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Bungie is designing Destiny 2 to be a social hobby, not a second job

Bungie is designing Destiny 2 to be a social hobby, not a second job


Delivering an experience that doesn’t consume your life

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Photo: Bungie

If there’s anything Bungie wants you to know about Destiny 2 — a sequel to the addictive, ambitious, and oftentimes frustrating online-only shooter — it’s that the game will actually respect your time. During the first gameplay reveal in Los Angeles yesterday, Bungie executives took the stage to outline the substantial quality of life improvements the sequel will introduce to make this happen.

From removing the need to load in and out of one area for different activities to letting players more easily group up with strangers, Bungie is going to great lengths to paint its new installment as a more thoughtful, well-meaning, and accessible video game. “We want Destiny to not feel like work and feel like it’s taking up your life,” says M.E. Chung, a game designer at Bungie who specializes on the series’ social dynamics. “We want it to fit into your life schedule.”

“We want Destiny to not feel like work.”

For many hardcore players, the original Destiny sometimes felt like a second job. On top of the grind of daily play and the ever-increasing amount of items to collect, Destiny was hobbled by befuddling design choices and maddening technical constraints. Players complained endlessly about not having enough space for all their gear and weapons, the lack of narrative and cinematic direction, and an almost Kafkaesque progression system. (Ask any longtime player and they can recount horror stories of repetitive materials farming and the nihilistic cruelty of the game’s random number generator.) Destiny spent its first year looking like an extended beta, as Bungie tweaked and changed it constantly in response to player feedback.

The end result was a title that reminded players that their time just might be better spent elsewhere, creating a constant tug-of-war battle between that nagging feeling and the satisfying, dopamine rush of another new piece of loot or a hard-fought victory. For those without a dedicated group of friends to play with, Destiny could feel like an alienating and isolated experience. With all the the window dressing of its social infrastructure stripped away, it was just a series of feedback loops and feeble reward systems laid bare — a pretty-looking gun game with nothing to say.

Photo: Bungie

The original Destiny, which could cost upwards of $150 when you factor in expansions and other add-on content, was a fascinating attempt at trying to blend the benefits of a massively multiplayer online game with the nuts and bolts of a first-person shooter. The combination was both a wondrous success and spectacular failure on multiple levels. Even the most diehard players are quick to own up to their complicated relationship with the game. Yet while fans may have endured an emotional rollercoaster of a relationship with Destiny’s creators over the years, the franchise has come out on the other end intact.

Now, Bungie is ready for its second shot. The developer wants Destiny 2 to feel like a fresher, friendlier, and more social game, everything the original was meant to be. “We have a saying, ‘Making it easier to find the fun,’” says Chung. Bungie hopes this extends through every element of the game. The goal is to make Destiny 2 less of a slog designed only for the most dedicated of players, while also being more accessible to people who don’t have a large network of online friends to play with. “There are some people who are going to play every day — one of our lessons is that our players are always going to outpace us,” Chung admits. “But we don’t want players to fall behind.”

Guided Games will help solo players team up with larger groups

This new philosophy appears to have had the biggest impact on the game’s social elements. Destiny 2 will now feature a system called Guided Games, which will let less experienced players opt to play with more skilled members of an official clan. (These clans existed in a minor form in the previous game, through the company’s website, but never as a fully functioning in-game system.)

One of the biggest problems with the initial Destiny was how many of its most challenging and rewarding activities were restricted to premade teams, meaning you couldn’t go in solo and find other strangers to play with. Instead, players formed groups through third-party forums on Reddit, and scores of dedicated Destiny group-finding services popped up elsewhere. Now, players will be able to jump into group activities by selecting a clan that meets their criteria, whether it be a kid-friendly group, one that’s more competitive, one open to female players, or any number of other possibilities.

Chung says the original restrictions in Destiny were an intentional design decision, something Bungie felt was necessary given the toxicity of the game community. The developer didn’t feel comfortable putting strangers into high-stress situations, especially when it could be a young kid and a profanity-loving college student. “It’s funny. You hear about toxicity in lots of different games [today],” she says. “I played online games in my teens and it was just as toxic then,” just with less female players, she adds. Chung says that, as a female gamer, she learned to play without a mic and by using only ambiguous online handles that wouldn’t give away her gender.

Photo: Bungie

It was this kind of toxicity, coupled with how wonky and unfriendly old-school PC server lists were, that moved console shooters toward matchmaking, Chung explains, where you could easily queue into a playlist and choose never to interact with others if you didn’t want to. But that “made you lose the ability to find the people you trust” to play with, she says. Bungie is now trying to find a better balance, after deciding that its initial approach in the first Destiny simply did not work.

Guided Games will hopefully be that system, letting players enjoy features like the six-person raids and three-person “nightfall” strikes by self-selecting a group to be paired with. Of course, the success of this will all depend on how willing clans are to help strangers and take their roles seriously, and whether the logistical and technical challenges involved don’t mean enduring long wait times to find strangers to play with. Bungie says there will be reward systems for clans to help incentivize positivity and openness, but the developer has yet to disclose details on how the system will work.

“We had a hunch about this game being about the community.”

Chung says that, above all, Destiny 2 is aimed at nurturing the series’ tight-knit community. “We had a hunch about this game being about the community,” she says. Prior to release, Bungie had no idea the Destiny would inspire a 300,000-plus subreddit or real-life meet-ups or dedicated cosplay. That’s not to mention the scores of personal stories about friendships made, family bonds strengthened, and even an in-game marriage proposal. Now — three years later and with a legion of fans who play Destiny as devoutly as some of the longest-running MMOs — it seems clear that without its social fabric, the game would be just another flashy shooter.

Destiny’s entire purpose, Chung adds, is to create virtual obstacles for players to overcome together. “I describe that challenge as the fuel to memories between lifelong friends. I think a lot about games I’ve been playing, when you ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’” she says, ruminating on the hours we spend obsessively collecting virtual goods and toiling away online to blow off steam. “We hope with Destiny they’re saying, ‘I’m spending time with my friends.’ Most people don’t regret the time they spend with their friends.”