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Opinion: Destiny Feels Like A Free-To-Play MMORPG

by Daniel Tack on Oct 01, 2014 at 06:25 AM

So here we are, nearly a month after the release of Bungie’s Destiny. Players are starting to hit high levels after exercising their preferred method of gear acquisition, from the slow but surefire mark/rep grinds to the roll of the dice at the loot cave. While it’s clear now that the core game will receive some constant support in the form of events like Queen’s Wrath and special Crucible matches, players are likely looking to the upcoming expansion packs and DLC to provide more robust options in both the PVE and PVP arenas. There has been no shortage of dissatisfaction when it comes to the game’s grimoire-locked “story”, with unescapable in-game scenes that are puzzling at best, generally experienced after protecting our friend Dinklebot from yet another wave of Hobgoblins, Knights, or Vandals.

Something occurred to me, while playing the non-MMO that Destiny is – It feels like it would be right at home with its small group structure, long-term content plans, and what feels like a AAA benchmark games as a service model for consoles as a free-to-play PC title, something akin to Nexon’s suite of games that have been doing essentially the same thing for many, many years. Games like Dragon’s Nest, Vindictus, or the now defunct Dungeon Fighter Online have had similar structure – A central town hub, instanced dungeons and areas, events every week/month, and larger content offerings hitting every quarter, along with the rest of the MMO elements that Destiny embraces yet is afraid to stand behind. It’s uncanny how much the structure and elements of Destiny line up with what has become the standard behind many free-to-play MMORPGs in all but in price structure.

This speaks to one of the huge issues Destiny may face in the future with the traditional box and expansion model – The rift in the playerbase caused by new maps, missions, gear, and presumably subclasses only becoming available to those who purchase the new content, instead of an all-inclusive plan that would ostensibly invite paying players to foot the bill. While it’s a markedly different game, I made the same observation about Titanfall some time ago – Some trepidation for AAA console games going into the free-to-play arena is expected, but Destiny could have been the one to make a giant leap forward.

Of course there are hurdles to cross with any sort of free-to-play plan, but certainly customization options like shaders, skins, ghosts, ships, custom effects, or even ridiculous outfits would have been one method of several to do things without treading into pay-for-power territory. Things like experience boosters or reputation boosters wouldn’t be out of the question, and although we’re delving into a bit more murky territory there, those sort of perks are still in the realm of acceptability when the core product and continued support are being delivered for free. Definitely beyond the pale would be gated content behind paywalls or additional subclasses available for purchase, but even some of the more aggressive methods like this could work as long as there’s some way to acquire them with in-game currency or collection.

I don’t think all players knew what to expect with Destiny – It’s a foundation that’s going to continue to grow, but it would have made the sparse content offerings currently available a lot more palatable if great stuff kept coming down the pipe for free to enhance the core game. Like a free-to-play MMORPG, there are always going to be events going on and new things being added, but it’s going to feel bizarre locking out all kinds of things behind box copy costs and splitting the playerbase.

Could it have been a bolder play to offer a $10 sparkling shine to your gun that tracks your kills on it or some sort of cyber-samurai skin for Hunters that changes the way your Arc Blade looks? There are people better than me at coming up with a monetization model that would work – and fit – for a game like Destiny, but instead we’re moving forward with a plan that doesn’t seem to sync up with a title that’s in it for the long haul, where player retention is going to be a huge factor as we move to other planets and challenging raids that require your friends to be around. Destiny’s systems and structure already feel like ground that’s been tread in the free-to-play PC space, and I can’t help but wonder if the title would have been both better received and set up for a greater future inside a model it seems perfect for.