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You can now pay an exorbitant fee to boost your level in Destiny

Why is Bungie so sure the game's vanilla content is totally worthless?

There's a new microtransaction available in the world of Destiny, one that has the potential to send the game's fanbase into a frothing rage: you can pay real money to boost your level. Eurogamer noticed the addition of "level boost packs" to the game's European PlayStation storefront overnight. The packs boost a character in a class of your choice — you can play as a Titan, Hunter, or Warlock — to level 25, boosts the same character's subclass, and includes a few telemetries, consumable items you can use to quickly develop weapons and armor, all for £25. (That's roughly $38 USD at current conversion rates; the Destiny Reddit hive mind suggests packs are retailing for $30 in the US.) When I looked for boost packs in my North American PS4's store, I could see an advertisement for a "Level 25 Titan Pack" in the store's "Add-ons" section, but I couldn't actually purchase said pack (or even see a price for it).

The addition of this specific kind of microtransaction isn't inflammatory on its face. Destiny already includes cosmetic microtransactions, small purchases that let your character dance, bow, and otherwise emote. They're not going away, either: developer Bungie has made it clear that Destiny's near-term future is predicated on microtransactions. Instead of releasing paid expansions and DLC packs like The Dark Below and House of Wolves, the game's next year will be studded with microtransaction-based temporary events, frequent patching, and the addition of free content.

Nevertheless, the debut of these level boost packs yields some interesting conclusions regarding the value Bungie places on its own game. At its highest levels, Destiny is a gear-oriented shooter: your power is determined by the quality of the weapons and armor you've earned, most of which you can't unlock until you reach the maximum experience level. (The current maximum experience level is 40.) Paid level boosts are common in other MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, and they're not even new to the world of Destiny. Players who bought the September mega-expansion The Taken King were given a "spark of light," a consumable that lifted them to level 25 without the added subclass or telemetry bonuses. Paying for a level boost doesn't give players new, more powerful gear, or even exclusive gear, and that's a good thing. It just saves them time.

It seems like Bungie's desperate to make a good first impression

That simple fact — this is a time-saving measure for new players — leads into the most interesting question posed by this offer: why is Bungie so eager to let players skip a huge chunk of the game's content? Level 25 is a key point in Destiny's current version because it's the level at which players unlock The Taken King's story missions, content that's widely considered superior to the missions included with vanilla Destiny at launch in 2014. By pushing players to that level before they've shot a single bullet, Bungie is suggesting they move directly into The Taken King's missions. If they like the game enough, they can always backtrack. It's like Bungie wants the game to make the best first impression possible, even if it means shoving an entire campaign millions of people played and finished under the rug.

The level boost's price also suggests Bungie's valuation of the time it takes to reach level 25 through normal gameplay is completely skewed. A player who chooses to start from scratch with the vanilla Destiny campaign this morning can reach level 25 in a matter of hours. The game's expanded bounty system, revised quest lines, and built-in bonuses have made it easier than ever for players to advance quickly, and new players can reach level 25 by sticking to the base game's pattern missions and strikes; there's no grinding necessary. I can see players who are extremely impatient paying $5 or even $10 to hop over those few hours. But $30 USD? It's an outrageous sum even before you remember that it's possible to find The Taken King on sale for almost that amount.

Consider the contradiction that's evident here: Bungie wants you to skip the game's vanilla content because it's not great compared to the game's newest levels... but it's asking you to cough up an arm and a leg to do so. It's simultaneously devaluing and overvaluing the game's first batch of missions, and that's confusing even for people who've spent hundreds of hours playing Destiny.

There's only one use case that makes sense, and it's obscure

I can only think of one real use case for these level boosts, and it's one that has to do with a minor piece of the package. Imagine you joined the Destiny universe by purchasing The Taken King earlier this year. You've fallen in love with the game, and you've played enough to get one character (and one subclass) into the endgame, the section where players complete raids and high-level strikes. You tried leveling up another subclass only to discover you'd have to start from scratch; if you try to play end-game content with your new subclass, you're doing so with an empty toolbox. It's going to take time to earn a new batch of powers; the thought of unlocking eight new subclasses is almost painful given the time commitment required. But you love Destiny, right? Maybe you're the person who's willing to pay a generous sum so you can shoot lightning or throw flaming hammers right away.

Bungie's still just taking its first steps into the world of microtransactions, and it's possible that these level boost packs are going to be tweaked or totally revamped in the weeks to come. The player base cried foul when the first cosmetic microtransactions were revealed a month ago, but they calmed down when it was clear purchases would have no tangible effect on gameplay, and the program has been by-and-large successful and profitable for Bungie. The developer's also more diligent and quick to react when it comes to apologizing for miscalculations and adjusting accordingly. It'll be interesting to see what happens next, because these boosts just don't make much sense on both financial and conceptual levels.