Bungie’s latest ‘Destiny 2’ misstep was a breach of the trust between creator and fans

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I may not understand the finer nuances of game development, but I know when I’m being fed a line of shit.

It was a rough holiday weekend for Destiny 2 developer Bungie after a brewing controversy over the game’s handling of experience points and player progression finally bubbled over. People are fed up, and the dev team was forced to respond.

Here’s the deal: Destiny 2 places limits on the amount of XP a player can earn over a short period of time. Leveling up gets you cosmetic unlocks like weapon skins and character emotes that are otherwise only available via real-money purchases in-game. Practically speaking, all of this means it takes longer to unlock those goodies through the “natural” process of actually playing the game.

Now, it isn’t inherently bad that Bungie would try to strike a balance between the time required to earn cosmetic items vs. the money spent to unlock them. That’s business, plain and simple. The problem in Destiny 2, as dedicated fans have discovered, is the invisible presence of these XP-limiting machinations.

Bungie issued a statement on Friday acknowledging the the feature’s existence, alongside the claim that it’s “not performing the way we’d like it to.” But there’s no mention of its invisible presence in the game, nor is there any effort to explain why.

This statement, then, is our aforementioned line of shit.

We’ve seen community discussion around XP gain in Destiny. After reviewing our data, we agree that the system is not performing the way we’d like it to. Today, we’d like to describe what’s going on under the hood, and talk about what you can expect going forward when it comes to earning XP in Destiny 2.

Currently, XP will scale up when playing longer or fixed duration activities like Crucible competitive multiplayer matches and the Leviathan Raid, and XP will scale down when playing activities that can be quickly, repeatedly chained, like grinding Public Events. We are not happy with the results, and we’ve heard the same from the community.

Effective immediately, we are deactivating this system.

As a result, players will see XP earn rates change for all activities across the board, but with all values being displayed consistently in the user interface. Over the course of the next week, we will be watching and reviewing XP game data to ensure that these changes meet our expectations, as well as yours. Any additional updates to this system will be communicated to you via our official channels.

Bungie missed the point. The issue isn’t with the system itself, but rather the lack of clarity around it. As a result, this response feels like a hand-waving dismissal of concerns that fans have been voicing in the popular Destiny subreddit for weeks.

Since at least the early days of November, fans have been looking into how Destiny 2 doles out XP, and they’ve discovered something troubling. The numbers displayed on the screen don’t always match up with actual progress. You might see a gain of 7,000 but only end up with half of that number counting toward your next level.

The specifics get rather technical, but you can take a tour through what fan investigators have discovered here, here, here, here, and here (among other sources).

It’s not clear why Bungie chose the day after Thanksgiving to confirm the existence of a controversial feature, almost a month after the first extensive proof of its existence surfaced. You’ll have to form your own conclusions on that one.

But it’s a bad look, especially as the heated conversation over “loot boxes” continues to rage around the industry. Consumers have caught on to the fact that some games rely on a predatory design to compel in-game purchases, and they’re not happy. 

It was so egregious in Star Wars Battlefront II that publisher Electronic Arts pulled real-money transactions from the game for retooling just one day before release. Weeks earlier, EA competitor Activision — which publishes Destiny — came under fire because of a patent that turns online matchmaking into a marketing tool.

We really don’t know at this point how Destiny 2 fits into that broader picture. Bungie’s statement doesn’t get into the reasoning behind the XP limitations; it only confirms that the feature exists.

But isn’t that the whole problem here? All Bungie has done so far is answer a question we already knew the answer to. What about the misleading presentation in-game? Or the unavoidable conclusion that this whole issue is yet another facet of the loot box controversy?

Bungie should absolutely build Destiny 2 in a way that can keep the company financially healthy. But faithful fans deserve a little more transparency. The game’s misleading treatment of XP gains amounts to a breach of trust between creator and players, and it’s going to take more than PR spin to make that right.

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