Bungie’s Destiny 2 is the latest game caught up by controversy after players discovered the game was blatantly misreporting XP gains and lying to them about how long it would take to earn rewards. Like Battlefront 2, Destiny uses a loot crate mechanism (purchasable with real money) to reward various items. Unlike EA, however, Destiny 2 doesn’t implement the various weapon and armor mods in a solely pay-to-win system. Polygon reports that you can buy mods directly in-game with Glimmer (the in-game currency) as opposed to buying silver with real-world money. Despite this difference, players are just as furious.
In Destiny 2, once you hit level 20, you stop gaining levels and instead gain a new loot crate (Bright Engram) every time you would’ve leveled up. Last week, during an event known as a “Clarion Call,” in which players earn additional XP from teaming up with clanmates, gamers started noticing that the initially quick XP reward time dropped very quickly, despite this never being communicated in-game. Reddit user EnergiserX found that he’d lost up to 95 percent of his earned XP in one event, even though the game claimed he’d earned the normal amount. Because the XP the game said he was earning had no relation to the XP the game was actually recording, he wound up earning 1.5 fewer Bright Engrams than he should have during a three-hour gaming session. The graph below shows the difference between how much XP he should’ve earned and the total amount of lost XP (bottom yellow line). It fluctuates depending on how quickly he played the game — at lengthy intervals between events, he earned the amount of XP that the game reported he had earned:
Bungie admitted to this system and its existence up until Friday in a blog post, and said it would immediately change its own practices:
As a result, players will see XP earn rates change for all activities across the board, but with all values being displayed consistently in the user interface. Over the course of the next week, we will be watching and reviewing XP game data to ensure that these changes meet our expectations, as well as yours.
But Bungie, despite claiming to listen to players and take their feedback into account, seems to have lost any touch with what players would consider an acceptable solution. The company simply doubled the amount of XP required to earn an additional Engram, from 80,000 XP to 160,000 XP. And again, for a second time, Bungie did nothing to communicate this change to its own players, who confirmed it themselves and then hit the company with the news. The lack of transparency has been a persistent and major frustration for Destiny fans, and it’s a problem Bungie is apparently unwilling to address.
I’m once again reminded of a tweet storm game developer Damion Schubert published during the ongonig EA/Battlefront II crisis. You can read his full remarks starting here; I’ve excerpted two tweets below:
That’s because in a lot of cases, the players are correct. Bringing microtransactions into things erases the benefit of the doubt. (15)
— Damion Schubert, Dark Warlord of Game Design (@ZenOfDesign) November 15, 2017
This simple point can’t be made strongly enough. Once you start linking in-game progression to loot crates, even if they aren’t strictly required for purchase, you’ve created an environment in which players will question your every adjustment and motive. Bungie has gotten hammered for offering a promotion in partnership with Pop-Tarts, giving players a 25 percent XP boost if they bought the food in-game — but what was that boost actually worth if the game was secretly degrading how much XP you earned per hour?
Destiny 2 may not be pay-to-win, but players clearly resent having their XP gains gutted with no notification this is taking place, followed by a decision to double the amount of XP required to gain a level. Developers who intend to deploy loot crates need to pay far closer attention to how gamers perceive these changes. If enough players start believing they’re being nickel-and-dimed and quit as a result, it won’t matter how much money the handful of ‘whales’ bring in.
Some will argue that this is an example of an ‘entitled’ gamer mentality, but I couldn’t disagree more. AAA companies are building real-money systems into their games in ways that damage the underlying title and make it far less fun to play. No one is under any obligation to commit to buying $ 100, $ 50, or even $ 5 of in-game currency to spend on loot crates after paying $ 60 to $ 80 for a game. The design of these systems clearly creates an incentive to pay-to-play, and they’re just as clearly intended to push the player towards paying for items. A system that throws away up to 95 percent of the XP you earn without telling players it ever happened, followed by an level requirement doubling? That’s garbage, and gamers have every right to label it such. Destiny 2’s Bright Engrams are also quite expensive, at $ 1.40 to $ 2, compared with 80 cents for an Overwatch loot crate, and the emotes, weapon skins, and other items don’t carry over from one game to the next. Come Destiny 3, you’ll be expected to pay to unlock a new set of capabilities.
If the developers and studios that build these titles want to create games that don’t draw such controversy, they already know the solution. It’s not the job of gamers to roll over and accept such blatantly skewed, profit-driven game play so a game publisher can enjoy another round of record quarterly profits.