Bungie shook the gaming world this week by announcing that its nine-year partnership with Activision had come to an end and the publishing rights would be transferred back to the developer. That will allow the Seattle-based studio to publish any sequels or expansions on its own, without any sort of outside interference. While this transition is admittedly “in its early stages,” this change could have major implications on Destiny 2‘s future and if Activision was truly behind the shadier sides of Destiny.
The reaction online to this news has been largely celebratory. After all, Activision isn’t exactly known for having a beloved gaming base. It shares a negative stigma with other mega publishers for its insistence on microtransactions and other anti-consumer business practices. Whether true or not, whenever a game is releases with financially manipulative systems, the publisher is typically blamed for the infraction rather than the title’s developer. With Bungie regaining the publishing rights, now all the praise and criticism will be going directly to one place and there won’t be any way to shift it.
This decision to end its publishing deal with Activision comes at an interesting time as Activision Blizzard’s most recent earnings call revealed that it was going to push for more microtransactions in its existing franchises. Activision Publishing President and Chief Operating Officer Coddy Johnson also noted that the first-person shooter had failed to meet sales and re-engagement expectations, and that the publisher needed to “improve the pace of innovation and cadence of in-game content.” Of course, Activision Blizzard isn’t a stranger to this type of in-game content, as its own Overwatch has become the poster child for loot boxes.
However, fans no longer have to worry about an overbearing Activision forcing Bungie to include any content, such as microtransactions or loot boxes, against its will. This means that Bungie has a chance to change some of the practices that have been highly derided by their fanbase. However, it will also serve as a litmus test on whether or not publishers are the only ones pushing for greedy business practices inside the games we love. Now that Bungie gets all of the spoils from Destiny 2 will it move away from in-game gambling or will the studio give in to temptation and double down?
The current role of Destiny 2 microtransactions
It’s worth looking at how microtransactions currently plague the Destiny ecosystem. Currently, the in-game currency that is purchased with real money is called Silver. Bundles range from $5 (which gets you 500 Silver) to $50 (which comes with 5,000 Silver plus a bonus 800). That’s quite the wide range, and players could easily purchase another game (or multiple indie titles) with that money.
When microtransactions were originally introduced to Destiny, they were only used to buy emotes that were usually based on popular dances. While the introduction of paid emotes wasn’t particularly a move that many celebrated, it didn’t receive widespread scorn since it was just an cosmetic purchase that could be ignored. In the current game, emotes are purchased using Bright Dust, which is another currency that is primarily obtained when opening Bright Engrams (although they can also be earned while dismantling certain items).
Bright Engrams are why people purchase Silver in Destiny 2 and were the first microtransactions to actually impact gameplay. These boxes differ from the regular Engrams that are earned in the game as they contain multiple loot items that range from exotic weapons to rare armor and shaders. So, if you don’t want to actually earn these items in-game, you can gamble on getting them through purchases. Bright Engrams can be bought for 200 Silver apiece or at discounted rates when bought in bulk (three for 500 Silver and five for 800 Silver).
The most recent microtransaction added into the game comes in the form of the Temporal Surge, which is a temporary storefront that allows players to buy “retired” seasonal content with Silver. The first such sale focused on emotes, which ranged from costing 200 Silver to 1,000 Silver. So, if players wanted an exotic emote they missed, they had to fork over the equivalent of $10.
Will anything actually change?
With multiple forms of currency and a confusing loot box system that doesn’t guarantee that players will get what they want, it’s hard to defend Destiny 2‘s current form of microtransactions. It would make a lot of sense for Bungie to at least alter how these are handled, but it remains to be seen if the developer will do such an action. Of course, there is bound to be some blowback from those that purchased such items, but Bungie can always attempt to placate upset fans with some bonus in-game items.
Another way that Bungie can change Destiny‘s business practices for the better is with how it uses downloadable content going forward. Playing Destiny 2 can be an extremely expensive hobby for those that want to keep up to date with the game as Destiny 2: Forsaken costs $39.99 on its own, while its Annual Pass is an additional $34.99. If the prices drop or the practice changes in some drastic, player-friendly way, it might be easier to look at Activision as the sucking force many already see it as.
No matter what Bungie ultimately does, this will be a telling moment in gaming. If the developer turned publisher winds up removing or changing the microtransactions for the better, the negative stigma surrounding huge publishers will have been proven right. If it winds up not changing things and doubling down on these manipulative practices, then we will know that developers are just as prone to falling into the allure of increased profits. Either way, it will be an enlightening experience.