Its greatest challenges are its Raids: Vast sprawling dungeons that require players to complete puzzles and tackle the game’s most difficult foes. They would be given almost no clues about how to accomplish the mission and at its most punishing they can take days to complete.
For any normal gamer then, the idea of tackling one of these on your own is suicide.
As such Raids ideally have to be played in six-person Fireteams. They also have no matchmaking facility either which means you either need to find five friends you already know who play Destiny or you have to head to the forums and actually schedule in playing a Raid with complete strangers around the globe.
It was a bold move by Bungie, and for many it was a barrier of entry. What it did though was force its millions of players to all enter into an unspoken contract with each other which was: Be a nice person.
Raids were so difficult that there was simply no time for the conventional gaming bully or troll. It was an equation that had no room for time-wasters.
Instead it guaranteed (almost all of the time) that if a player was looking to join a Raid team, they weren’t looking to cause trouble.
With Raids defining the core ideals of how Bungie wanted people to play its game, Destiny’s many other gameplay elements were also built around creating this community based on positivity.
“We tried to make it a really positive social experience,” Explains Destiny 2′s Project Lead Mark Noseworthy. “We don’t have voice chat turned on by default in Strikes so people can’t say mean things to you, you have to opt-in to that feature.”
Co-operative gameplay is at the very core of the game. Anything you do can be played with other human beings and none of those experiences actively tried to promote friction between players.
Even the game’s multiplayer element took the focus away from permanent leaderboards and the pressure of being successful to it simply being a space where you could play against other human beings, have fun and just become better at playing Destiny.
Now it should be pointed out that no community is perfect, and to present Destiny’s players as all angels would be simply untrue. What is clear though is that its trend towards creating positive social engagements between players hasn’t just been something that happened to ‘other people’.
“We do a lot of work to make sure people can’t grief each other and ruin the experience for others. I think it has really allowed the community to thrive and just be a really positive force.”
Noseworthy explains that Destiny’s community started evolving in ways beyond their own expectations and as a result they were able to develop new features and fundamentally shape the game that would be Destiny 2.
“The starting place here was building the Clan system,” he explains, “Really deeply integrating it into the game so that there would be hopefully millions of clans that participate in Destiny 2.”
“It doesn’t require you to sign up for some commitment, ‘Oh I must play 40 hours per week’, instead it’s more like you’re just going to have this extended friends list’.”
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Clans aren’t a reinvention of the wheel, instead they simply formalised the social groups that were being created within the game and gave them an incentive to work as a team.
“Even if you’re playing solo you’re contributing and that generates rewards for all the clan members,” explains Noseworthy.
One of those surprising evolutions caught them off guard, and as Noseworty explains it actually led to another of the major new features in Destiny 2: Guided Games.
“Guided Games uses this infrastructure to say that there are groups of people who have this established social structure and have an identity. Then we also have these solo or groups of two who want to play these games that require more players. What if we could offer these up to each other.”
When asked if this was a feature that had always been planned or if it had been created organically by the community Noseworthy is clear about its origins.
“I think it was organic,” he says. “We were inspired by the Sherpa communities, people who just wanted to help others.”
What they’d discovered were these clans who completely of their own free will would devote their spare time to helping solo or inexperienced players complete some of Destiny’s hardest tasks.
Whereas before it was unspoken that groups tackling raids would be nice to each other, Bungie have put it in writing for Destiny 2.
“There’s an Oath that both sides will take where they promise to be normal human beings to each other and then hopefully they’ll have a really really fun time.” says Noseworthy.
Destiny 2 hasn’t been released yet, and while Bungie are keeping the content a closely guarded secret, the one thing they haven’t been holding back on is sharing about how you’re going to play it.
That’s not surprising. The original became arguably Activision’s biggest video game launch ever and during its peak Destiny had over 25 million players devoting on average three hours every time they logged on.
That success comes from building a community where people feel valued, and where people can value each other.
Games like Destiny, The Division and the soon-to-be-released Anthem are all tapping into a new gaming style: Social gaming.
These games were built for a generation of adults who grew up playing video games but have now become casual players who use it not only as a way of unwinding but as a way of socialising with their friends.
It’s telling then that upon asking Noseworthy how he would describe Destiny’s fanbase he didn’t use the word ‘gamers’.
“Hobbyists, we’ve been trying to make Destiny a game that you can play for 10 minutes or 100s of hours and we really want it to be a experience where you can just kick back and relax after work.” he explains.
“We wanted to make a game that could be a hobby just like soccer...and so that means it needs the presence of other people, it needs ongoing events and the world needs to feel alive. It needs to not have friction.”
Even with Destiny it was clear that Bungie were trying to create an experience that could replace playing football on a Sunday, or catching up with friends at a cocktail bar.
Talking to Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision (publisher of Destiny and the Call of Duty franchise), it’s clear that the driving force here is to move Destiny beyond games and firmly into popular culture.
“I think there are multiple instances where you couldn’t tell the story of the year on planet Earth from a popular culture perspective without talking about some of the games that we’ve had the privilege to make.” says Hirshberg.
“To me, that’s when we’ve done a good job. When you feel it back from culture, that this thing matters, this story matters, these characters matter, this experience matters and it’s something that people are passionate about.”
With Destiny 2 set for release on 6 September it seems as though the true test for Bungie’s sequel will be if it can continue to demand more of its players.
Games ask players to commit hundreds, sometimes even thousands of hours of their lives. If while doing that the game can also encourage us to actually behave like decent human beings to each other then not only is that good, but it’s important too.
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