Destiny: too big to fail

Fireteam

Eerily similar previews for Bungie and Activision’s new multiplayer shooter appeared online yesterday evening. Destiny’s reveal was light on footage, short on details but long on promise and threat. Our visit to Bungie’s Bellevue studio was a glimpse into how games will be made in the next generation and beyond – not as games but as brands, as destinations, as hobbies in themselves; each one the only game you’ll ever need.

Both Bungie and Activision joked that Destiny was among the industry’s worst-kept secrets and writer Joe Staten spoke openly about the Activision/Bungie contract which surfaced during the Zampella/West court case last year. Even then it was a contract detailing the most ambitious game series imaginable – a decade’s worth of content signed up and paid for years in advance, and a brand designed from the ground up to be too big to fail.

It used to be that Hollywood and the games industry would make a piece of media – The Matrix, Halo, Call of Duty – and be so surprised by the title’s success they would leap into action and build a whole world of spin-offs and sequels. Halo was a game, not a series; the Haloverse came later, but Destiny is pre-built to last a decade – four biennial games, four DLC expansions – each game a ‘book’ in the Destiny story and each book containing multiple chapters which will expand as new missions and maps unlock in the weeks and months after release.

As you walk across Destiny’s version of our solar system – a terraformed Venus, the lost cities of Mars, the frozen wastes of Titan, the ruins of old Earth cities – you’ll travel in a six-person party across games hosted by other players, each playing with parties of their own. As you fight the creatures who have stolen humanity’s homelands, those strangers will cross into your world where they’ll stand and fight alongside you and your friends or perhaps just move on to someone else’s world. It’s part Halo, part Borderlands, part Journey, as millions – Activision would hope – of players make themselves a part of your game and help or hinder, whether you like it or not.

This was the message every journalist took home to their blogs and magazines because Destiny’s reveal was carefully measured – features outlined, detail obfuscated. As writers from around the world asked questions, over and over Bungie’s Jason Jones and Activision’s Eric Hirschberg declined to answer. Mission structure? No comment. A levelling system? No comment. An open world? No comment. Space flight? No comment. A release date? No comment. Can players take control of matchmaking? No comment. “Finally, one we can answer!” joked Hirschberg, seven minutes into the press conference after one journalist asked if Destiny would even appear on 360 and PS3. “Yes,” was the response, one of very few straight answers spoken in Bungie’s studio on Valentine’s Day.

Destiny’s reveal was conducted on Bungie’s terms, and why not? This is how things are done when you’re building the next ten years of your business – not one word misspoken, not one feature announced too early, not one mistake which could send share prices plummeting. Destiny is too big to fail, but more importantly it’s too big to be allowed to fail. There’s ten years, three hundred and fifty jobs, and four hundred and fifty million dollars at stake. How many developers have ever carried such a burden?

Read Edge’s full feature on Destiny’s reveal in Edge 252, on shelves March 14.