A few months after its launch, Destiny remains the worlds hottest game, with more than 3.2 million people playing daily. Now that a flood of new games is finally coming to the market like Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, Farcry and others, those numbers may drop. Like many reviewers I hated it initially and then found myself playing it non-stop anyway. At first I couldn’t understand why. As an author, I’m a story guy. A game without a good story usually has a chance somewhere below zero of hooking me. And yet, weeks after playing through the non-existent Destiny story I still kept logging on, playing the game like it was a job, and I couldn’t really understand why. This was generic SF drivel about darkness, some space magic and the end of the world, even if it looked beautiful, much like a hot car show model, great to look at but not a lot of depth. I became obsessed with the Crucible and running advanced missions with friends. The mechanics of the game are absolutely perfect. If that were the end of the story it wouldn’t really be a problem. I realized that I actually liked the game a lot but a sick, uneasy feeling still swirled beneath the surface. I finally realized what was happening:
It’s designed to be addicting in the worst possible way.
Everything that people hope that Bungie will fix is never getting fixed. Skill based loot drops? Not coming. A fix for the horrible, endless, repetitive grind to get loot.? Never happening. Why? It’s by design.
The entire game is nothing but an endless time trap so they can sell you more DLC. That’s why people are playing three or four hours a day, not because it’s fun. Bungie has said that they want Destiny to last ten years. That’s ten years of your life. Ten. The only way to keep people playing that long is to make it frustratingly addicting. You’ve got to keep people locked in. A dark heart beats at the center of this game. This is the land of the Lotus eaters in the Odyssey, a place where you’re lulled into a dull stupor and you wake up years later wondering where the time went.
Like the Forbes author, I am glad I have no idea how to access the amount of times I’ve played the game. It’s a lot over the last few weeks, sometimes four or five hours a day at a clip. But as I unhook from the game for good, to get back to doing more interesting things with my life, I count myself lucky that I got off light. To think that anyone would be grinding purple crap for ten years is utterly depressing. The problem with addiction is that it always starts out fun but quickly becomes a drag that you feel like you have to do. I don’t want to feel like I have to play any game.
Destiny cynically manipulates Game Theory to make the game super addicting. Whether they did this unconsciously or consciously I can’t say, but it feels like a conscious decision. How do they do that? Basically it’s a giant casino without money. You keep playing and playing but you never get anything. The house always wins. When you do get something it is usually fool’s gold that keeps you playing some more. That’s why people complain that you can spend six hours straight playing the game and come away with nothing to show for it, no new armor, no new weapons, and no additional levels. It’s supposed to take a very, very long time to get anything. That’s why they shuttered the loot cave. It breaks the game in favor of the casino player and not the house. This is the same reason they don’t want you counting cards in Vegas. It tips the odds to something fair.
You see you don’t really want to run around the same boards endlessly collecting crap so you can get to the fun stuff. But you have to. You want new armor or weapons? Great, but it’s random, NOT skill based. It will never be skilled based. The drops of good stuff are incredibly infrequent and that’s deliberate. You have to keep playing to get it. In this casino you spend time, not money. Well, later you’ll spend money too, when they hit you with DLC, but right now you need to spend a ridiculous amount of time to get anything that matters. Worse, when you get it, you now have to spend endless time upgrading it.
Let’s take an example. I finally got an exotic bounty the other day. I chose the bounty that guarantees me the shotgun, “Invective,” a powerful weapon that killed me a number of times in the Crucible. How do you get that guaranteed bounty? It’s random but people have already figured out it is not totally random; it is based on how much time you’ve wasted already. You have about a zero percent chance of logging in on day one and getting that bounty. That’s not random, that’s manipulation.
