A company that historically has only had to work maintenance on adding multiplayer maps has never had to deal with such a massive development undertaking as creating, implementing, and maintaining a massively-shared gameplay experience before. And they’ve had some growing pains over the last 13 months. Considering some gamers are calling “Year 1 a glorified open beta that you had to pay for,” Bungie has made a lot of progress.
A lot of that progress is focused on their marketing and public relational strategy, which can be a good example of how to not do it, especially since they have their publisher Activision supporting them, you know, the company that also publishes one of the most successful MMORPGs in recent history?
True, before The Taken King released, Diablo III developers did have a sit down chat with Bungie to discuss developmental strategy and approach to work out the kinks in their game that could be sealed up with some deliberate and focused approaches. One of them? Removing pure randomness in favor of weighted systems of reward, and guaranteed rewards for finishing quest lines. A good start, after a rocky beginning where players were upset and outraged that their random drops that signified quality could suddenly become much worse upon reveal.
It’s been a hard year.
Early on, Deej, the community manager, got a lot of flak for not being transparent enough about planned updates. In an interview with PlanetDestiny.com, Deej made it clear what he’s been working on:
“[Deej is] looking for things that players want. He looks for 1. What Destiny does right, and 2. What Destiny can do better.”
Deej isn’t a bad community manager, he grasps many of the traits you’d want in your public relations representative, except his social media use could be tuned to be a little better. After some game information was released through GameInformer, he tweeted, “Game Informer got it straight. Player reactions to some of the information is what is wrong.” He admitted this was an awful mistake and apologized for it
For any development company or creative endeavor, it’s best to stay tight-lipped about naming specific dates, even with catches or caveats. Consumers don’t hear the “if the stars align,” they only hear “we can’t keep our promises.” Take a look at the backlash if there is ever a decision to delay a release date for a game.
For one, it might not be entirely in their control, and any updates that “delay” are never spun positively in the aftermath. Second, priorities that might appear at the front for users might be low on the agenda for developers. There could be hundreds of undiscovered bugs or issues that need to be tracked, isolated, and squashed, before the developers can even consider adding more fuel to the fire. Even broaching the subject that they have priorities can cause backlash.
The developers are also at the whims of their publishers. Even if Bungie fixed issues as soon as they cropped up, it’s expensive to push updates to players, especially if there might be unintended consequences for the fixes that leave players unable to play the product. With several pipelines all extending from the studio, it takes time for the approval process to go through, likely through Activision to approve the funds and version update, then Microsoft and Sony to independently verify and queue the update through their servers.
A balance has to be struck between transparency and needless obscurity. At the same time, it’s a PR manager’s job to keep from over sharing and overwhelming users with information to prevent them from assuming they’re lying about something much worse.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the internet isn’t a cruel place. Take a look at the Phil Fish media backlash after the release of Indie Game: The Movie. Even if you have the best intentions, someone will twist your words to hurt you. That’s why your best bet is to protect yourself: don’t leave dates hanging out there for people to grab onto and use to attack you, don’t make “promises” (read: anything official) you aren’t over 100% sure you can follow through with. For some people on the internet, entitlement runs deep and even the death of a family member won’t be enough to make it “okay” to not release a planned project.
With The Taken King, Bungie made good on their word that they were listening. They added more cutscenes to flesh out character development and smooth out the narrative’s wrinkles. They recast and replaced all the voice work for a single character to add more polish. They removed completely random weight for drops and loot rewards, and implemented more quest-based, narrative-focused reward systems. They added more content for post story players, and did ‘good’ on their promise to release a raid that was more thought-out and polished than their second attempt. They’ve addressed complaints about gameplay balance, and continued to take an active role in policing gameplay abuse and other bugs and issues.
The progress over the year has shown that Bungie is really listening to their fans and the complaints they’ve received. They’ve worked hard to address these in the best ways they can, and are continuing to look into different ways they might be able to satisfy their publisher’s needs and their customers’ needs. Time will tell if their most recent move, to implement cosmetic micro-transactions, works out for helping the development team introduce content on a more regular basis instead of dumping a chunk of missions, strikes, and activities every couple months.