Opinion: Bungie hurt Destiny by avoiding the MMO label

Destiny has had extraordinary success so far. For starters, it became the most pre-ordered new IP in video game history, and has continued to boast other big accomplishments like currently reigning as the most-played PS4 game. But with much success comes much criticism, namely the plentiful reviews pointing out how lackluster the game actually turned out to be. While these critical reviews detail several ways in which the game fails to meet high expectations, one significant way Activision and Bungie went wrong—and a mistake that might have helped skew the game's overall scores—was in their feverish attempts to not call Destiny an MMO.

Destiny has had its fair share of comparisons to games like Dragon’s Nest. Many of the traits that make up Destiny are descriptive of the MMO genre: the soft level cap; the central hub (albeit a scaled-back version); the public random events; the structure of its quests, which range from the bounties to limited time events; the end-game raids; “dungeon” areas that repopulate; random player drop-ins in open-world areas; etc. Even the implied longevity of the game, where Activision and Bungie have promised Destiny will be around for an “awful long time,” is very MMO-like.

Yet in a strong effort to distance themselves from the MMO moniker—because it means so much more to be termed a “shared-world shooter”—Bungie and Activision may have missed a great opportunity to broaden their audience and maybe even soften the lukewarm reception the game received. Of course, Destiny still earned over $500 million on day one, but maybe that could have been $501 million if they had just embraced what it means to carry the MMO banner.

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We May Have Been More Forgiving

A common theme in a majority of the Destiny reviews was a focus on how the game was a MMO, despite Activision and Bungie’s claiming otherwise. The necessity to list out these similarities would have been non-existent if the MMO tag was embraced by Activision's marketing.

Some have pegged Destiny as a barebones MMO, so there is reason to believe that if the game did have the MMO label people actually would have been harsher with their critique. However, Destiny has done a few revolutionary things for the genre that could overshadow those moments where the game falls short. For instance, Destiny has found a unique balance of MMO mechanics and quick combat gameplay. The game highlights the best of MMOs, which is the thrill of leveling up and looting, and combines it with the powerful and exciting feeling shooters evoke. Free-to-play games like Warframe already touch the surface of how fun that combination can be, but Destiny helps push this further by changing the perception of what MMOs are capable of—if it was called a MMO anyway.

Where Destiny also succeeds is in its domination of the triple-A market. Destiny's success is important for more reasons than Activision and Bungie’s profits—it shows the potential of a MMO-like game making it big in the AAA club, something that hasn't been done since the days of World of Warcraft. In fact it's proving that not only is this possible, it's happening on consoles, which can be an important attribute for the future of the MMO business. By trying to keep the MMO label at a distance, Destiny is doing a disservice to its genre.

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We Would Have Given the Game a Longer Grace Period

Most gaming outlets waited about a week or two after the game launched to write and post their reviews, since the game is an online experience. Despite this, many argued—including Bungie and Activision—that this was still not giving the game a chance to really flourish and showcase all it has to offer.

Usually when an MMO debuts there is a different editorial coverage approach set for the game. Most pieces posted after the launch of a MMO are not even titled reviews but ongoing impressions. This is because everyone knows there are many layers to a MMO game that have to be explored thoroughly to be understood fully, and that hitting level caps is not the end of the game.

Clearly labeled an MMO from the start, Destiny would have been given much more leeway in terms of a review grace period, even with the publications competing to see who posts their review first. If anything, reviewers might have waited until the limited-time events took place to start putting up impressions, to be able to analyze and discuss the dynamic endurance of the game.

Coverage is still being done on the game as of today, but the reviews are set, and for most people who made up their mind about the game from said reviews (including the reviewers themselves) Activision and Bungie might have lost a large cluster of people that won't give the game a chance because of their understanding of what the game was at launch, which for an MMO is not indicative of its total offering.

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They Could Have Attracted an Additional Demographic

Taking a few steps back, let’s try to understand why Activision and Bungie chose to not market Destiny as a MMO. While we're likely never to have an official answer to this question, what some of us can infer is that the MMO moniker is not one that markets well to a general audience.

While MMOs like World of Warcraft did make up a large percentage of the gamers at one point in time, nowadays players who play MMOs generally only play MMOs, because of the time commitment they require, and often these audiences aren't marketed to in the same way as audiences for triple-A titles in more popular genres. Activision and Bungie know how tough the MMO market currently is, especially with the rise of free-to-play and mobile games, so they took steps to avoid falling into this pigeonhole.

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However, that decision might have prevented Activision and Bungie from attracting a different, additional demographic to their player base, a group of players who could appreciate the innovations Destiny brings to the table. MMO fans could even help make the game better by offering suggestions on how to better fit the MMO space while still being inclusive to other parties; the loot cave is a wonderful example of how the game will evolve and how fans can influence that change!

MMO experts are hard to attract, but once you have them, they become some of the most loyal and passionate fans to have. They are faithful to your product as well as harsh critics, though they usually do so with good intentions. Thus, actively avoiding this demographic when your product is something they may like is an odd approach, and one that misses out on an opportunity to embrace all facets of the gaming space.