Six things The Division can learn from Destiny
Destiny has had a good run; nobody can deny its popularity and sales success. But this success comes in spite of a very bumpy road from launch to – well, whenever the current content drought ends and the player base is tempted back.
Over the past year Bungie’s shown us the future of shared-worlds shooters – console MMOs, if you will, or perhaps MMO-lites. But while we can see the potential for this genre, it’s fraught with difficulties and problems. Although Destiny and The Division are very different games, they share enough similarities that we’d like Ubisoft to take a few lessons from Bungie’s jolting, shuddering progress to date.
6. Give players multiple paths to growth
For all but the most casual of Destiny players, it’s important to hit the highest possible Light. For most of Year One this meant raiding over and over again, since there was no other way to get the best equipment, and it rapidly sucked all joy out of what should have remained Destiny’s most sublime experience.
Bungie provided new ways to hit the cap with the release of the House of Wolves, and in Year Two it has expanded on this, providing players with additional motivation to participate in seasonal PvP events. Not everybody likes having to work to hit the cap rather than rely on RNG alone, but it’s wonderful to be uncoupled from the Raid grind; you’re better off checking out Iron Banner or whatever holiday event is on than boring yourself into a coma mechanically running Hard Mode three times a week.
The Division could emulate early Destiny by locking all its endgame gear behind a single activity type and fickle RNG. We strongly discourage this approach.
5. Don’t make it easy to max out…
Once players do finally hit the level cap in Destiny, the game is pretty much over. This was a huge problem in Year One; most players who were lucky enough to score a full set of raid gear in the first few weeks just checked out between content packs. The few who stuck around were there to fill out their Exotic collections.
In either case, a motivated and informed player could quite easily burn through all available content in a matter of days. Each expansion pack tried to fix this, but it wasn’t until The Taken King hit the brakes on progression – making it much harder to max out unless you joined seasonal events – Destiny had a major longevity problem.
Deliver on Destiny’s promise of characters that grow and change over months and years rather than zooming straight to endgame, and The Division could attract the sort of devotion players feel for their MMO toons.
4. … but don’t make it unfair, either.
However Ubisoft chooses to extend the lifetime of The Division, it should not do it by turning RNG into a running joke.
I had friends who played hundreds and hundreds of hours of Destiny Year One, and never got a Gjallahorn (or whatever it was they were chasing). While it’s really cool that there is some texture and difference between players because they have different kinds of gear, this isn’t something Destiny particularly rewarded or leveraged, so those who missed out and couldn’t complete their collections just felt robbed.
If your endgame is “collect all the things”, the things have to be collectible. The Division should avoid using punishing RNG-based reward systems to artificially extend the longevity of launch content.
3. Give us something to do once we max out
“Collect all the Things” is a terrible endgame. Destiny has been described as a slot machine, and that isn’t an unfair characterisation – especially of Year One. You can see why developers might be tempted to take this approach; crafting bespoke content is hugely expensive. But when the core moment-to-moment gameplay takes a backseat to waiting to see the results of a dice roll – over and over and over again – gaming starts to feel like a chore rather than a pleasure. It also sets a firm expiry date on your product: when the Things are all Collected, it’s done and dusted. Goodbye.
There needs to be a reason to hit max level and collect all that sweet gear – some sort of further activity that you’ll need it for. Players need a reason to log in again, putting their hard-won skills and equipment to use.
Destiny’s Crucible and PvP events are kind of the answer to this problem, but not a very successful one; not everyone is motivated to pursue competitive play, especially with no rankings or leaderboards, and PvE players have nothing to do at all. The Division should think hard about what players will be doing months after launch.
2. Communicate and respond with agility
Oh, boy – did Bungie ever drop the ball in Destiny’s early years. Maybe there were good reasons for the treacle-slow patches, but Year One was a nightmare of broken, buggy raids, egregious imbalance and radio silence from the development team. The weekly communication on Bungie.net was notable for its regular descents into mundanity – or apologies for not being able to fix things and discuss upcoming content.
Like most triple-A teams, Bungie tends to keep its future plans under wraps. There are compelling arguments in favour of this tactic, but failing to address – let alone action! – glaring community complaints is not a good look. Whatever the reason.
Ubisoft Massive can get the ball rolling right now in the pre-order period by answering questions about end-game content, and can establish a good reputation by moving quickly to disarm inevitable launch bugs and issues.
1. Don’t allow content droughts.
Rumour has it Bungie is hindered by Destiny’s engine, struggling with a less than ideal development environment that makes rapid response and content creation nigh on impossible. If that’s true – and it’s maybe nicer to think it is rather than believe the developer just doesn’t understand what players want – Ubisoft Massive should definitely not do that.
At less than two months out it’s obviously far too late to do anything about it if The Division is similarly hampered, but we’d like to think the reason Ubisoft’s effort has been in the oven is so long is because the publisher has been working on making sure it’s built a game truly capable of standing the test of time. When the only comparable product is one of the biggest games going, you have to keep an eye on its progress – and Ubisoft is savvy enough to benefit from Bungie’s experiences.
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