For nearly the last year, there’s been a quiet discussion happening online about monetization in Destiny 2. Ever since Bungie split with Activision, there were shouts of “freedom!” from the masses, though many of us quietly sat back and realized that ending a partnership with a publisher that paid some of the bills wasn’t going to suddenly make cosmetic microtransactions vanish. And for the last year, we’ve seen a number of iterations of Eververse, Destiny 2’s cosmetics store. What’s the latest problem, you ask? I supposed “problem” is a relative term, though what I’m seeking here is a win/win scenario for both Bungie and Destiny 2 players.
What’s the Problem With Eververse?
Back when Destiny 2 launched, its cosmetic system acted a lot like the one in Overwatch. Every time players would “level up” in experience, they’d get a Bright Engram, which would then decrypt into random cosmetic items from that particular Season of content. So the more you played, the more Seasonal cosmetics you got, and Bright Engrams could also be purchased for real-world money (by purchasing Silver, which could be used to buy Bright Engrams). To further complicate things, Eververse cosmetic items would break down into a currency called Bright Dust if dismantled, which could be used to purchase specific non-randomized cosmetic items when they would rotate into the Eververse inventory.
The biggest problem with this system was the purposeful dilution of the loot pool to prevent most players from picking up every single cosmetic item in a season. Bright Engrams were filled with a bunch of pointless reskins, legendary versions of Sparrows, ships, and Ghost shells that would never be used over their Exotic counterparts. It’s something I talked at length about early in Destiny 2’s life, as a diluted loot pool and impermanent reward structure created a system where the loot just didn’t feel all that exciting to get.
Fast-forward to the Season before Shadowkeep, the Season of Opulence. Bungie knows that they plan on taking Destiny 2 in a free-to-play direction, so they start laying the groundwork for a new Eververse to help bring in consistent funding. They start loading it up with some really cool looking cosmetics and relegate Bright Engrams to granting old cosmetics instead of new stuff. This somewhat awkward transition period was actually one of the best for Destiny 2’s Eververse. The new loot pool wasn’t diluted with pointless cosmetics we’d never use. Getting old items allowed us to fill out our collections while dismantling duplicates and unwanted items for Bright Dust gave us the ability to purchase the newer cosmetics using that currency economy. They also were selling newer cosmetics directly for Silver, because you know, the whole loot box thing.
Finally, we get to the current Season. Destiny 2 is now free-to-play. Bright Engrams are given out far less frequently, even as they continue to give older cosmetics, and the items don’t even dismantle into Bright Dust anymore. Bright Dust is now obtained in miniscule amounts through repeatable ritual bounties (Crucible, Vanguard, and Gambit), though players can only hold five of any given activity’s Bright Dust bounties at a time and they give a whopping 10 Bright dust each. There’s also reportedly a cap on how much Bright Dust the game will even let you earn in a given week.
This past week added to the new cosmetic items with the Festival of the Lost Seasonal event, a special event where you now can’t even earn the event-specific cosmetic items unless you have Bright Dust, a currency that is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain in the miniscule amounts that the game throws your way. Even as someone who plays Destiny 2 almost daily and had a huge stockpile of Bright Dust from previous Seasons, I’m getting to the point where I can’t earn the cosmetic rewards I want to during the Season or events. All of this doesn’t even touch on the opinions that the game’s best cosmetic rewards are locked away in the Eververse store while other activities either get nothing or reskins. I have other thoughts on that, but that’s not what I’m going to address here.
Festival of the Cost All Over Again?
This idea really came to me when I took a look at the new Festival of the Lost cosmetic items available for purchase only during this limited three-week period of time (two weeks left now). In total, purchasing all of them outright would cost over $125. That doesn’t include those who missed last year’s Festival, adding another hefty amount for those cosmetics as well. The biggest problem this year is that there is no direct path to earning the items. In previous years, as you leveled up, you’d earn special Festival of the Lost Engrams that would reward the event cosmetics randomly. This year, players are forced to dig into their stores of Bright Dust—or worse, their wallets—if they want anything.
Now I’ve long been an advocate of microtransactions and premium items in general. I think they are a good avenue for developers to bring in revenue offering those kinds of additions while not impacting the main game. But when a Seasonal event in Destiny 2 is advertised largely using cosmetic rewards and items that I can’t actually obtain from the event itself? That’s extremely frustrating to see. Those are premium items, separate from the Festival of the Lost’s festivities. Admittedly, Bungie’s done a much better job of creating compelling events with things to do outside of just spending money, so this isn’t quite a repeat of Festival of the Cost, but it’s still a problem.
