Hi everyone — welcome to another issue of Naavik Digest. If you missed our last one, be sure to check out our analysis of Google opening the doors to blockchain games on Android and Ripple’s SEC victory. Be sure to check out the great game deconstruction on Bethesda and Alpha Dog’s Mighty Doom we published on Tuesday as well.
In this issue, we have the second half of our two-part live service critique on Bungie’s Destiny and how it's undergone a gradual evolution into one of the most monetized mainstream games in history. You can read part one here.
#1 How Bungie Lost the Plot With Destiny’s Live Service Model (Part 2)
By Mario Stefanidis, CFA, Naavik Contributor
This is the second part of our analysis of Bungie’s monetization practices in the Destiny franchise. Last week, we covered the development history of Destiny and the decisions that drove Bungie toward live service titles rather than games focused on storytelling. Part two of the analysis will explore the launch of Destiny 2 and its gradual evolution into one of the most monetized mainstream games in history.
Destiny 2 was released worldwide for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in September 2017. Right off the bat, the game was more well-received than its predecessor, with Metascores of 85 for the PS4 and 87 for the Xbox One. The PC version, released a month later, received a score of 83, due to high system demands. This marked a mid- to high-single-digit improvement over its predecessor, though it fell slightly short of Activision’s 90 threshold for developer bonuses.
Destiny 2 was praised for its story, with critics calling it a much more robust and cohesive narrative. In particular, the main campaign and expansions were seen as having deeper storytelling, more well-developed characters, and more emotionally resonant moments. Some critics, such as GameRevolution’s Cody Perez, said the experience was as gripping as Halo.
With a greater variety of content compared to Destiny 1 at its launch, the sequel gave players more activities to engage with from the start, making the early game experience more enjoyable. It introduced the clan system, making it easier for players to team up and coordinate activities. Additionally, the Guided Games feature allowed solo players to find groups for raids and other challenging content, promoting a more inclusive environment.
Countless other updates addressed many issues players had with the first game. However, one such addition was unwelcome to much of the franchise’s hardcore fanbase — microtransactions at launch. After completion of the third mission, players unlock the Eververse Trading Company, which makes its return from the first Destiny game. The store again utilized Silver, with the rates for the premium currency remaining unchanged: 500 Silver for $4.99, 1,100 Silver for $9.99, and 2,300 Silver for $19.99. While there are additional bundles of Silver that now exist, the rates for the currency have remained unchanged since 2017.
Recall that in the first Destiny, players could only spend Silver on emotes. In Destiny 2, the store initially stocked loot boxes called Bright Engrams, with cosmetics including emotes, Sparrows (Destiny’s in-game hoverbikes), ships, Ghost shells, and weapon ornaments. Each of these cost 200 Silver, meaning two could be purchased with $5 before a player had to resupply their Silver.
Furthermore, items that affected gameplay had a chance of appearing in these boxes. Weapon and armor mods were on the loot table, both of which augment a player’s stats. These were only “blue” rare mods, and “purple” legendary mods could easily be found via in-game drops. Still, many players were angry that stat-boosting items could be purchasable in the first place, as it could pave the way to more malicious monetization.
The first paid DLC for Destiny came out in December 2017, titled “The Curse of Osiris.” This could either be purchased via an Expansion Pass for $35 that also granted players access to the second paid DLC, or à la carte for $20. Unlike the main game, this expansion was not well received, with a 61 Metascore and a dismal user score. While some criticism was directed toward the story, players and the media alike noted the loot system was insufficient and essentially hid most content behind the Eververse. The second major content release was Warmind, released in May 2018, and it marked a story improvement by introducing new lore into the universe, but it did little to assuage the Eververse concerns.
Cosmetic microtransactions are usually uncontroversial when they are inconsequential to the gameplay. Most gamers understand that game development costs have ballooned, and the maintenance of their favorite title requires revenue beyond unit sales and, in the realm of free-to-play, these sales are vital to the ongoing survival of live service games. But Destiny is predicated around the collecting experience, to the point where the game has a dedicated tab cataloging every possible item one can collect. As noted by former Forbes contributor Dave Thier, “Better equipment has a marginal effect on actual gameplay in Destiny 2, and so questing after perfect rolls and complete Raid Sets just doesn't have the same impact that it used to.”
Bungie’s split from Activision Blizzard in 2019 changed Destiny forever. The two companies parted ways amicably, primarily due to financial reasons. Destiny wasn’t a big enough contributor to Activision’s bottom line, and the publisher was frustrated that it couldn’t introduce new monetization pathways into Destiny since it didn’t own the IP. COO Coddy Johnson iterated that “controlling the underlying IP gives [Activision Blizzard] the chance to move with new experiences and new engagement models, which also come with new revenue streams.”
After the Activision split, many Destiny fans believed that microtransactions would be scaled back now that Bungie had complete creative and financial control over the franchise. But this couldn’t be further from the truth, as later that year Destiny 2 became “free-to-play” under a new version called New Light. Bungie realized that revenue from unit sales paled in comparison to what it could sow using a full-fledged games-as-a-service model.