Now that you finally get it, you have a bunch of very long steps. Ironically, those steps are called “a dubious task,” a name that unconsciously betrays the entire philosophy of the game. The first step is to play through five strike missions without dying. This does not incentivize you to have fun, by picking the most challenging mission. It incentivizes you to pick the easiest and most boring mission so you can guarantee success. Then repeat that five times at a minimum. If you happen to eat it on the mission, oh well, time to start over. If the game were really about fun, it would find ways to induce you to have some fun, but it doesn’t do that. It encourages you to waste time. Even worse, if you do die, you are incentivized to quit on your teammates running the mission, so you can start over. Or you feel guilt for doing it and stick it out, even though it has no benefit to you. That’s called a “double bind,” when a person gets two bad choices and both of them cause you to lose.
So let’s say you get that great new gun. Awesome. Except now it has some serious limitations. It has upgrades too. Without those upgrades it has bad drawbacks like horrible recoil. That means you have to do what? You guessed it, grind some more. Do some more of the same boring missions again and again. You have to collect various materials and shards, some of which require big endless runs that don’t even guarantee success. Oh you ran through that incredibly challenging boss mission and beat him with a team of friends? Great. Drops are still random, so you received nothing for your effort. You did not get an Ascendant shard or a Strange Coin to buy things from Xur, instead you were given a crappy green gun to break down for weapons parts. Just like playing the slots in the casino, you always lose.
Every single thing that matters in the game takes an absurd amount of time to complete. To be clear, there are parts of it that are incredibly fun, as my post on dominating the Crucible shows. The problem is, you need to do other horribly un-fun things repeatedly to really enjoy the fun bits. You’ve got to grind and grind and grind the same mindless tasks and missions over and over again to get better gear, so you can perform better. Even to “buy” better gear, you have to grind to a certain level. Worse, by the time you get up enough points to buy that shiny new stuff, you’ve probably already found better stuff, making the entire exercise pointless. There’s a deep and disgusting cynicism that lies at that heart of Destiny.
Leveling up is not about leveling up just your characters, it’s a series of endless leveling steps. Want to buy armor from the Vanguard representative? Awesome, just go grind her missions to level up your “Vanguard” rating. Want to buy some great weapons for the Crucible? First grind some money through endless wandering and then grind a thousand games of the Crucible to get your “Crucible Marks.” Oh and by the way, it’s actually two levels you need to achieve in the Crucible. There is the Crucible level, which moves up slower and slower as you get higher and higher. You need to get to level three to even be allowed to buy anything. And you need marks to spend as money on those weapons. You can’t use the other money you already have, called glimmer. That is for other stuff. Except oops, those marks are capped, so I’ve been stuck at two hundred even though I should have a lot more. Why am I capped? So that I can’t buy too much stuff when I finally get my Crucible level high enough. Once I get one thing, I get to start all over and get more points that costs me more time.
As I said, there are a lot of fun things about the game. It looks great, plays beautifully and the teamwork and PvP aspects work wonderfully. It is just that the rest of the game is deliberately designed to promote a lot of endless repetitive work to do the fun parts, a lot like life. The problem is, that if I am going to spend my time running around like a jackass collecting crap, I’m going to do it in real life that gets me real money, not in some game. I understand why Bungie did this and they shouldn’t be prevented from doing it, but they should pay a horrible price. Market forces should work against them. All the time and effort they spent building their beautiful time-suck should amount to nothing just like Destiny does for everyone who plays it. I seriously hope the game’s community collapses and the developers are forced to look back and realize they wasted a lot of time creating something that is not fun. Maybe next time they won’t take such a cynical approach. I seriously hope that their millions of players wake up, like I did and abandon the game in droves. Maybe then Bungie will go back to creating wonderful games like Halo that had a fantastic story, memorable characters and incredible set piece battles. In other words, they should create something rewarding again.
Instead they made a cynical game that deserves people’s wrath. This is basically Candy Crush or Farmville with fancy graphics.
Once people finally realize what’s happening they’ll leave Destiny’s vapid world for greener pastures.
Death to Destiny.
Nobody will miss you when you’re gone.