Last week, Destiny developer Bungie was riding high following the reveal of the game's biggest expansion to date, The Taken King. Gamers were excited to learn about the new subclasses, missions, weapons, armor and, most importantly, a new raid focused on Crota's vengeful dad, Oryx. But as E3 2015 wound down, an interview between Eurogamer and Luke Smith, Bungie's creative director on The Taken King, quickly derailed the game maker's momentum and turned Destiny's most supportive players against it. Just two days later, Bungie has inexplicably painted itself into a corner by dropping the ball for a second time.
Update: Bungie has responded with an early weekly update -- get the details here.
Let's start at the beginning. Ahead of The Taken King's launch on September 15th, Bungie unveiled four separate bundles for the game. Those who already own the original game will need to pay $40 (double the price of the first two expansions) for The Taken King on its own. That's fine, Bungie has already talked up all of the new stuff that will come with it.
If you're new to the game, you'll pay $60 for "all year one content." This includes Destiny, The Dark Below and House of Wolves expansions and The Taken King. That's a pretty reasonable price when you consider existing gamers are paying $40 for the next installment on its own.
However, if you're gunning for the Collector's Edition, that's where things get a little muddier. For $80, you get a special Collector's Edition box, a steelbook case, print artifacts, a book, weapon packs, a replica strange coin and all of the existing and upcoming expansions. On top of that, there are also three armor shaders and three class-specific "emotes," which take the form of dance moves or gestures.
Day one Destiny players, who have already sunk plenty of money into the game up to this point, face a dilemma. There's no way to get the bonus emotes and shaders without buying the content they've already spent the better part of a year playing. Yes, there are cool items that help sweeten the deal, but for those who have committed countless hours to Destiny, the lack of a clear upgrade path for in-game items like emotes or shaders is upsetting.
Things were made worse when Eurogamer met with Smith, who offered troublesome answers to serious questions. Take this exchange for example:
Eurogamer: Final question on prices.
Luke Smith: Is it also the final question on the emotes?
Eurogamer: I'm not going to mention them again. I can't get them.
Luke Smith: But you can if you buy the Collector's Edition.
Eurogamer: I'm not going to buy the game and two DLCs all over again.
Luke Smith: Okay, but first I want to poke at you on this a little bit.
Eurogamer: Poke at me?
Luke Smith: You're feeling anxious because you want this exclusive content but you don't know yet how much you want it. The notion of spending this money is making you anxious, I can see it.
Eurogamer: I do want them. I would buy them.
Luke Smith: If I fired up a video right now and showed you the emotes, you would throw money at the screen.
Eurogamer: What I'm saying is that fan frustration is not because they don't understand the proposition. It comes regardless of how cool the exclusive content is. The frustration, and mine as a fan, is that the method of acquiring it requires me to re-buy content I bought a year ago.
Luke Smith: It's about value. The player's assessment of the value of the content.
Bungie immediately went into firefighting mode. Community Support Manager DeeJ_BNG took to Reddit to explain that the company was "reading this feedback and taking it seriously," and vowed to address gamers' frustrations in one of Bungie's Weekly Updates. That didn't stop players from voicing their displeasure:
Red Bull Gives You XP
The Weekly Update normally posted to the Bungie blog hasn't gone up yet, but both the developer and Activision have already confirmed something that many gamers hate: buying stuff for XP. To be clear, many games offer downloadable content (DLC) with sponsors attached (hell, even Sony pays for exclusive weapons and levels that Xbox owners can't use), but this new deal with Red Bull is particularly offensive.
In simple terms, Destiny is getting a brand-new quest. The bad news is that you need to buy "specially marked" cans of the popular energy drink to get it. They'll even include bonus XP, helping you rank your Hunter, Titan or Warlock ahead of the quest's launch on September 18th (three days after The Taken King). If you're not interested in pumping your body full of taurine, you'll need to wait until January 1st, 2016 to play it.
So while players are still frustrated at the in-game upgrades, Bungie and Activision are now restricting content depending on whether you enjoy Red Bull. Let's not forget, this could be any food or drink brand -- it's the terms that will leave a sour taste in people's mouths. At least with DLC, you just pay for the download and get on with it.
There's no denying that Bungie has been under continual pressure from a demanding Destiny player base. Some players didn't like The Dark Below; others hated the fact that Bungie dropped the raid in the current expansion. However, the company has been very proactive in addressing the community and in the months leading up to the release of House of Wolves, it made some very welcome improvements to the game's overall experience.
Bungie deserves the criticism it's received in the past week, but the increased vitriol might be indicative of gamers' wider issues with the game. There have been complaints about Destiny (lack of a story, underpowered guns, not enough vault space, etc.) for a long time. Now there is a common cause to unite the community -- Bungie needs to relent, or risk losing some of its biggest supporters.