Destiny is a self-contained example of 21st-century video games: It's online, ever changing and beautifully built by a team of practiced veterans. Destiny represents the evolution of Bungie, the studio that created Halo, and it also encapsulates the shifting nature of video games as a whole. Modern AAA experiences take advantage of online functionality more than ever before, but this connected gaming ecosystem is still new for the industry as a whole. Destiny helped normalize the idea in 2014, when players weren't yet convinced they wanted an MMO-like experience on a living room console.
Bungie stepped away from Halo and its publisher, Microsoft, in 2007, in order to push forward in the industry rather than be tied to a franchise that had found success at the start of the century, according to community manager David "DeeJ" Dague. Today, Destiny has millions of active unique players per month, which Bungie keeps entertained via steady online updates and sprawling seasonal events.
"This has been the dream state that Bungie has envisioned for themselves for a long time," Dague says. Bungie developers wanted to create a game they could consistently update, and they wanted to be able to respond to players' desires in real time. Sparrow racing is a good example of this adaptability: Players naturally began racing their floating speedsters around Destiny's worlds, so Bungie took the hint and added races to the game itself.
"We actually took it and turned it into a six-player death race through enemy territory, but we draw a lot of inspiration from the players," Dague says. "Because Destiny is always online, always connected, we can reach out to where they thrive and we can give them new things to do. This is why we stopped making Halo games, this is why we wanted to envision a brand-new world that would enable us to do these sorts of things."
Sparrow racing is back in The Dawning, the latest seasonal event for Destiny: Rise of Iron, which will be live from Dec. 13th to Jan. 3rd. The Dawning also features scoring for Strike events, new quests and, of course, new weapons, goodies and gear.
Rise of Iron is the latest expansion for Destiny, landing on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this past September. This is another benefit of building an online game: Bungie not only gets to release a constant stream of new content but also charge players for every expansion. Rise of Iron, for example, costs $30, and that's on top of the base game plus its three previous expansions. This ensures that a steady stream of cash flows into Bungie and publisher Activision throughout the year.
However, Rise of Iron marked a shift in Bungie's approach to Destiny. The September expansion did not come out for the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Destiny, and it's not going to. Until this point, Destiny had been the same game across modern- and last-generation consoles.
"We actually reached the point where, in order to add on to the world of Destiny, we were going to have to start to take away," Dague says. "So it was PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 that we sort of froze the state of the game where it was at that time. It's not receiving any updates."
Destiny will continue to live and evolve on Xbox One and PS4, but last-generation players are frozen in a pre-Rise of Iron galaxy. Roughly 5 percent of Destiny players are on Xbox 360 and PS3, Dague says.
"They're still important to us, we still sustain the game on those platforms, but instead of degrading the player experience and starting to remove missions or destinations, we decided to keep it the way it was and continued to add to it on the modern decks," he explains.
The definition of a modern gaming console is changing as rapidly as Destiny itself: Sony just launched the PS4 Pro, a 4K-capable console, and Microsoft is poised to drop its own beefed-up version of the Xbox One, codenamed Project Scorpio, next year. Dague didn't comment on a potential 4K version of Destiny, though upgrading for these platforms would make sense for a franchise that's all about taking advantage of the latest and greatest console gaming specs.
Destiny is a living game. It's a far cry from a series like Halo, which still conforms to a traditional release model -- the same one Bungie used when it created the franchise in 2001. Destiny evolves with players and with the industry, giving Bungie ample opportunity to constantly improve the experience.
"This is us living the dream," Dague says.