It is important to clarify that Destiny 2 is not truly a free-to-play game but more accurately described as free-to-try. The content available to free players is only a fraction of what paying players have access to. Free players miss out on significant portions of the game, including the campaign and various activities. Given the complex and at times convoluted aspects of the story, missing out on these severely detracts from the experience.
In August 2019, Bungie unveiled a new approach to seasonal content, introducing season passes for the price of 1,000 Silver ($10). This began with Season of the Undying, which was available alongside the release of major expansion Shadowkeep in October. Bungie later introduced a way to purchase levels in the season pass at the rate of 100 Silver per level, but only after a certain point in the season so that players couldn’t unlock everything all at once.
Season passes are decisively pay-to-win. As they progress, players unlock access to glimmer, which can be used to purchase many items and services in the Tower social hub alongside gear with unique modifications and engrams, which are Bungie’s version of loot boxes. The free track of the season pass does contain some of this content, but a fraction of what the paid track rewards.
Bungie went on to lock over 20 exotic weapons and parts of the Forsaken campaign behind the $20 Forsaken Pack. Players were outraged, given many had paid for the campaign back in 2018 only to find that its content was no longer available.
In May 2022, Destiny 2 received a new $20 biannual Dungeon Pass, which is separate from the game's annual expansions and quarterly season passes. These are multiplayer PvE activities that feature unique mechanics and bosses throughout and are shorter than Raids, which typically arrive alongside the game’s annual major expansions. This content, which one could argue should have been a regular feature of the seasons, costs the same per year as all four quarterly seasons combined. Again, Dungeons contain relevant lore for Destiny, and gamers who are tapped out financially with all the other content would experience a break in the story’s continuity, not to mention exclusive gear not found elsewhere in the game.
The standard editions of the game’s expansions (bolded in the table on the right) were $40 at launch, starting with Forsaken. Seasons cost $10 each and come out quarterly. Dungeons (not shown) are $20 each and come out twice a year. At $120 for a year’s content pre-Lightfall, this exceeds the cost of the Destiny 2 Deluxe Edition, which retailed for “only” $100 before the game went free-to-play. And this isn’t even covering the post-Lightfall pricing shift, which introduced an even more aggressive system that sparked the current outrage engulfing even non-Destiny gamers.
Before Lightfall, let's talk about the Eververse store, which has grown significantly since 2017. Over the years, the store has added Ghosts, Sparrows, ships, finisher animations, armor and weapon ornaments, and shaders, to name a few of the items available for purchase. While these are indeed cosmetic and do not affect gameplay, Bungie, in recent months, has added new content directly to the store rather than making it unlockable through the game. Even those who are paying three figures to buy all the year’s content still have to pay Silver to buy recent cosmetics, as they will not drop otherwise. Also gone are the days from Destiny 1, where emotes cost between 200 and 500 Silver. Today, these emotes usually retail for between 800 and 1,200 Silver.
Some, but not all, items are available for Bright Dust, a currency earned primarily through the Season Pass that is exceedingly difficult to earn. The ease of gathering Bright Dust has also been nerfed several times over the years, disrupting players’ ability to avoid paying real money. Bungie also recently updated its API to make it impossible for third-party tools to inform players when certain items might go on sale for Bright Dust rather than for Silver.
February’s Lightfall was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Destiny community. Lightfall costs $50, marking the first price increase for a Destiny expansion since Forsaken in 2018. The dungeon requires a $20 key, which is not included. A few months later, with the expansion’s second season in May, Bungie unexpectedly increased the price of the Season Pass to 1,200 Silver, up from the 1,000 price tag when the system was first introduced. The problem with this price point is that there is no way to customize the amount of Silver to purchase, so players have to buy 1,100 Silver for $10 and 500 Silver for $5, unless they have some left over.
Recall how before we mentioned that season pass levels could only be purchased after a certain point in the season. Season of the Deep changed this approach, with players able to buy all 100 levels immediately. This confers an even more decisive advantage for the financially gifted, who can immediately unlock seasonal endgame gear seconds after it is made available. To do this, one would have to buy two 5,800 Silver bundles for $50 each.
The expansion currently has 32% on Steam for all reviews and 18% for recent reviews, by far the lowest scores in the history of the franchise. The story was derided for being difficult to understand and not fitting in with the broader narrative. Lightfall also introduced technical problems that caused even the beefiest rigs to have problems running the game. Players also took the opportunity to vent their frustration at Bungie over years of “microtransaction creep” that has finally boiled over.
Longtime community member and YouTuber Aztecross raised all of these points and more in a 35-minute video published in June. Despite Bungie's claims that they are charging more for better content, players have become disillusioned with the constant increase in prices and the lack of substantial improvements. Aztecross argued that Bungie's focus on revenue has eroded player trust, as the company continues to exploit players' dedication to the game. Furthermore, the abandonment of PvP content in favor of developing new PvP game Marathon — while still expecting players to purchase expansions and seasons — has left PvP players feeling neglected and frustrated.
