a title that has captivated so many gamers worldwide?
Needless to say, the following is caveated by making it clear that we know little of the tensions or reasons behind the Bungie/Activision split. Aside from perennial industry journalist Jason Schreier’s comments on the matter (on Twitter, Kotaku, and in his book 'Blood, Sweat, and Pixels'), we don’t know a great deal other than that Activision made it clear that Destiny 2’s latest expansion, Forsaken, had underperformed commercially. If there’s one publisher that knows when to cut loose of something, it’s Activision, and maybe it saw something that perhaps the rest of us didn’t.
It’s also worth pointing out that while it’s easy to paint Activision as the “big bad” in this scenario, Bungie has made plenty of mistakes in the four years since Destiny’s initial arrival. While Activision likely set the price of expansion content, the quality has been inconsistent. It wasn’t Activision that suggested players would “throw money at the screen” for cosmetics or implemented the throttling of XP gains. This is, of course, well documented elsewhere, but for now, let’s look at the future of the Destiny IP.
The initial thoughts from the community (at least in the short term) seem to hope that the game’s microtransaction structure could change. At present (and in the most basic of terms), some cosmetic gear can be purchased using real money in the game’s Eververse Store, something that has never sat well with players since Destiny 2 remains a full-priced retail title with an expensive expansion structure (more on that in a moment). While Activision has been suggesting more monetisation of Blizzard projects as well, I don’t think the removal of their influence will lead to fewer microtransactions. Rather, I think this will remain in play, albeit with all revenue going to Bungie henceforth.
Anecdotally I’ve seen people suggest they’re happier to pay for these items now in order to support Bungie’s independence, and Bungie will need it. While breaking the “shackles” of Activision allows more creative freedom, it also introduces a significant degree of risk. This could be negated somewhat by the studio's partnership with Chinese firm NetEase, but despite some speculation, I don’t see Bungie partnering with Sony or Microsoft – it needs all the players that it can get across both consoles and PC. With this in mind, there are other revenue models that could come into play.
Fortnite’s success (personal preference aside, it's a game that runs well on any number of systems) can at least partially be attributed to its free-to-play nature. Bungie seemed to at least consider this approach over the last few months, giving Destiny 2 away on PlayStation Plus and on the Battle.net launcher, and this would surely bring new players into the fold.
At its core, Destiny 2 is an excellent shooter – gunplay, movement, and weapon diversity are all tuned to near-perfection, which make it an easy sell at least mechanically. Its stumbles have often come in terms of content which is expensive to produce, and this pipeline is unlikely to flow freely without Activision’s dollars.
And so another option is to offer a monthly subscription fee, perhaps in the style of Battle.net stablemate World of Warcraft – introducing it after a player reaches a certain level. As unpopular as this would be, if Bungie can provide adequate reasons to invest, there are many who I believe would stump up an extra amount per month to be able to play regularly released content of a higher quality instead of dismal expansions like Curse of Osiris. Too little to show for this investment, however, and the entire franchise could collapse under the weight of its already not-insignificant cost.
Of course, Bungie has already attempted something similar. Forsaken launched alongside a new "annual pass" which allows for (what we now know to be) smaller endgame activities like December’s Black Armory. While still fairly slender and with a disappointing reliance on grind-filled quests, it’s been enough to satiate many players until the next drop. Could we see more annual passes in lieu of Destiny and Destiny 2’s season passes?
Obviously this could all be for nought. Destiny 3 is already rumoured to be in development, but there is a chance that without Activision’s insistence on an annualised release cadence, it could be delayed to allow for it to be something that neither of the first two entries have been: complete. As I’ve posited before, Bungie cannot allow Destiny 3 to ship needing a sizeable expansion a year later to fix things a la The Taken King or Forsaken.
It’s fair to say there are many questions surrounding the future of Destiny, and while these questions will need to be answered by the end of the current content plan in Autumn of 2019, assurances will need to be made before that. There has never been so much competition from all sides – similar titles such as ANTHEM and The Division 2 land in February and March respectively, while Monster Hunter: World’s Iceborne expansion later this year could also eat into Destiny’s market share as a loot-driven RPG.
As a franchise that has divided gamers since its inception, the next chapter of Destiny is in Bungie’s hands exclusively for the first time. Here’s hoping that this isn’t a “be careful what you wish for” scenario.
What are your hopes for Destiny's future? What would you like to see Bungie do going forward? Embrace your own destiny in the comments section below.