Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2014-09-16 06:21:09
The Destiny effect
Bungie's Destiny is perhaps one of the most hyped games of all time. It is certainly a game that was built up eons before its release based on the studio's pedigree (the Halo series) and the enormous budget sunk into it. Many of my peers spoke of how they could not wait for the game and that it would revolutionise first-person shooters and the concept of what an MMO could be. It sounded like a Molyneux-esque promise in the vein of the original Fable's supposed organic world that would develop in real-time, given credence by the hype train chugging down the gaming tracks towards release.
Then the game hit the shelves and two things happened that are somewhat at odds with each other: it sold a bucket-load and reportedly made Bungie $500m in the first couple of days; and the reviews started trickling through, many of which were disappointing. Whereas in the music industry reviews don't tend to mean much when it comes to sales, in gaming reviews tend to be more influential. It could be that the late publishing of reviews (after most people's preordered copies of the game had already shipped) resulted in so many sales, or it could be that people were willing to ignore reviews and make up their own minds (if such a thing is possible). Whatever the reason, the game is currently sitting at a 77 on Metacritic - lower than any main series Halo game and lower still than many would have predicted the game would score a month ago.
So what does this mean? Was Destiny overhyped? This sounds like a slightly unfair thing to say, as hype is not something that a company can necessarily control - although it would be fair to say that Activision's marketing efforts behind the game, the illusion of exclusivity to the Playstation 4 system and the beta that attracted several million users showed a degree of confidence on the part of the developer / publisher that was, perhaps, undeserved. I think most people are just genuinely troubled by the notion that a game that was supposed to enter uncharted territories is largely regarded as treading familiar ground, and there's a niggling feeling among many gamers that with so much money pumped into it the game should be a weightier package than it is.
Clearly the reviews mean nothing in the grand scheme of things - Bungie made its money back, with extra, and the game will be with us for a decade or so, if the team remain devoted to generating content for it. This isn't a slump in the industry or anything. But there is perhaps one slightly troubling proposal to take away from this episode - if Destiny cost $300m it is now the one to beat. Other developers will be pushing to make the next 'most expensive game' and, should a Destiny 2 follow, it will undoubtedly have even higher production values and cost even more to make. Eventually games are going to start pushing towards the $1 billion mark if this dynamic continues, which seems unsustainable in the long-run. As long as your game sells you're fine, but if consumers lose faith in your product (perhaps after seeing those reviews now published and wondering why there are so many 6/10s for Destiny) I fear the rising price of gaming will eventually lead to developers crashing.
Still, in the short-term, Destiny sold well, there are many more PS4s now on the market and reviews suggest it's by no means a bad game, so no harm will come of the reviews being lower than predicted...right?