Bungie on the ropes: Destiny faces real crisis over matchmaking and failure to announce next expansion

Monday, 25 January 2016 16:48 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Really, really not good.


Destiny is facing its first real crisis as a persistent, long-term project, with its core community in revolt over skill-based matchmaking (SBMM) and a failure to announce the next major content pack.

Many outlets, both professional and not, have vented frustration with Bungie in the last week, pointing at a failure to communicate an introduction of skill-based matchmaking at The Taken King’s launch as a tipping point for many.

We have seen in recent days articles published like this from The Verge, telling people they should quit the game outright. Even the hardiest of Destiny supporters, such as PlanetDestiny, have reacted with dismay to Bungie’s treating Destiny’s community as “some science experiment,” and failing to be “open, honest and communicative” over matchmaking changes last year.

This is not Destiny’s finest hour.

Player videos like this show just how badly SBMM has affected Destiny’s PvP. Teleporting and failure to detect damage are commonplace because of lag.

The discontent surrounding SBMM is warranted, in my opinion. Bungie has been talking about addressing lag in PvP for many months in relation to lag-switching – a cheating technique by which a player disrupts the upload from their console, freezing their character on an opponent’s screen while being able to continue to play locally – but the switch to SBMM was, Bungie said this week, down to player complaints of lop-sided matches as matchmaking was previously based on location. People were getting a fair fight in terms of connection, but were sometimes facing opponents way above their skill level and getting crushed as a result.

If you want to see a proper timeline of the introduction of SBMM and Bungie employees denying it had been implemented, watch this PlanetDestiny video from around 26.30. Bungie admitted this week that SBMM started going live in October and was launched on all playlists in December. The reason given for not telling players about it, despite the fact it was blatantly obvious the system had changed, was that Bungie needed “unbiased” data from the switch.

I mean, let’s be clear here. This looks like a flat-out lie at worst, and terrible internal communication at best. Regardless of the fact this decision has added a nonsense level of lag across Destiny’s entire PvP suite, you have to be honest with your players. It’s the only way in service gaming. When people are investing thousands of hours, hundreds of dollars of real money and endless vocal support, it is not acceptable to behave this way. In admitting it had forced SBMM on Destiny’s PvP, Bungie promised to be “more transparent” about changes in the future, but the truth is that you can’t expect people to remain loyal to the game if you’re dishonest. It doesn’t work.

And then we have PvE. The Taken King (TTK), Destiny’s last content update, launched last September. It was an amazing addition to an already incredible game, but any serious player has long since burned through everything it has to offer. End-gamers are now locked into a cycle of running the King’s Fall raid and hitting the weekly challenges to get 320 loot, but an insistence to keep the year-one raids and Prison of Elders at pre-TTK levels means there really is nothing else to do. Have you tried killing Skolas now you’re 310-plus? It’s almost as demoralising as beating him at level 34. I’ve already written about the current dearth of PvE content, so I won’t waffle. Suffice it to say that we seriously need more, and rumour of “Destiny 2” being kicked out of 2016 isn’t exactly helping.

This is a bad situation, but it’s recoverable. I’m sure it’ll all blow over when the announcement of new content finally comes, but headlines like, “With ‘Destiny’ In Crisis, ‘The Division’ Has A Unique Opportunity To Steal Its Players,” Eurogamer saying the game has become “stagnant” and a subreddit full of howling addicts are not what Destiny needs.

Dear Bungie. This, or some approximation of it, is what you have to do.

  1. Turn off mandatory, playlist-wide SBMM immediately. This was an offensive decision to virtually the entire Destiny community and it was a mistake, regardless of the honesty surrounding its communication. You’ve angered pretty much everyone with a keyboard and an inclination to talk about Destiny on the internet. No one has any problem with SBMM as long as it’s optional, but forcing all PvP players into an SBMM system is game-breaking. Switch it off.
  2. Announce the next content pack. The Taken King’s PvE is over. Neither of the year-one raids or Prison of Elders is relevant now, and we haven’t had anything new for over four months. Show PvE players some kind of road-map before they quit for good. Small updates like SLR and “events” for Hallowe’en and Valentine’s Day are not enough to keep people playing. Do something or they’ll stop and they may well not return.
  3. Be more communicative about both the current game and the future. Both in terms of PvE and PvP. This is a blanket complaint you’ve promised to rectify. Let it be so.

Writing this article was far too easy. All we want to do is say good things about a shooter that’s kept millions of people enthralled for more than a year. Less of the minus, Bungie. Let’s get back to the plus.