How can Bungie solve the perception problem of having an exorbitant amount of cosmetics for way too much money, but still promote microtransaction sales to bring in revenue? By priming the pump.
What is Priming the Pump?
When I look at a Season or event’s worth of cosmetics and see a bunch of cool stuff I can buy for upwards of $100, my first inclination is to simply shut down and not buy any of it. Forget this year’s Festival of the Lost stuff, I don’t even want the cool armor ornaments if it’s going to cost my $45 to get them on all three characters. It’s overwhelming, and nothing shuts players down faster than presenting them with a bunch of things they can’t get and asking a premium that costs far in excess of the game’s expansions or seasons. If I were instead allowed to obtain at least some of those cosmetics, you’ve now greased the wheels—or primed the pump—making it much more likely that I would gladly open my wallet to get the one or two things I have yet to get.
When my wife plays an Overwatch event, the cosmetics that come with the event are part of the entire process. During the three-week event window, she earns event-exclusive loot boxes which contain the event’s special cosmetics. At the end of the three-week period, if she doesn’t have the ones she wanted, she’ll fork over a little bit of money to get the outfit or other cosmetic she’s missing. If absolutely everything for the event was locked behind a paywall, it’s far less likely she’d be willing to pay the premiums.
Priming the pump is about making your players feel like you are giving them some things which softens them up to purchase other things. Present me with $100 worth of cosmetics and allow me to earn a bunch of it through gameplay. Now that remaining emote or armor ornament I want seems a lot more palatable to pay the premiums for. It’s a win/win. Bungie gets more players willing to spend money, and players feel like they are actually getting cool Seasonal and event cosmetics by just playing the game.
Now again, I’m not considering the argument that many of the arguably best cosmetics aren’t even being put into activities within the game (seriously, the ship I got for completing a 980 Nightfall was a lame reskin?), but that’s a whole different conversation, and I think it’s best to look at these two issues separately for the time being.
Some Other Eververse Solutions
Here are some other platable Eververse solutions that Bungie could consider to help further priming the pump, mixing and matching as they see fit.
- With the limited drop rate of Bright Engrams, allow them to carry Eververse items from the current Season.
- Rework the Eververse economy, from Bright Dust drop rates and pricing to the actual real-money/Silver cost of the various cosmetic items.
- Increase the Bright Dust reward rate and locations it can be earned from.
- Make cosmetics easier to obtain through gameplay, but offer a single limited Premium cosmetic that is Silver-only for each Season/Event (ie. the Tombstone emote from this year’s Festival could have been the one “Premium” event cosmetic).
- Let limited-time Seasonal events provide engrams that can be used to get the Season’s cosmetics (perhaps as a purchase from Eva using event currency).
- Do not advertise Seasons or events using Eververse-exclusive cosmetics that can’t be earned via gameplay (Bright Dust accumulation notwithstanding).
- Let all cosmetics matching the theme of the current Season drop/reward from in-game activities and accomplishments. Use Eververse for event cosmetics and cosmetics that don’t fit the Season’s theme (ie. the “Red Hive” Shadowkeep-styled Sparrow, Ship, etc. should have dropped from Shadowkeep related accomplishments and activities).
The Destiny 2 Eververse store is going to continue to be a point of contention for players no matter what Bungie does with it, but it feels like the studio swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction, from being overly generous with cosmetic drops to where we’re at now. I don’t want Bungie to give everything away for free. I know it’s a stable point of revenue that the studio needs. In fact, I think there are some brilliant things being done with cosmetics:
- Premium weapon ornaments for some of the quest Exotics
- Cosmetic rewards on the Season Ranking’s premium track
- Bright Dust for Eververse purchases (though it’s been severely hacked off this Season)
- Occasional one-off premium cosmetics, like an exclusive emote
The fewer things that Bungie entirely locks off behind a paywall, the more willing most players are going to be to purchase the things that are. When it feels like an entire Seasonal event is designed around getting players to spend $45 on armor skins and another ten bucks on a broom mount, we’re a lot less likely to want to bust out the ol’ credit card than if a few of those things were made part of the event. Currently, it feels like Festival of the Lost is divided into two distinct sections: the part you play and the part you buy.
I remember back in the day when I bought the Thriller dance in Destiny 1. I was proud to spend that $7. It was exciting to get that premium emote, something that would soon become something of an oversaturated staple within the game. It didn’t feel like there was an overbearing store looming down on me, asking me to spend far too much on things that I may never even wear at all. Getting players to buy into microtransactions is about the psychology of respecting the player, offering something of value to them for their money. It’s a point the current iteration of Destiny 2’s Eververse storefront misses as it asks too much, but hardly gives back.