The Destiny 2 Game Developers Conference controversy was unfair to Bungie
A Destiny 2 Game Developer Conference (GDC) is making the rounds on Twitter as gamers suggest that Bungie is actively holding back the developer’s ambitions for the game. Bungie’s director of development, can be taken out of context.
A presentation discussing the FPS game’s ongoing live service, titled “From Box Products to Live Service: How Destiny 2 Transformed Bungie”, first appeared online in April, just weeks after GDC in March, but not only has recently gained attention in the Destiny community. In particular, gamers linked to the Truman train analogy after telling the game developer audience that “It’s hard to tell a team that has extra cycles and energy and wants to do something amazing – that it’s going to be amazing and awesome for the game – we should ‘Ship it, because it’s over shipping that will set us up for future train failures.
Reading the entire presentation shows that the statement is part of a bigger picture. The talk covers Bungie’s difficult transition from making games that shine in big single releases to expanding content that adds to online games. It illustrates how the Bungie team learned to grow into a productive rhythm for a live game that thrives on new content. One aspect of this involves reducing content overload to prioritize player expectations. He refers to building a “product in a box” game as similar to building a train, which is completed and then shipped in its entirety, while a live service game is more similar to a station, which releases trains at regular intervals.
From the train statement above, some players have concluded that Bungie is not working as hard as possible to bring players the best content. In fact, Truman said the opposite.
Especially when the current cycle of content feels stale, it’s easy to relate the previously mentioned mindset to player perspectives. However, the big picture shows that some players underestimate the challenges of software development. Burnout is a huge issue in the video game industry. Many long-time game developers can share stories of how crunch has affected their lives. It affects people’s mental health, relationships, and even physical health. These issues are not exclusive to game development, but the industry seems more willing to accept them than others because management teams see video games as a “fun” work environment.
In Truman’s speech, he emphasized Bungie’s commitment to delivering content that meets player expectations. His statement about over-delivering only states that it’s easy to build content for “wow” players, then force yourself to deliver at an unrealistic speed.
It’s easy to suggest that development teams encourage rampant creativity. However, Truman said, limiting change to planned and anticipated opportunities can save teams from working overtime to implement new features and activities, while still delivering a finished product. Truman addresses the challenge and how to properly complete it by pointing to Destiny 2’s legendary campaign option introduced in The Witch Queen, noting that the team thought it would succeed and built it as a template for a content model.
Software development professionals know that there is always a backlog of ideas, feature improvements, process efficiencies, or user interface updates that they can incorporate into their work. People with good intentions often come up with great ideas, and it’s hard to focus on core implementations without being distracted by extras. Just look at Star Citizen, a game that’s been in development for over a decade as ambitions grow with each new idea, but it’s still far from complete. Taking on too many projects at once is a recipe for failure, so it only seems natural that Bungie needs to flip some amazing ideas to keep the content machine running. Failure to do so leads to overtime, crunch, and burnout. Ultimately, developer burnout will hurt a live service game. Burn-out developers have little motivation to keep creating great content. If they fail to meet the player’s expectations, they will also receive negative feedback, which can further demoralize the team.
It’s good for Bungie to implement a strategy that allows the company to deliver on a promise, and to do so at a pace that preserves the health and well-being of developers. Many of the Bungie team seem to have stuck with the company for a very long time for what seems to be exactly this reason.
It’s safe to say that Bungie has gotten too comfortable with its seasonal model. But currently, the developer continues to create a new story, game activity, and raid or dungeon every season. The team also presents community events, new weapons, new ways to obtain, craft and modify these weapons, new cosmetics, new stylish armor sets and much more. The content feeling stale isn’t a reflection of pressure not to over-deliver, but rather a miss in the overall seasonal plan.
IGN reported on a toxic work environment at Bungie just two years ago. Despite the many issues, crunch is an underlying theme. Taking steps to mitigate this may only fix some issues, but it will certainly lay the groundwork for tireless developers to perform better when it comes to the upcoming Destiny 2 Lightfall expansion, which will also introduce the new Destiny subclass. 2 Strand Darkness. and much more.