Meritocracies Regarding The Melting Of Faces

As we approach the launch of Destiny‘s first expansion and the allure of a new raid draws us in, it might be prudent to examine the reward systems in place.

There has been a lot of hullabaloo about how actual performance in strikes, raids and the crucible has no effect on the kinds of rewards players are given. The simplistic argument of “it’s RNGs, stupid!” hold little water, as almost every game of a certain complexity uses RNGs. The issue isn’t the existence of RNGs in the equation, but how the equations are weighted. A random number generator is rarely purely random in an RPG, and such RNG-weighting is incredibly important when you’re trying to reward players for hard-won victories.

The only thing is hard to understand is why Bungie has failed so spectacularly in this regard. Surely the creators of Halo could understand how killstreaks and other medal-worthy accomplishments in the crucible should be rewarded more heavily than someone who simply participated. Surely the big brains in Bellvue could understand how galling it is to have the player who hides in the hall while the other two guardians kill Phogoth rewarded with a legendary weapon while the others get a shader if they’re lucky. Bungie has shined a bright light on all the stats and numbers they’ve been collecting, yet none of that brilliance is brought to bare for the benefit of those who applied boot to butt.

This is very much fixable, but at this point it’ll take a lot of determination on Bungie’s part. There is some indication that they’ll attempting new weighted RNG algorithms with Crota’s End, but time will tell.

Without being alarmist, this oversight could very well spell an early end to any interest in Destiny as it pushes forward with its 10-year plan. If players are not rewarded well and fairly, they’ll simply move on to a game that will.

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Drowning In Glimmer

Economies and the currencies they trade in have become integral to the RPG experience, and the more layered and long-term they get, so do the economic systems that support them. When you cross into MMO territory, you run the risk of getting lost in a sea of materials and rarity levels.

In the latest patch, Bungie has attempted to fix a few mistakes they made with their economies. However, for some unfathomable reason, they have completely forgotten about their base currency, glimmer. One can easily and continually bounce against the 25,000 glimmer limit without using any of the glimmer magnets (which just seem to pile up in your vault, right?). After years of playing EVE Online and other large RPGs, one comes to know how important currency-sinks are. The concept is simple enough. Give the player enough interesting things to spend currency on, and they currency takes on an intrinsic value and weight. Glimmer is far too easy to come by and impossible to spend in any worthwhile fashion, when a well-designed economy should be the opposite. In fact, except for a insignificant component of upgrade costs, there is nothing of value in Destiny that you can buy with glimmer.

It’s actually amusing when you consider the lore puts a large amount of importance on the stuff…

What’s worse, and depending on your definition of the word “useless”, there are anywhere between two and six useless vendors in the Tower. At present, besides the Cryptarch (who you only see to decrypt engrams, not actually perform economic transactions with), Xur, the bounty tracker and the other vendors that deal in marks, everyone else in the Tower is pretty much useless. If all of these vendors have nothing to offer a toon post-20, and if the game starts post-20 as Bungie says often, one has to wonder what Bungie was thinking. When was the last time you interacted at all with the Gunsmith, or the Shipwright? One could be forgiven for forgetting they exist at all, but they’re there and they’re collecting dust in plain sight.

So how would Bungie go about fixing all this? Well, that’s tricky. At present, Destiny simply doesn’t have enough items and types of items in its inventory to support the kind of economy Bungie seems to want. As the game grows that will change, but it’ll likely be too little, too late. When there was word that materials were going to be purchasable, I fully expected them to trade for glimmer as you have been able to sell them for glimmer since day one, but alas they’ll just be one more thing people will grind marks for. The Gunsmith could sell legendary weapons and armour and the Shipwright could sell legendary ships and sparrows, and for a time that could be enough. In any future iteration of the Destiny economy, Bungie will definitely need to rebalance purchasing power as well as introduce many more items into the marketplace.

What are some new items that Bungie could introduce beyond weapons and armour that you would consider effective glimmer-sinks?

Destiny Is Not Done Yet!

One of Bungie’s biggest hurdles since its inception has been communicating what Destiny is. There are several facets to this issue.

First and perhaps most obviously, Bungie doesn’t want to vomit all sorts of far-flung promises and half-considered details all over the internet. Inevitably people will be disappointed with the final product, how long that product takes to get to them, or both. Gamers are a notoriously fickle culture (to put it as kindly as possible) so its usually best to just not tell us things. This was far less of an issue with the Destiny pre-alpha because once a fragment of the experience was out in the wild, the gestalt opinion of the people communicated concepts better than Bungie ever could on their own.

The second problem is now as people play Destiny, all the promises that Bungie made about the content don’t seem to be quite realized. This however is still an issue because…

DESTINY IS NOT COMPLETE YET.

Destiny is an MMO. Let’s call a spade a spade here, regardless of how much Bungie attempted to distance themselves from it. Everything one would consider as a trope of the MMO experience is present in Destiny. As a longtime player of MMOs, knowing how MMOs work has given me a leg up on understanding Destiny‘s mechanics. More importantly, as MMOs are constantly being iterated on, so is Destiny. That is a key difference between this game and almost all others you’ll find on consoles. No MMO is truly complete until the day the developer decides not to work on it anymore, and such is very true with Destiny.

What we have currently is what I’ve taken to calling a “skeleton” of a game. We’re playing the bones of it, banging away on it in a million different ways while Bungie learns in the background. They learn how to balance and fix and tweak. Months before Destiny’s release, Activision mapped out how the Destiny IP would be built for the market. Over the next 10 years, we’d be getting 3 Destiny games, each with 2 major pieces of DLC (called “comets”). For the first Destiny game (which we are playing now) we already know of our DLC future. The Dark Below expansion will be released in December and House of Wolves is set to be released sometime next year. One can also easily assume that even though a Destiny 2 and 3 will be released, they’ll be tantamount to mega-expansions, continuing to build and iterate on the core product.

Yesterday (Nov.7th, 2014… Happy N7 Day!) Bungie released their weekly update over social media. Bungie gave us a glimpse of how they’re digesting all the data and feedback we’re sending them and turning it into a gameplan. Destiny is still being built, and the voice of the playerbase is a major driving force, it seems. Our cacophony became a chorus around serveral issues, and lo and behold Bungie lays out many of them as im-progress.

Here are some things we’ve mentioned:
  • Channels for talking to matchmade teammates, if you so wish
  • Exotic weapons that are stronger and more interesting to upgrade
  • New gear to let you slip into something a little more Legendary
  • That which waits in The Dark Below
Here are some things we’ve kept secret, until now:
  • New shaders for your gear
  • Ways to preview items before you spend your Glimmer
  • Greater chances of “showers” in public spaces
  • Adjustments to some arenas that needed better traffic flow
  • New economies to equip you with upgrade materials
  • Fixes, patches, and other invisible technical evolutions
  • Some other tricks up our sleeve
  • Maybe even a more generous Cryptarch
    • (he’ll still be sort of a bastard)

While Bungie is quick to temper expectations about whats and whens, it’s clear they’re acting with all due haste and skill on building this game up. We can also assume that a number of ideas have already been slated for Destiny 2 and perhaps even 3 due to various reasons.

Where do we go from here? Play the game, try to break it if you can, and be active with constructive comments on the feeback forums.

What would you like to see added or fixed in Destiny? I’ll certainly be writing about what I want, but I’d love to know what you crave when battling in the frontier.