Many incorrectly thought that Bungie’s independence from Activision would mean less nickel-and-diming of players. The public reasons given for the split were that Bungie couldn’t meet Activision’s monetization demands for the game. But 2019 ended up marking an inflection point for Destiny, as every year since then Bungie has introduced new monetization pathways.
Sony has relied on GaaS strategies for years, so it is no surprise that its purchase of Bungie last January led to even more of the practice. Bungie adamantly claimed that it would remain independent following the acquisition, but given the season and expansion price hikes, ability to buy levels immediately, introduction of dungeon passes, and greatly expanded Eververse in just a year and a half, this declaration is questionable.
Destiny 2's implementation of microtransactions has faced mounting criticism due to high prices, exploitative tactics, and pay-to-win mechanics. Bungie's strategies to encourage spending have diminished the value of its in-game currency, inflated the Eververse store with paywalls, and baited new players with expansion-exclusive content. The introduction of pay-to-win elements, such as immediate access to high-level rewards through the season pass, further exacerbates the issue.
Ultimately, players still loyal to Destiny should question and challenge these practices to prevent the continued erosion of player trust and the exploitation of a dedicated player base that has spent close to a decade with the franchise.
Sponsored by Windwalk: Building community software to enhance your relationship with customers
Windwalk builds digital communities and the technologies necessary to accelerate them.
Windwalk offers a portfolio of services to top gaming companies in addition to the flagship software offering — Harbor. Harbor is an end-to-end community software that empowers community owners to monitor their community’s pulse, gamify the community experience, and collect actionable insights across a growing number of digital channels.
Integrating a game product with Harbor allows community owners to learn how players are interacting with their products and build toward more engaging and rewarding experiences. Combined with Windwalk’s guidance as an industry leader in community management, Harbor is the first step in your product’s community revolution.
#2 Game of the Week: Pikmin 4
By Nick Statt, Naavik Managing Editor
- Platform: Nintendo Switch
- Developer/Publisher: Nintendo
- State: Worldwide Launch
- Genre: Puzzle / Real-Time Strategy
What You Need To Know:
- Pikmin 4 is the first new mainline installment in Nintendo’s puzzle and strategy series in 10 years, giving it one of the longest development cycles of any Nintendo game to date. Creator Shigeru Miyamoto said way back in 2015 that the game was “very close to completion,” but that ultimately proved optimistic, to say the least.
- Regardless of why the game took so long to make, Pikmin 4 represents a high point for the series in terms of graphics, accessibility, and the overall volume of content available.
- Some nice new features include the removal of the time limit restriction of past Pikmin entries, meaning players can explore more freely with as much pressure to strive for efficiency. This goes hand-in-hand with a hefty amount of side content that can roughly double the playtime of the game to somewhere between 20 and 30 hours. You can watch a gameplay trailer here.
- There are also night expeditions that add a new layer of strategy to the exploration and puzzle-solving, plus a new time-rewinding feature to help undo unpleasant mistakes.
- One downside of the game is a lack of fully-featured co-op, as there was in Pikmin 3, with multiplayer available only in limited bursts for specific game modes like the Dandori Battle sequences. The Pebble Pincher mode lets a second player simply assist the first in ways similar to Super Mario Odyssey, which is a disappointment.
- Pikmin 4’s drawn-out development cycle had the industry justifiably worried, and we certainly could have received a far less polished product than what Nintendo ultimately released. Instead, the game is remarkably one of the best entries in the series and well worth it for both longtime fans and newcomers alike.
- The lack of full co-op prevents the game from truly rising above previous entries, but it’s something we could conceivably see Nintendo adding to the game in the future alongside potential DLC content.
- Regarding sales performance, the Pikmin series has never been a big seller. Franchise lifetime total sales stand at around 7.65 million. No single mainline console entry has sold more than 1.6 million copies, with the exception of the Pikmin 3 Deluxe port for the Switch in 2020, which sold roughly 2.25 million.
- That said, given the success of Pikmin 3 Deluxe compared to earlier entries and the overall success of the Switch, which now has an impressive install base of more than 125 million units, Pikmin 4 very well may be the best-selling entry to date.
- Reception has been very strong, with a Metascore of 88 and a user rating of 9.3. The game also debuted at No. 1 on the U.K. physical game charts, with sales more than 45% higher than Pikmin 3 Deluxe, according to market research firm GfK.
- If you, like me, haven’t touched a Pikmin game in well over a decade, Pikmin 4 is an amazing return to Nintendo’s unique take on strategy game design. It’s also a good reminder of how inventive and downright fun the company’s more experimental efforts can be when at their best.
- Immutable: Business Development Manager (Remote)
- LILA Games: Backend Developer (Bangalore, India)
- Nexus: Head of Sales (Remote)
You can view our entire job board — all of the open roles, as well as the ability to post new roles — below. We've made the job board free for a limited period, so as to help the industry during this period of layoffs. Every job post garners ~50K impressions over the 45-day time period.