Bungie is single, and Bungie is loving it. Yesterday’s Shadowkeep stream was, ostensibly, an opportunity to show off what Destiny 2 has coming up with its fall expansion, like it does every year. But this one was a lot more than that, too: this was Bungie’s first major stream since it split with publisher Activision, and it was debuting the developer’s first major piece of post-Activision content. And as the team ran through everything that we’ll be seeing next year with Shadowkeep, the community reacted in a way that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before.
After the stream yesterday, I basically saw nothing but unabashed, unrestrained positivity. There will be stuff to complain about again, I’m sure. But there wasn’t much of it to be had yesterday.
This is huge for Bungie, which is charting some risky waters as an independent AAA developer. At the same time, there seemed to be even good news for less-hardcore players, the sort that probably had no idea the stream was even happening. Bungie is talking openly about onboarding and getting people to the good parts of the game as quickly as possible in more explicit terms than I can remember hearing before, and that’s great news. Because while Bungie has done a ton of work repairing its relationship with its most dedicated players, it also still has a long way to go way to go with new players, lapsed players and the big, amorphous mid-core.
Yesterday was all about the fans, however, which is a good move considering they’re the ones watching these things. We’re getting a laundry list of items we’ve wanted for ages: cross-save, the end of Sony exclusivity, hints at a return of Trials, a re-commitment to RPG-style complexity, better new player entry points for getting friends on board, and so on. Some of this, like Sony exclusivity and possibly cross-save, seem directly tied to leaving Activision. The other stuff is a little more nebulous, but it felt of a kind nonetheless: yesterday I felt like I was watching a studio that truly felt in control of its own…you know.
There’s a common narrative in the world of Reddit, social media and gaming forums that large game publishers are evil and developers, generally speaking, are benevolent institutions that are only hampered by publishers. That’s not true, of course: publishers provide all sorts of valuable services to developers and are generally speaking indispensable to making the games we love. But that relationship can be fraught, too, and publishers have their own agendas. See, for example, EA’s insistence on using Frostbite for all of its games and the human suffering that seems to have come along with that.
But while I can’t really speak to the specific relationship between Activision and Bungie, I can speak to what we saw before and what we’re seeing now. So far–and it’s worth noting that none of this is shipped yet–we’re seeing a version of Bungie that feels like its both confident in what it’s doing and doing the right thing.
It still won’t be easy. It’s going to be a tricky balancing act, one that Bungie has been playing since the very start. Things need to get complex enough so that hardcore players can spend years tweaking their builds, but the game needs to be plausibly simple enough that I can tell my friends to grab a Google Stadia account and hop on a strike with me. We’ll find out more in September.