Yup, you read that right: Destiny definitely needs more microtransactions. You’re upset, I can tell, so please let me to explain how I’ve reached this horrifying conclusion. The current content plan for the game simply isn’t working, and while it’s lovely to have free distractions like Sparrow Racing, Festival of the Lost, and Crimson Days, they’re no substitute for actual, sustained, genuinely-new stuff that genuinely changes the experience. And substantial slices of game cost money.
Not a problem for many games, but Destiny encourages us to gobble through new content as greedily as possible, and this means that even substantial new additions are rinsed dry within weeks. And this quickly leads to large, vocal groups agitating for more things. Such is the dedication of Destiny’s player-base, Bungie simply can’t keep up with this demand. No-one could. Well, not with the way Destiny currently gives away all its goodies. What it needs to do is raise funds for more frequent, more substantial content updates via microtransactions.
To be clear, I’m not advocating the kind of ‘pay-to-win’ or ‘pay-to-progress’ systems that give mobile games such a bad rep (quite rightly so). What I’m suggesting is that Bungie looks to the likes of Team Fortress 2, Eve Online, and even – whisper it – PlayStation Home (fun fact: Home made plenty of cash, even if it was insanely dull and vacuous) for inspiration. Why? These are three excellent examples of games that never charged any extra cash for players to enjoy their persistent worlds, but instead became very profitable via customisation and personalisation options. Spending money here was never compulsory, and didn’t change the core experience, but players chose to do it anyway.
Reason is, many who committed to Team Fortress 2, PS Home, Eve Online (and, to be clear, their communities are/were as dedicated and content-hungry as Destiny’s) were willing to drop small amounts of cash to make their game slightly different to anyone else’s. If you love TF2, and you’ve invested hundreds of hours playing it, what does it matter if you drop £1/$1 on a new hat? You’ll look different, people will ask you about the hat, and crucially you really won’t begrudge spending the money because it’s such a tiny amount. Oh, and no-one has forced you to buy the hat. Gabe Newell didn’t threaten you with the sharpest implement from his extensive knife collection. Your consumer rights remained unaffected.
Bungie needs to adopt the same approach. It needs to give players more power to customise their experience, to make Destiny uniquely their own, and it needs to do so via microtransactions. Because the simple equation for a persistent game is that more funding equals more opportunity to expand and grow. In other words, if the developers have more cash, they can make more things for you to play. Sure, Activision could finance the game further, but not indefinitely, and with an additional flow of cash, it’d certainly be easier to convince Bobby Kotick to open his purse strings. The original ten-year plan already seems to have been ripped up (and it’s worth noting that having ‘gear that reflected your adventures’ was in that original draft), so Destiny needs to be as agile as possible. The current model, which offers premium priced DLC packs roughly once per year isn’t enough. It has worked for console games in the past, but Destiny is very much a new breed, where’s it’s more ‘personal habit’ than traditional game.
Bungie is currently experimenting with microtransactions, but it’s doing so in a very cautious and half-hearted way. £25/$30 for a Spark of Light to boost an Alt character up to level 25? Perhaps it’s just me, but it feels odd to offer the chance for players to reduce the amount of content they enjoy in a game, especially given Destiny’s penchant for grind and repetition. And fuck me, it’s expensive. The chance to buy new Emotes? It’s a reasonable idea, but it barely scratches the surface of what’s possible, and as such feels isolated and pointless.
Ok, as I’m so ‘full of great ideas’, what’s my solution? As hinted at above, Destiny needs to give players more opportunities to make the experience their own. You’ve played 500 hours of the current game, and yet you have nothing unique to show for it. Got Sleeper Simulant? So does everyone else. Been to the Lighthouse? So have I. Got Twilight Garrison? Yup, me too. But what if… Destiny gave you the option to customise your ship? Let’s dream a little bigger: what if you could access the interior of your ship and fill it with stuff? Would you pay $1 for a tiny Bobblehead of your Titan, which sits on the dashboard of your cockpit and nods at you with approval every time you head over to the Reef? Hey, he’s holding a little Ace of Spades! Fuck it – it’d make the loading screen you’ve already seen a billion times before a little more interesting.
What if you could invite your Fireteam into your own personal space (while you wait to Raid) and show off the new gun-rack you bought last week? Yeah, it’s the one with all the Legendary Pulse Rifles that you custom-painted and cosmetically-modded yourself on there. Ok, it cost $1 for a weapon pack, but you got five brand new, totally bespoke guns from it. Where are you going on your ship? Actually, you’re off to the new planet that was funded entirely by Bobbleheads…
Ok, there’s obviously a caveat to all this. Microtransactions become a problem when core content is hidden behind paywalls. That’s why popular opinion views them as the virtual drill-sergeant in Satan’s own army of Nazi Wasp-Children. I know that, and introducing a fully-fledged economy to a game does run the risk of irritating players who feel like everything should be free. Given Bungie’s track record of engaging with its community, you’d think that the team would get it right nine times out of ten, but there are always going to be grumbles and errors of judgement. Balance, too, could be a problem if gameplay features are locked away behind demands for real-world cash, so it’s a question of being strict with the optional extras on offer. They need to be cosmetic, not advantageous.
However, if implemented with a sensible focus on making players’ experience more unique, more entertaining microtransactions could thrive in Destiny. They’d alleviate the problem of the game becoming stale, give more control to the players, and create extra funding for significant, new updates. Crucially, the core game would remain ‘free’ to play (once you’ve paid for the actual game, obviously), and you’d suffer no penalties for being the Scrooge McDuck of The Tower, who always keeps their wallet firmly locked away. Just don’t expect an invite to my plush space-pad to check out my gun-rack and play with my Bobblehead… Wait! That sounds so wrong.